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Why is a Scrum Master called True Leader in Scrum Guide 2020?

Last post 08:21 am August 14, 2023 by Lars Devocht
9 replies
05:53 pm April 21, 2021

Transparency enables Inspection enables Adaptation

Yes! It's interesting to inspect Scrum Guide 2017 & the new refined Scrum Guide 2020 that the title of a Scrum Master has transitioned from Servant Leader (status) to True Leader (status). In fact Many Agile Coaches & Scrum Masters across the world still believe that Servant Leader was a better epitome to Scrum Master over True Leader because a Scrum Master serves developers by clearing their impediments meanwhile act as a leader by facilitating the team to self-manage & cross-function. 

Now the question rises, What is the logic to call a Scrum Master as a True Leader !

I believe Scrum Master is accountable for Transparency (Truth) ,one of the pillars of empiricism. Transparency needs to be established within a Scrum Team which encompasses 

a) Transparency in Scrum Framework including Scrum Artifacts, Scrum Rules, Scrum Practices, Scrum Theory & Scrum Values 

b)  Transparency in Scrum Roles & Responsibilities 

b) Transparency in discussion & Conflict of ideas during each Scrum Ceremonies 

d) Transparency in converging Problem & Solution after Diverging Problems & Solutions 

e) Transparency in Product Goal, Product Backlog Items, Sprint Backlogs, DOD's & Increment

f) Transparency in creating the definition of Valuable Increment which the end user requires   

g) Transparency in the transition of an idea into a Valuable Increment

h) Transparency in resolving and the frequency of resolving new Impediments & existing Impediments 

i) Transparency in Cross-Functioning & Self-Managing 

j) Transparency in decision making which should be by the collective intelligence of the Scrum Team

k) Transparency in documenting past experience & lesson learnt from it  

l) Transparency in instrumenting past experience for forecasting & decision making for the unpredictable future 

m) Transparency in relation between a Scrum Team & the Stakeholders in terms of requirement, commitment, R&D, operation, maintenance & so on

n) Transparency in the Outcome, release of the Increment and the result of release

o) Transparency in Performance & incentive criteria

p) Transparency in Inspection & Adaptation right from Observation - Design - Development - QA - Deployment - Release

q) Transparency in feedback, appreciation, improvement & iteration structure


Well! Though the importance of Transparency is innumerable which we have discussed above but the question which comes in our mind is; How a True Leader can establish Transparency within a Scrum Team ?

The Scum Guide 2020 says very clearly that the moment when a Scrum Team gets success to live Scrum Values which should reflect in their work, actions & behavior, empiricism is successfully established with absolute trust & truth where Transparency enables Inspection and Inspection enables Adaptation. I believe Scrum Master should first himself/herself embrace Scrum Values and Practice it consistently during Scrum Ceremonies & Scrum Artifacts as there is a very popular proverb i.e. "Be the change which you want to see in others" & then facilitate and appreciate the team for adopting & practicing Scrum Values. It would be a healthy practice, if as a Scrum Team, we introspect at retrospective about what have we improved in terms of Quality & Effectiveness after living those Scrum Values together. 


One another dimension where I believe a Scrum Master plays the role of a True Leader is by putting the foundation of Scrum Philosophy in its true form so that the entire culture of a company could be structured based on Agility rather than on Mini Waterfall. This could be done by Scrum Master in the following way

a) Ensuring that Developers are empowered to make their own decisions and to adapt as soon as they inspect something new

b) Ensuring that Developers get a free environment to use their collective intelligence to craft their own decision in order to turn each Product Backlog Item into an Increment

c) Ensuring that Developers are not disturbed during Daily Scrum by the Product Owner, Scrum Master or any Top most Managers

d) Ensuring that Developers get all possible support & clarity of end user requirements by the Product Owner

e) Ensuring that a Scrum Team explicitly understands that we are here to collaborate & work together to deliver Value based Increment over Volume based Increment  

f) Ensuring that Impediments faced by Developers are cleared out asap so that the Scrum Team gets success to deliver Value over Volume 

g) Ensuring that Scrum Team practices Scrum Values while doing cross-functional & self-managing work together

h) Ensuring that Product Owner behaves as a Scrum Team member & keeps his/her opinion during any discussion rather than posing his/her decision on Developers as a Manager

i) Ensuring that Scrum Team actively participates in all Scrum Ceremonies in every Sprint

j) Ensuring that Conflict happens during a valid discussion but the Conflict is focused on generating more ideas to explore unrealized Problems & Solutions rather than focused on attitude & anger

k) Collaborating with peer Scrum Masters and ensuring that every layer of management & employees including the Stakeholders understand the significance of Scrum as well as practice Scrum for the Success of the Product and of course for the surge of an Organization as a whole. 



