Tag Archives: Agile Leadership

What Is Servant Leadership and How Does It Relate to Agile?

“Servant Leadership” is a commonly-used term in an Agile environment. However, if you asked people what it means, I’m sure you would get a number of different responses. For that reason, I think it is worthwhile to discuss “What Is Servant Leadership?”

What is Servant Leadership?

What Is Servant Leadership?

“Servant leadership” sounds like a manager who does nothing but get coffee, donuts, and pizza for the Agile team. Is that what it really is? (I don’t think so). The phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in “The Servant as Leader”, an essay that he first published in 1970 long before Agile came into being.   Here’s a definition of “servant leadership”:

“Servant leadership is characterized by leaders who put the needs of a group over their own. These leaders foster trust among employees by holding themselves accountable, helping others develop, showing appreciation, sharing power and listening without judging. While serving and leading seem like conflicting activities, these leaders are effective initiators of action.”

http://www.ehow.com/list_6753156_servant-leadership-games.html?ref=Track2&utm_source=IACB2B

A “servant leader” doesn’t necessarily completely abdicate the leadership role and do nothing but get coffee, donuts, and pizza for the team.  He/she recognizes the importance of working through others and engaging and empowering others to use as much of their own capabilities as possible.  Here’s an excellent quote on that:

“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.

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?

A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong”

Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership

What is Servant Leadership?

What Does it Really Mean to be a Servant Leader?

A major leadership principle that is applicable to any leadership role is that there is no single leadership style that works in all situations. A good leader should be capable of taking an adaptive and situational leadership approach that is appropriate to the people and the environment he/she is trying to lead.

With regard to servant leadership, the way the servant leader role is implemented will be very dependent on the capabilities of the Agile team you are leading and the environment you are part of. The goal should be to maximize the utilization of the capabilities of the entire team. However, that doesn’t mean a servant leader completely abdicates a leadership role and turns over all responsibility to the team. Determining the most effective servant leadership role requires some judgement:

  • If the team is very strong and very capable, the role of the servant leader may be limited to a facilitation role
  • If that is not the case, a more active leadership role may be needed by the servant leader

Basically, the servant leader needs to “fill the cracks” as much as possible to help the team become fully effective on their own.

Why Is This Important in Agile?

The idea of “servant leadership” is particularly important in an Agile environment because an Agile approach is best suited for projects with a high level of uncertainty.  In that kind of environment,

  • A lot of individual creativity may be needed to find an optimum solution and
  • Maximizing the creativity of the team requires that the team be empowered as much as possible.

It is basically a softer leadership style that puts an emphasis on empowering others over a more controlled approach.  It is ideal for a highly uncertain environment that requires an adaptive Agile approach.  Naturally, it probably would not be so ideal for a more plan-driven environment where conformance to a plan is important.

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

What is Emotional Intelligence and Why Is It Important?

I recently created a significant training module on Agile Leadership. One of the key topics in that module is “Emotional Intelligence”.  I’m sure some people are wondering “What is emotional intelligence and why is it important?”  I’d like to summarize some of that here.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

First, here’s a definition of “emotional intelligence”:

“Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. It is generally said to include three skills:

  • “Emotional Awareness
  • The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and
  • The ability to manage emotions, which includes regulating your own emotions and cheering up or calming down other people”

https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/emotional-intelligence

What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why Is It Important?

Why Is It Important?

Emotional intelligence is one of the most important skills of an effective leader. The reason that emotional intelligence is so important to leadership is that if you can’t control your own emotions; it will be difficult, if not impossible to be an effective leader.

Here’s a quote that sums up the value of emotional intelligence very well:

“We probably also know people who are masters at managing their emotions. They don’t get angry in stressful situations. Instead, they have the ability to look at a problem and calmly find a solution. They’re excellent decision makers, and they know when to trust their intuition.

“Regardless of their strengths, however, they’re usually willing to look at themselves honestly. They take criticism well, and they know when to use it to improve their performance.”

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCDV_59.htm

What Are the Benefits of Emotional Intelligence?

Here are some of the key benefits of developing emotional intelligence:

AreaImpact
Increased Leadership AbilityYour leadership approach will be based on sound, rational principles rather than being dominated by emotional responses
Increased Team PerformanceTeam members will feel much more comfortable and secure in a non-threatening team environment with no hidden agendas
Improved Decision-makingDecisions are made more objectively and rationally
Decreased Occupational StressThere will be less emotional tension involved in the work environment
Reduced Staff TurnoverThere will be fewer emotional flare-ups
Increased Personal Well-beingLearning to accept yourself and gain control of your emotions can lead to a much happier life

How Do You Improve Emotional Intelligence?

