What does the term servant leader actually mean?
Many scrum reference books and articles explicitly state and describe the role of the scrum master as a servant leader. While most of the definitions try to state the same meaning, they can often lead to confusion as to which definition is perfect and should be followed. The importance of a definition comes into the picture once its meaning is properly understood. So, rather than concentrating upon the definition, it would make more sense to understand what the concept really means. In a nutshell, the role of being a servant leader would actually refer to maintaining a positive and humane attitude towards the team members, being sensitive towards their difficulties and problems, and putting in efforts to act as a facilitator so that goals can be achieved in a collaborative manner, with each team member contributing towards the fulfillment of the project in a proactive way. It is important for a scrum master to possess certain characteristics to be a successful “servant leader”.
An individual who is a good listener can also make informed decisions and successfully solve problems. It is important for the scrum master to listen attentively, with an open mind. The person should try to pick up pointers during the daily scrum meetings as to what the team members are really trying to say, and what kinds of problems they are really facing. Some individuals are extroverts and find it easy to speak about their problems in a crowd, and demand solutions from others. Introvert individuals may find this very difficult to do, and so it would be up to the scrum master to encourage such individuals to open up and be vocal about their problems. Moreover, the person should also try to encourage self-organization and self-learning amongst team members. If the team is facing impediments, it becomes necessary to engage with the issue in a proactive manner and start finding solutions, rather than wait for the team to approach the scrum master with the particular issue. To be a good servant leader, the scrum master should also be a good listener.
While leading teams, it becomes imperative to develop a holistic view and look at things from a general point of view, rather than be concerned about the micro level issues when a particular issue or problem arises. It is important to look at problems from a higher level and get an overall picture of where the issue is actually heading to before arriving at a consensus with the team members. It is also required to look beyond the role and scope as a programmer or a developer and grasp the problem at its root level before striving to provide solutions. Scrum methodology advocates that the scrum master should not get directly involved with the development work and start directing the team members. At the same time, the servant leader role indicates that the scrum master should act more as a facilitator and help the team members to resolve their problems by providing guidance and advice, even on an individual basis if required. Therefore, it becomes necessary to strike a correct balance between the two aspects of the role.
Traditional project managers can be autocratic while delegating their authority. Scrum is in antithesis of autocracy – it supports teamwork and collaboration. The team works as a whole and delivers results. Moreover, the scrum guide indicates a specific role for the scrum master. He or she should primarily supervise, and ensure that scrum is properly implemented, and followed by the team members. Rather than issuing commands and orders, the servant leader role encourages persuasion – discuss and talk with the team members, and encourage them to do things rather than demand action and activities from them.
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