06:07 pm April 21, 2021

Here are blogs 30 and 35 from the 59 blog series about the 2020 guide updates, which related to the SM leader change:……

06:12 pm April 21, 2021

Thanks Scott for providing me the link to get some more insights.

06:19 pm April 21, 2021

Scrum Master was given "Servant Leader" as a Title in Scrum Guide 2017 and once again Scrum Master was given "True Leader" as a Title in Scrum Guide 2017 but for "Product Owner" there is neither any title in Scrum Guide 2017 nor in Scrum Guide 2020, Why?

06:49 pm April 21, 2021

There are no titles in the Scrum Guide.  There are 3 roles described that provide clarity of the Scrum framework.  The title that the individual holds is entirely up to the organization that is paying them.  

What you are referring to as titles are actually just descriptive text for philosophies in team organization and management.  Servant-Leader and True Leader are not titles that I have ever seen on any company's job postings.  In my opinion the reason that the descriptive text is used in the Scrum Guide in relation to the Scrum Master is because too many people want to make the Scrum Master a Manager or a command-control position.  The two options that have been chosen show that a Scrum Master doesn't manage or dictate actions.  They lead teams to become better. 

In the case of the Product Owner, it is easier for people to understand the role that they play although my opinion on that is changing more every day.  Every time I hear "PO approves release/story" and "PO creates Sprint Backlog" I cringe.  There could be a need for more clarity but I still think that the Scrum Master role is more misunderstood than Product Owner or Developer. 

I applaud your desire to analyze the Scrum framework to better understand but it does seem that you are getting bogged down in specific terminology rather focusing on the larger concepts that make up the framework. 

05:36 am April 22, 2021

Thank you so much Daniel for guiding me as well as giving your valuable insights.

10:30 am July 19, 2023

I was wondering if this  change may cause some confusion during the PSM I exam ? 

Sometimes there are tricky questions that can mislead you, by asking if the SM is a True Leader, or Servant Leader.

Can somebody confirm whether such questions are cleared and fixed in the PSM I exam ?

11:32 am July 20, 2023

Kristian, I do not believe this will be an issue in the PSM I exam. Questions will prompt for the best answer, and if you were asked if SM is True Leader or Servant Leader, the best answer would be True Leader as it aligns with the 2020 guide. 

Worth noting that this change is also more than just servant-leader changing to true leader. It also involves serving the Scrum Team and the organization.

2017 SG:

The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team.

2020 SG:

Scrum Masters are true leaders who serve the Scrum Team and the larger organization.

Being a True Leader involves servant leadership, but doesn't stop at servant leadership.

01:57 pm August 3, 2023

It's not just a true leader, it's a true leader WHO SERVES. That's the crucial part. Jeff Sutherland wanted to express a sense of activeness, involvement and mission. He cites the captain of a successful rugby team as one of the role models. After all, Scrum comes from rugby.

In the second blog post linked by Scott, "Leading from the front" goes in that direction. What your post suggests sounds more like a manager to me.

08:21 am August 14, 2023

I echo Oliver's sentiment regarding the term "true leader." This leader does not merely assign tasks or supervise employee performance and attendance. Many employees often have a more profound or equivalent understanding of the intricacies of their roles than those at the management level. While the primary function of management is to focus on the overarching strategic objectives and set priorities—essentially what they are compensated for—it's essential to recognize that most employees are competent and intrinsically motivated to excel in their positions. However, they encounter challenges and roadblocks in their processes.

A "true leader" is characterized by their ability to motivate, guide, and challenge their team, ensuring that processes are streamlined, and obstacles are removed. By designating the Scrum Master as a "true leader," the Scrum Guide emphasizes that genuine leadership is not about dominance but cultivating an environment where teams can excel and produce their best work. This philosophy resonates with the essence of servant leadership, where the leader's central role is to serve and support their team. Ultimately, the most insightful query I expect from a true leader is, "How are you doing today?".

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