The following tips have been reproduced from the Mind Tools web site:

1. Observe How You React to People

“Do you rush to judgement before you know all the facts? Do you stereotype? Look honestly at how you think and interact with other people. Try to put yourself in their place, and be more open and accepting of their perspectives and needs.”

2. Look at Your Work Environment

“Do you seek attention for your accomplishments? Humility can be a wonderful quality, and it doesn’t mean that you’re shy or lack self-confidence. When you practice humility, you say that you know what you did, and you can be quietly confident about it. Give others a chance to shine – put the focus on them, and don’t worry too much about getting praise for yourself.”

3. Do a Self-Evaluation

“What are your weaknesses? Are you willing to accept that you’re not perfect and that you could work on some areas to make yourself a better person? Have the courage to look at yourself honestly – it can change your life.”

4. Examine How You React to Stressful Situations

“Do you become upset every time there’s a delay or something doesn’t happen the way you want? Do you blame others or become angry at them, even when it’s not their fault? The ability to stay calm and in control in difficult situations is highly valued – in the business world and outside it. Keep your emotions under control when things go wrong.”

5. Take Responsibility for Your Actions

“If you hurt someone’s feelings, apologize directly – don’t ignore what you did or avoid the person. People are usually more willing to forgive and forget if you make an honest attempt to make things right.”

6. Examine How Your Actions Will Affect Others

“Before you take those actions. If your decision will impact others, put yourself in their place. How will they feel if you do this? Would you want that experience? If you must take the action, how can you help others deal with the effects?”

Why Is This Particularly Important to Agile Project Management?

Check out my previous article on Agile Leadership and I think you will understand why effective leadership is extremely difficult and so important in an Agile environment with high performance teams.  Agile is based heavily on transparency and openness and if you can’t be open and transparent about who you are as a person, you will have a difficult time being effective in an Agile environment.

Overall Summary

Self-awareness is one of the biggest components of emotional intelligence.  Many people aren’t even aware of who they are as a person and don’t reveal that to others.  They live their lives behind a facade that is based on projecting an image of who they are to others that may not be very genuine and others can employees can see through that easily.

When I was a young manager many years ago, self-awareness training was a standard part of many companies’ management training curriculum.  

  • The idea was that, to be an effective leader, its important to be genuine and open with others and you can’t do that without self-awareness
  • Unfortunately, over the years, companies have cut back on that kind of training.  It was seen as frivolous and not essential and as pressure has mounted to reduce cost of operations, a lot of that kind of training has been cut

Additional Resources

I can’t really directly help you develop emotional awareness in my online training; however, I’ve added two new sections and twelve additional lessons on Agile Leadership and Emotional Intelligence in my online training that I think will be helpful to you to better understand how to develop an effective leadership strategy.

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

Was Steve Jobs an Agile Leader?

Was Steve Jobs an effective Agile leader? I watched the movie “Jobs” this weekend about the life of Steve Jobs and his career at Apple and it was very thought-provoking. 

Was Steve Jobs an Agile Leader?

Steve Jobs was absolutely brilliant, embodied a lot of Agile values, and he was enormously successful in developing some very innovative products in a relatively short amount of time that made Apple very successful;  but he was ruthless, tyrannical, and very insensitive in his relationships with people. 

I was thinking – is that style of leadership really consistent with Agile and is it an effective style of leadership for an Agile environment?

  • Much of the thinking behind Agile is based on the idea of empowered and self-organizing teams where the product definition bubbles up rather than being driven down from above,  Steve Jobs’ leadership style doesn’t seem to be very consistent with that model, but he was very successful in getting things done.
  • Another thing that seems to be not entirely consistent with Agile is that Agile is based on the idea of teams working at a “sustainable pace” and it was apparent that many of the teams that worked under Steve’s direction at Apple worked incredible hours to get things done but they were very passionate and dedicated to their work.

