Servant leaders work through collaboration.

Servant leaders work through collaboration.

I am often asked why servant leadership is important (this is usually right after someone asks what servant leadership is). A servant leader facilitates collaboration not only by creating a learning environment, but also by helping the team to establish a vision and goals.  Servant leadership can be tied directly to the four values of Agile.

Servant leadership helps support the first value “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” from the Agile Manifesto by coaching and mentoring individuals so they can build the trust that is critical to become a team. The leader builds trust in a variety of ways, including providing the team the tools and techniques needed to make decisions and self-organize. Trust is generated when the team can commit to each other and follow through.

Servant leadership supports the second value “working software over comprehensive documentation” by facilitating a team’s ability to deliver against the commitments they make, so that software becomes the currency of progress rather than documentation. A servant leader clears issues and blockers out of the way of the team so they can deliver against their commitments.

Servant leadership fosters “customer collaboration over contract negotiation” by delivering the mentoring and coaching needed to learn the language of business and IT and then how to communicate among all interested parties. Servant leaders share their knowledge so that whole team is more productive because value is measured by what is delivered rather than what is known. Older-style leaders would provide the access point rather than teaching the team to collaborate because knowledge and information is valued even when it does not translate to delivered software.

Servant leaders teach teams to be self-organized and self-managed so that the value “responding to change over following a plan” is possible. The team plans and re-plans at the release, sprint and daily level so that change can be incorporated. This is a learned behavior and requires the whole team’s involvement to avoid careening out of control. When only the leader or planner owns the plan, control of the requirements and the plan is critical because accepting all changes can easily overwhelm an individual’s ability to tell the resources what to do.

Servant leadership is a crucial component of the Agile values. An older-style leader who tells and directs will have a difficult time facilitating a team’s translation of Agile values into the day-to-day activities needed to deliver software because Agile expects the team to self-organize and self-direct. Perhaps the fifth value should have been “leading and guiding over telling and yelling.”