Servant Leadership as I understand it
There seems to be a perception that a “servant leader” equates closely to the classic image of Jeeves, the british gentleman servant, or something alike.
My perception is quite different.
I’m going to start with the first word first. This may be a little badly chosen word, at least in English (I don’t know about the translations to other languages). A better word might be “service”, “serving”, or “host” (as suggested by some).
I don’t see ScrumMaster being any kind of servant, acting on the bidding of the rest of the ScrumTeam. But they “serve” the others. Not from a subservient position, but as a peer. “Servant” implies that ScrumMaster is not above the others, either.
ScrumMasters make others heroes, and great ScrumMasters become heroes themselves through that. By selflessly helping others to greatness is one of the greatest acts of greatness (and that can be a career in and of itself – people who see the effect great SM’s have, tend to bestow greater responsibilities to those people).
Great ScrumMasters believe that 95% of the world’s problems are systemic, instead of being individual human problems. For example, if someone is struggling at their work, the likely reason is the environment in which they are doing that work (though there is 5% chance it actually is the person). That’s why they focus so much on the system itself, and help others improve that.
SM’s don’t have any contextual – that is, relating to the actual thing that the team develops – responsibility within the Scrum framework. The Team and the PO own the product together – the Why’s, the What’s, the How’s and the How Much’s. ScrumMaster is not expected to have any responsibility for defining any parts of it, or any direct involvement in making it a reality. But they care just as much as anyone in the project. They want the product to succeed, but they contribute at a different level – seeking to make everyone else better at succeeding with the product. In practice, SM’s may help with practical things, but when they do so, they do know that they are simply helping others own their parts (a service in other terms).
The other part of “Servant Leader” is leader. This is a hugely important part. Great ScrumMasters are visionaries, of a kind, and want to make the world a better place – at least for the Scrum Team they are working in and the organisation around them.
So they need a vision of a better future. A vision that they can then share with the others around them. It should be a vision that resonates with the people, and they start also believing in it and making it a reality. They need to be a master of Scrum, and master many other things, too.
ScrumMasters are thought-leaders of how to make great things happen together. They need to understand many aspects of reality at the same time – the beliefs, the business, the processes, the structures, the people, and the practices – and be able to help others see them, too. They need to have a holistic view of the system, to understand where the system fails the people, and then helping people build better systems for themselves.
ScrumMasters are levers – they allow the Scrum Teams exert a greater force than they alone could. But they are also challengers – they challenge the people around them to aspire to greater greatness – at least in the context of work (which means that their “ScrumMastery” doesn’t extend to people’s personal lives – just the ones they live at work).
One of the most important leadership tools that SM’s have is their own example. ScrumMasters lead from the front, by leading through their own actions. The better a ScrumMaster understands themself, the better they can lead themselves, and thus the better they can lead others. Anyone who’s walked this path for any distance knows how hard this is.
ScrumMasters lead by serving others to achieve their goals. For a time, they choose to put aside personal goals and glory (except the goal of making the Scrum Team succeed in their goals, and the glory that follows when they succeed in it). For some of us, that is a huge pleasure and a wonderful challenge.
But ScrumMastery isn’t for everyone. To be a great SM, you have to want to be a ScrumMaster. But if you want to take ownership of the work itself – either as a Product Owner (you love creating product and business success) or as a Team member (you love solving puzzles and creating things) – awesome. For every ScrumMaster, we need at least 5-6 of these “other people” :). Actually, more than that. There are more needs in organisations than just the Scrum roles. We need great managers, we need great marketers, we need great so many other people, too.
But we do also need more good ScrumMasters. The role is still poorly understood and there are only few masters. I hope this small text inspires someone to seek that greatness :). It is a path of great rewards (emotional, social and professional) for those that desire to travel it.