Here are some quotes from Steve Jobs that indicate his values that are related to Agile:

Was Steve Jobs an Agile Leader? – Higher-level Values

Area>Quote
Focus and Simplicity“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things… “That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
Leadership Style“It’s not about charisma and personality, it’s about results and products and those very bedrock things that are why people at Apple and outside of Apple are getting more excited about the company and what Apple stands for and what its potential is to contribute to the industry…The people who are doing the work are the moving force behind the Macintosh. My job is to create a space for them, to clear out the rest of the organization and keep it at bay.”
Planning“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
Seeing the “Big Picture”“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have…To turn really interesting ideas and fledgling technologies into a company that can continue to innovate for years, it requires a lot of disciplines.”

Was Steve Jobs an Agile Leader? Project-level Values

Area>Quote
Requirements and Customer Needs“You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”
Innovation“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”
Quality“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”
Continuous Improvement“I have a great respect for incremental improvement, and I’ve done that sort of thing in my life, but I’ve always been attracted to the more revolutionary changes. I don’t know why. Because they’re harder. They’re much more stressful emotionally. And you usually go through a period where everybody tells you that you’ve completely failed.”
Tools“It’s not the tools that you have faith in – tools are just tools. They work, or they don’t work. It’s people you have faith in or not.”

And one of his most famous quotes that really sums up his values is “Stay hungry, stay foolish”. 

Was Steve Jobs an Agile Leader? Overall Summary

My thoughts on this are that:

  • Steve Jobs definitely had some “rough edges” in his relationships with people but he embodies many of the characteristics of an effective Agile leader
  • There probably isn’t one leadership style that is effective in all situations and some “out of the box” thinking is definitely worthwhile rather than implementing some kind of “textbook” Agile approach in all situations

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

Using an Adaptive Leadership Style in Agile

Adaptive Leadership in Agile

My answer to that is:

What is the importance of adaptive leadership in Agile? I’ve been a Project Manager for many years and, over the years, I’ve gone through a lot of job interviews, particularly as a consultant where you might change roles every 3-6 months. One of the questions I’ve been asked in interviews is “What is your leadership style?”.

  • I use an “adaptive leadership” approach. That is, I think that’s there’s not just one leadership style that works all the time
  • That is particularly true in an Agile environment
  • You have to adopt an adaptive leadership style in Agile that is appropriate for the situation.

I think that’s there’s not just one leadership style that works all the time and that is particularly true in an Agile environment. You have to adopt an adaptive leadership style in Agile that is appropriate for the situation.

Adaptive Leadership in Agile
Leadership Business Management Teamwork Motivation Skills concept on the hexagons and transparent honeycomb structure presentation screen. Man pressing button on display with word in modern office

How does Adaptive Leadership apply to Agile Project Management?

  • There is a popular stereotype in the Agile community that all project managers are only capable of operating in a “Command and Control” leadership style. I’m sure that is an exaggeration, but it is true that many project managers have a tendency to assume a somewhat directive leadership style
  • For years, that has been an essential characteristic of many project managers – you can’t just sit on the sidelines and let a project run its course without some kind of direction and leadership
  • Agile changes that paradigm dramatically by emphasizing self-organization and empowerment of the team and positions the Scrum Master in the role of a “Servant Leader” to support the team rather than leading and directing the team

What’s the Impact of Adaptive Leadership on Project Managers?

So, where does that leave the project manager? What value does he/she provide to an Agile team? I think the appropriate answer to those questions is that “it depends”.

  • A lot of people will say that a project manager can’t possibly play the role of a Scrum Master because the roles are so different. I don’t necessarily agree with that perspective…that perspective is based largely on the stereotype that all project managers are only capable of operating in “command and control” mode
  • I believe a good project manager has learned over the years to develop an adaptive leadership approach that’s appropriate for the situation and I think that’s very appropriate in an Agile environment

Overall Summary

There is an idealistic Agile view that all Agile teams are totally self-organizing, completely empowered, and require little or no direction or leadership.

  • The team, as a whole, should function on its own without much direction at all – that’s true to some extent, but a more pragmatic view is that all teams aren’t necessarily at that level of maturity and some leadership is needed to help them get to that point.
  • “Adaptive leadership” is an important skill in this kind of environment…a good Project Manager or Scrum Master should be capable of providing a sufficient level of leadership to get the team to a level of self-sufficiency and progressively back out as the team reaches that level

“Adaptive Leadership” or learning to adapt your leadership style to the situation is a very important characteristic for project managers to be successful in an Agile environment.

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.