We asked our Agile Coaches:
"What does servant leadership mean to you?"
And they answered:
To me it all comes down to enabling people. As a servant leader I enable my team to do the best job they possibly can. This may include identifying impediments and helping to resolve them or establishing transparency by clarifying requirements, responsibilities and expectations.My obligations as a servant leader do not stop at the boundaries of my own team however - it is also important to include external stakeholders and enabling them to help me and my team for the sake of common interests.Servant leadership should always be about helping to facilitate opportunities for progress.
Servant leader is all in the name. Be helpful, but lead the change. Looking at the three pillars of Scrum as a framework for Agile development, adaptation, inspection and transparency, a servant-leader always aims to help bring out the best in people, inspect things with them, most often in retrospective but not limited to that. And then lead the change, help the team apply these things.
It's all about supporting the process, supporting the team, the stakeholders, the PO, whoever might need it, lead the people as they adapt to the changes and apply them to their every day work.
To me, servant leadership first and foremost translates to “no job is beneath you” - we don’t lead by giving orders or doing “important stuff”, but rather we lead by example and pick up things that need to be done and would otherwise be forgotten or ignored. Of course, the goal in mind is always to create an environment in which everybody does so - that is the leadership part. Without it, we would be fixing symptoms forever.
A servant leader helps his/her team find the right direction by carrying them on the shoulders, supporting them gently from the back, being a valuable addition to the team - sometimes even from the shadows. Such leaders have a special skill of deeply understanding the team's needs, and while they serve they also protect. They value respect above all, see their team members as equals and attribute credit not to themselves, but to the team. While being humble and helpful, their ultimate goal is to become redundant over time, enabling the team step by step to lead itself without the leader's help.
I try to connect "servant leadership" to empowerment and alignment. As a leader you help the team grow. Everybody in the team should be able to do her best and take decisions. So remove Obstacles, support personal growth and shape the organization so it's supportive and not blocking. This includes all the small tasks that need to be done, so the team can thrive.
Align the team on the goal. A shared direction fosters better solutions and releases extra energy. And it opens up rooms for new ideas coming to live and possibilities for growth and development. Alignment on the goal enables growing autonomy and this is one of the great contributions to learning on a team level and on a personal level.
And every successful team is a learning team.
Servant leadership is, for me, an important puzzle part in the whole picture of self-organized team. It is built on trust and understands that a team together has more power than the sum of its parts. It respects that every team member is an human individual and not primary a working force. Intrinsic motivation is the key to success.
Servant leadership is first of all an attitude based on three aspects: empathy, distance to the matter and dissociation from the system. It’s about focusing on the people and their interactions. As servant leader I try to answer:
- if I am able to accept the perception of the people I am serving to
- if I am able to keep the distance and let the solution to the people; I am not making the solutions, I “open the room” for the people to create solution proposals
- if I am able to reflect if I am part of the problem or part of the existing system which hinders me to be objective and being a good servant leader
About #AgileSeven: We ask every month our Agile Coaches and will publish on the 7th of each month their answers. Why 7? It is a magic number.