A question about the Scrum Master
I was talking to some people the other day about the role of Scrum Master. They wanted to know what leadership characteristics a Scrum Master should have. I turned the question back on the group and asked them what they thought.
The term “Servant Leader” cropped up, a lot.
“But what exactly does that mean?” I was asked.
Servant Leader is found in the description for Scrum Master in the Scrum Guide on the Scrum.org website. Interestingly, the term wasn’t present in the original Scrum Guide before Ken Schwaber split from the Scrum Alliance to form Scrum.org
I’ve even had a go at describing the Scrum Master myself here.
There have been many attempts at a metaphorical definition of servant leader. In his blog on “6 good attributes of a Scrum Master“, Mike Cohn suggests the metaphor of Orchestra Conductor. I’ve personally heard the more amusing “Invisible Gorilla Watcher”.
Metaphors are great for getting the gist across, but I wanted to explore a bit deeper.
The origins of the term Servant Leader
Servant Leadership was a term coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in his 1970 essay “The Servant as Leader”. The concept of servant leadership goes back into ancient history with notable possible examples including Jesus. (For the more sensitive Christians out there I’m not comparing Scrum Masters with Christ.)
The difference between servant leadership and more traditional autocratic styles of leadership is vast. Servant leaders create a participative environment, empowering ‘employees’ by sharing power and decision-making. Autocratic leaders have executive authority. Typically they are the sole decision maker and they assume responsibility for allocating tasks.
Servant Leadership in the modern world
In more recent literature on Servant Leadership, Dr Jonathon Passmore, builds on the work of Greenleaf to create a model of servant leadership that is consistent with the themes of the 1970 essay (Passmore 2009, adapted from Greenleaf 1977).
This is the model he offers.
The first three elements of Team Development, Stewardship and Building Community refer to the overall ethos of the servant leader towards peers, employees and stakeholders.
Team Development is the recognition that developing individuals and teams not just in terms of the organisations profitability but in more broad terms of enriching their working lives will bring both tangible and intangible benefits.
Building community as it relates to the role of Scrum Master is a focus on helping Scrum Teams build better relationships with the organisation they belong to. Breaking down silos, and improving collaborations with other teams and departments.
Stewardship, is the understanding that the Scrum Master is not the boss, but merely holds the team in trust for future generations of team members. Creating a team capable of autonomous decision-making.
The next four elements are interpersonal skills that a good Scrum Master should cultivate.
Listening, not merely waiting for a turn to talk (which is the origin of the word conversation), but what coaches call “active listening”. Being totally present in the conversation, and aware of body language as well as the content of the exchange.
Awareness is with regard to peoples personalities, preferences and emotions. Closely linked to listening, a Scrum Master with good awareness will be more conscious of the interactions within the team and with those external to the team.
Empathy , I’d describe as being able to put yourself in the shoes of another. Being able to recognise and understand the wide differences between “them and us”. Psychopaths are well documented as having little or no empathy but able to mimic it, you wouldn’t want one of those as your Scrum Master.
Persuasion. Having a directive or commanding approach to team members conflicts with empathy. The Scrum Master should seek to gain the commitment of others by creating a shared set of values and principles (Agile Manifesto? Team Agreements?) that reflects their views and concerns.
The last set of elements are more strategic in nature. Having the foresight to make sense of whats happening in the team or organisation and use that to inform and develop teams.Having a clear vision about the aims of the organisation and providing that to the teams in a manner that will bring about positive transformations.