The Identity Crisis Of The Servant Leader!

A Scrum Master Is A Servant Leader

What do you mean by that?  I am no one’s servant!  I am a facilitator and no longer a project manager. But in no way am I a servant.  These were the words of a scrum master many years back. However, I have heard these words and others like this from the majority of scrum masters I coach.   I have encountered those who keep the word “servant” and others who prefer “leader”.

The four teams I coached experience this at so many levels. This organization took Project Managers and made them into Scrum Masters. This in itself would not be an issue, if it weren’t for the lack of understanding required to be a scrum master. Not every project manager is suitable to be a scrum master.  Yet they still get forced into this role.

The Identity Crisis…

Is difficult to say which side will dominate without really understanding the individual. There was the gaunt, dry, over analytical who had been there for a very long time.  The self absorbed, needed to be heard, strong will and goal oriented diva.  You know who you are.  The prima donna, who loved delegating, and didn’t have the time to deal with petty stuff, like forming a team. Then there was the political correct, tall, well spoken diplomat. I am certain you have come across these characters.

The first week I was there I had to try to get the teams quickly moving, sprint planning was kicked off one week later. Despite my attempt to get them to understand the need to establish rules of engagement, it was discarded by some, and quickly summarized by others.  I knew this was not going to go well from the start.  It was all much too rushed and as many of you may know, to roll out scrum you really need to understand how organizational structure and process will need to change to support your teams.  It certainly did not help to have these four characters in their own world.  Despite this, the common factor across the four was not understanding the meaning of a Servant Leader.

Servant Leadership is not about you!

Servant Leadership (2)The question was finally out! What is servant leadership?  Servant leadership is all about your team and not about you.  You are there to pull them up and have their backs. You are there to listen to them, to help them, not tell them what to do.  A servant leader understands and empathizes with their team.

Servant-leaders rely on persuasion, instead of positional authority in making decisions. Unfortunately this is not agreeable to most people, and these four were not the exception.  They would do their half attempt and fall back to their comfort zone.  The conversations always went the same way, command and control does not form a team.  I am not coaching you to be a facilitator, I am coaching you to be a Scrum Master.

I changed my strategy after weeks of the same conversation.  I concentrated my efforts on the teams.  I Empowered the teams to push back, and push back they did. Don’t get me wrong It took a lot of mentoring and one-on-one’s.  At the end of my engagement, two scrum master’s were replaced. I like to think that the diplomat and the strong willed diva learned it was never about them.  It was always about the team.

Your team’s success is your success!  Whether you are a senior executive or a scrum master, to reach organizational goals you need your team. You simply can’t do it alone.  Thanks for reading.

What has been your experience?

“It is not a bolt to be tightened into place, but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea.”

John Ciardi


3 thoughts on “The Identity Crisis Of The Servant Leader!

  1. Hi Leonor,

    If this company is converting project managers into scrum masters, and some project managers are not fit to become scrum master, then what should they do with these project managers? Should they fire them?

    In any case, I think this is a very interesting post and I would really like to republish it on PM Hut where many project managers will benefit from it. Please either email me or contact me through the contact us form on the PM Hut site in case you’re OK with this.


    1. Welcome to the blog.I am glad you liked the post. Definitely not fire them. But maybe they would be suitable to do other things. I usually recommend Program/Portfolio level or Release level planning.


  2. You are right that not every Project Manager is suitable or can be a good servant leader. It is possible for a PM to be a servant leader, but switching the behaviours takes a long time.


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