Be a Servant Leader for Your Agile Team

We came across a couple articles this past month that really hit home for us as Agile practitioners. We must be servant leaders. As a leader it is your job to continue to be the vision and voice reminding your team of it’s values. Michael Stallard tells us about a Retired CNO Naval Admiral Vern Clark, who was formerly the chief of the U.S. Navy from 2000 until 2005. When Admiral Clark became the chief one of the biggest issues were the re-enlistement numbers. It seemed like year over year the re-enlistement was going down. He had to do something.

“As the Navy improved sailor retention and developed greater alignment with Admiral Clark’s vision, it became faster and more responsive…Servant leaders such as Admiral Clark outperform other leaders because they move people to “surrender the me for the we” and it is nearly always the case that we accomplish more when we are pulling together than when we are drifting apart.”

Such stories give us a front row seat to how leaders work in other environments. We can glean a lot from other leaders in different industries and apply them directly to what we do in Agile software development.

Dana Brownlee reminds us how we can motivate our team during difficult times. She too reminds us that leaders must lead by example:

“A wise man once said: “Ignore everything they say, and just pay attention to what they do.” That is exactly what team members are doing…watching what leaders do! If you’re constantly telling your team that times are lean and everyone needs to do more with less, let them see you doing it!”

Dana goes on to say that as part of one’s leadership duties, they must be able to speak candidly to their team, provide support in times of personal crisis, and continue to build up relationships with the people in your team.

Team members need to know that we’re looking out for their best interests as well as the companies values and goals. While many who read this blog are in the Agile coach demographic, this even applies to you as well. Empathy and relationship-building should never be overlooked as a key component to getting a tough job done well. These couple of articles have inspired us to continue to build meaningful relationships beyond the work.

A couple ways that Agile Scout enjoys doing this?

  • Grilling out with the team – Yep. We did that this past weekend!
  • Meeting with team members during conferences or meetups.
  • Having some meaningful conversations over lunch.

What ways do you lead your team to success?


12 Replies to “Be a Servant Leader for Your Agile Team”

  1. I love that quote “Ignore everything they say, and just pay attention to what they do.”

    One wise man who said that was the late Randy Pausch (1960–2008) Professor of Computer Science, Human-Computer Interaction, and Design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That quote was included in his speech The Last Lecture at Carnegie Mellon University. It’s worth every minute to watch and be inspired.

  2. One of my favourite article this month, thanks! 🙂

    After digging into Deming and Drucker this month I am desperately looking for replacements of traditional project management concepts and roles. I had the idea of “assistance for others” who are aiding the creative design processes instead of controlling them, with different planing parties work together (including engineers and customers, if not being the central part). Servant leadership is a great terminology! Also have a look at Christopher Avery’s new posting about collaborative leadership.

    Many greetings from an agilist in Sweden!

    1. Pichat — Thank you for the link to Christopher Avery’s blog. Wonderful post!

      Having spoken with him at some length, and having sat through one of his workshops, I agree that he has great insights and excellent guidance to offer us as we learn to become more agile through collaboration and interdependence.

      Greetings to you, my fellow agilist, from “Hotlanta” (Atlanta, Georgia, USA).

      Thanks again for sharing!

    1. I would also like to echo the full title for the book referenced by Mario Moreira:

      “Practicing Servant-Leadership: Succeeding Through Trust, Bravery, and Forgiveness”
      Edited by Larry C. Spears and Michele Lawrence (of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership).

      Find it here or through your favorite bookseller.


      PS, from the promotional quotes…

      “No one in the past thirty years has had a more profound impact on thinking about leadership than Robert Greenleaf. If we sought an objective measure of the quality of leadership available to society, there would be none better than the number of people reading and studying his writings.”
      —Peter M. Senge, author, The Fifth Discipline

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