Our guide acted as a servant leader.

Our guide acted as a servant leader.

The servant leader works to empower and serve the people he or she leads. Empowerment on an Agile team is removing impediments and coaching the team so it performs to its capability using Agile practices. If you are leveraging Scrum, this is the role described as a Scrum Master. In xP this is the role of a coach. Skip Prichard observes that servant leadership is a blend and balance between leader and servant. You don’t lose leadership qualities when becoming a servant leader. Different writers describe the seven pillars of servant leadership, the nine qualities of the servant leader or the 12 key practices of a servant leader. All of these lists can be consolidated into four attributes, which are that a servant leader fosters learning, facilitates collaboration, generates trust and acts as the team’s advocate.

A servant leader fosters an atmosphere in which a team continuously learns. Teams learn new skills, gain deeper understanding of the business, of the technology, of the capability of the team and how to deliver greater value. The servant leader helps to create an environment that supports the respectful and safe expression of ideas. They lead by example through coaching and teaching.

A servant leader facilitates collaboration, not only by creating a learning environment, but also by helping the team to establish a vision and goals which the team can use as a guide. The servant leader provides the tools and techniques needed for the team to self-organize and to make decisions. Collaborating is the action of working with someone (or someones) to generate an outcome. The servant, when needed, coaches and mentors team members to work together to achieve the goals they have committed to meeting.

A servant leader builds trust through trusting. When leaders exhibit trust of team members, team members show significantly higher levels of trust[1].  Trust is an important ingredient for working in teams because it underpins effective cooperative[2] behaviors. Trust creates an environment that makes communication flow more easily and allows the team self-organize rather than to be organized.

In old western movies, the settlers would circle the wagons when threatened. Agile teams can’t circle the wagons, rather they need someone must advocate for them. The servant leader is the voice of the team. Helping to remove impediments and to help deflect other demands that could deflect the team from living up to their capability.

Teams are a core component of work today. Agile teams are more efficient when they are empowered. Servant leaders help the team learn and collaborate. Servant leaders deliver and foster trust which makes the team more effective. And without someone to be the team’s voice and advocate, teams will be buffeted by the capricious demands of the organization making it difficult to deliver consistent value.


[1] Sen Sendjaya, Andre Pekerti, (2010) “Servant leadership as antecedent of trust in organizations”, Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 31 Iss: 7, pp.643 – 663