Tuesday, 22 July 2014 13:09

The Art and Science of Servant Leader in Agile Scrum world

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In this article we will examine some of the concepts and background of Servant Leader. Discuss some well-known leadership styles and explain how the Servant Leader associated with them. Discuss the characteristics of Servant Leader that pertain to a Scrum Master.

One of the Key roles in Scrum is Scrum Master. The Scrum frame work has given a clear definition for Scrum Master. Scrum Master meant to be an Agile Coach and a Servant Leader. To have a successful Agile-Scrum project, Scrum Master should play an active role. To precisely say Scrum Master should be a Servant Leader. In order to know clear definition of Servant Leader, first we need to know who is a leader and what leader ship means.

The most challenging question is what is Leadership?

There are many definitions for Leader and Leadership. Many people described Leadership in different ways. The most common conclusive answer is, “Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal”. My personal view and the most influential definition to me is “Leadership is an art and science of leading others to deliberately create a result that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”

The reason I liked the idea of defining “Leadership is an art and science of leading”, is because I truly believe and also many scholars stated that Leadership has nothing to do with seniority, one’s position in the hierarchy, nothing to do with title, and most importantly it is not meant to be just management. 

The most commonly recognized qualities of leader are: Honesty, Ability to Delegate, Communication, Sense of Humor, Confidence, Commitment, Positive Attitude, Creativity, Intuition, Ability to Inspire, and Clear Vision. There are other qualities we often see in books are, Self-Awareness, Self-Direction, Ability to Motivate and Social Awareness etc.
A leader can have one or all the above qualities, but they choose to follow different management style to achieve results. In general the management styles are broadly defined as:

  1. Autocratic Leaders: Make decisions without consulting their team members, even if their input would be useful.
  2. Democratic Leaders: Make the final decisions, but they include team members in the decision-making process.
  3. Laissez-faire: leaders give their team members a lot of freedom in how they do their work, and how they set their deadlines.

I won’t say they are the only styles, but I would say these are popular styles. I am hoping I gave enough information on Leader and Leadership. Let’s switch the gears and discuss Servant Leader.

Background of Servant Leader:

The style and definition of Servant Leader has been introduced by Robert K. Greenleaf. I would say before he defined, it might be there but he gave a form and definition to it and made it popular. The idea of the servant as a leader came partly out of his own experience. Greenleaf at one place mentions as “the need for a better approach to leadership, one that puts serving others—including employees, customers, and community—as the number one priority. Servant leadership emphasizes increased service to others, a holistic approach to work, promoting a sense of community, and the sharing of power in decision making.”

The characteristics of the Servant-Leader from Greenleaf are: Listening, Empathy, Healing, Awareness, Persuasion, Conceptualization, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the growth of people, Building community.

Servant Leader in Scrum:

Just to reiterate, in the beginning of article I mentioned that Scrum Master is a Servant Leader. Just keep that in mind. If one truly believes and understands the soul of leadership and the philosophy behind Servant Leadership we can safely say ScrumMaster/Servant Leader is an important and very interesting role in Scrum. In Scrum framework, Scrum Master acts as a servant leader that serves the product owner, team and organization.

How can a Scrum Master be a True Servant Leader?

To know the association, first we need to know some of the responsibilities of Scrum Master. They are:

  1. Responsible for making sure that the team lives by the values and practices the principles of Scrum.
  2. Scrum Master does anything possible to help the team perform at their highest level.
  3. The Scrum Master is also often viewed as a protector of the team.
  4. Involves in removing any impediments to the process and also in the Team.
  5. Facilitating meetings.
  6. Coordinating with Product Owner and the Team.
  7. Making sure that team doesn’t overcommit the work.
  8. Establishing clear communication channel between stakeholders, Team and Product Owner.
  9. Helps in reaching goals to deliver potential shippable product.
  10. Etc

Let’s also see some of the Key Characteristics of Servant Leader. They are: Awareness, Listening, Persuasion, Empathy, Healing, coaching etc.

If we look into the Scrum Master Responsibilities and characteristics, we can conclude that Scrum Master is a Servant Leader, and this kind of leadership style only can help in achieving better results in Agile environments.

A true leader will deal with the situation and uses expert judgment in taking decisions. In order to achieve above responsibilities, Scrum Master/Servant Leader should not stick to only one management style or philosophy. I meant to say depending on situation, Scrum Master should act as a Democratic Leader, Laissez-faire, and Autocratic Leaders etc. The Scrum Master/Servant Leader can only achieve above responsibilities by following different management styles in different situations.

Where Servant Leader stands in the Pyramid/Equilateral Triangle:

As pictures is worth of thousand words. I felt like explaining it with an example picture. Whenever we talk about Leader or Leadership, we find a picture and in that it will show Leader will be on the top of the PYRAMID and several layers will be represented below him, could be characteristics, organization structure etc.

In Scrum world, I would see Scrum Master/Servant Leader will be inside the Equilateral Triangle. Not on the Top of it.

sreedhar July23Picture 1 : Scrum Master/Servant Leader Equilateral Triangle

If you look at the picture 1, Product Owner (Stakeholders) is on one side, Team is on one side and Scrum Sprint is in another side. The Scrum Master/Servant Leader is inside. It’s the Scrum Master’s duty to keep all the sides and proportions are equal. Keep the balance between proportions. In order to achieve, Scrum Master need to follow all the Servant Leader principles, guidelines, characteristics etc. Scrum Master ultimate goal is to make sure the scrum team lives by the values, principles and practices the Scrum at all time, the only way Scrum Master could control is by live inside the boundaries and understand the philosophy of all the proportions. Throughout the article I am stressing Scrum Master is a Servant Leader, there is another term often we hear is “Scrum Master is an Agile Coach”. Coaching is one of the characteristic of Servant Leader. So Scrum Master needs to help the team and does anything possible to make the team perform at their highest level. To achieve this, Scrum Master needs to make sure that, there won’t be any impediments to reach the goals, to be a better communicator, be a better facilitator, make sure that team won’t overcommit, develop good harmony between product owner and the Team. Regarding picture, the only reason I kept more than two hands and two legs, just to show that Scrum Master should be capable to do more and to bring believability.


Scrum Master is a very key component in the Scrum Framework, one need to be a better agile coach or Servant leader to achieve goals and to deliver potentially a shippable product. Scrum Master is not a Project Manager, though he manages at some level; Scrum Master is a Leader with the capabilities and abilities to serve the Scrum Team as a Servant Leader.

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Sreedhar Koganti

More than 15 years’ experience in software and system development. Mastered in using software methodologies, policies and procedures in simple to complex projects. Experienced in leading the technical team in right direction to reach the project goals using the best possible project management methodologies and practices. Has got opportunity to architect applications using state-of-the-art technologies. Has got very good insight on languages, databases, and tools. Published articles in various websites, and magazines. Presented technology solutions at Code Camps, User Groups. Contributed to an ASP.NET Developer Cook book. Most importantly enjoys working at Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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