To Be a Better Leader, Follow SCRUMstudy

February 22, 2016

Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders. -Tom Peters

Though just a teenager, Joan of Arc rallied the support of men and women alike and catalyzed a French revival during the Hundred Years’ War. Mahatma Gandhi, leading by example, guided India to independence through non-violence. Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrated fierce courage and determination to fight for a future that, given the circumstances, appeared to be little more than a pipe dream.

The list of great historical leaders is extensive, and so is the number of influential leaders today. Whether guiding a country, a multinational company or a project team, it is important to engage your followers. In Scrum, leadership styles vary depending on the organization, the situation and even the specific individuals and objectives of the project. Let’s take a look at some common leadership styles with these discussions from A Guide to the Scrum Body of Knowledge (SBOK Guide):

Servant Leadership: Servant leaders employ listening, empathy, commitment, and insight while sharing power and authority with team members. Servant leaders are stewards who achieve results by focusing on the needs of the team. This style is the embodiment of the Scrum Master role, and SCRUMstudy endorses Servant Leadership as the optimal manner for leading a team. Delegating: Delegating leaders are involved in the majority of decision making; however, they delegate some planning and decision-making responsibilities to team members, particularly if they are competent to handle the assigned tasks. This leadership style is appropriate in situations where the leader is in tune with specific project details, and when time is limited. Autocratic: Autocratic leaders make decisions on their own, allowing team members little, if any, involvement or discussion before a decision is made. This leadership style should only be used on rare occasions. Directing: Directing leaders instruct team members which tasks are required, when they should be performed and how they should be performed. Laissez Faire: With this leadership style, the team is left largely unsupervised so the leader does not interfere with their daily work activities. Often this style leads to a state of anarchy. Coaching/Supportive: Coaching and supportive leaders issue instructions and then support and monitor team members through listening, assisting, encouraging, and presenting a positive outlook during times of uncertainty. Task-Oriented: Task-oriented leaders enforce task completion and adherence to deadlines. Assertive: Assertive leaders confront issues and display confidence to establish authority with respect.

Servant Leadership is the preferred leadership style for Scrum projects. The term was first described by Robert K. Greenleaf in an essay titled “The Servant as Leader.” Below is an excerpt where he explains the concept:

The servant-leader is servant first…It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived? (Greenleaf 1970, 6)

It’s safe to say Joan of Arc, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were not familiar with the Scrum framework or Robert K. Greenleaf’s essay. Even today’s leaders in the world of Scrum might find great success without practicing Servant Leadership. However, when creating deliverables in a team environment, leaders often benefit more from serving the needs of the team than finding ways in which members of the team could be better servants.

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