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Scrum master. Servant leadership vs democratic leadership? and negotiations skills?

Last post 06:33 pm December 28, 2021 by Ian Mitchell
4 replies
01:54 pm December 28, 2021


As a Scrum master I am studing more deeply the expectations of the servant leadership. The servant leadership means many things, can be easly confused and difficult to achieve. It is something we have to learn in an incremental internal process and sometimes it is difficult to see if we are in a right or wrong path since many things are subjective to our interpretation. And regarding to leadership in general there are many styles and we can even encarnate different ones according the different situations.

But got to my confusion the definition of a democratic leader, since it is set  as a different style of leadership than the servant leader ?

As far as I read a downside of a servant leader and also democratic leader is that sometimes it can be set decision to a group of individuals even if they do not have the skills on decision making for the the topic being dedided . Even if one individual in the team has more skills on that area, the person could be overheard in the process. Or maybe they could do a decision for the team but not in line with the overall organization main goals.   

In the pros and cons section of this article mentions this as cons  

But as a servant leader, I read about being "influential" and ""persuasive" is part of the job also. That is in ordet to help the team to make more unanimous decisions having also in mind and getting in line as well with the organizations goals and big picture as well. 

Therefore, the servant leader can expose to the team the "big picture" or consequenses of their decisions to persuade and influence to make a more accordant decision in certain areas for the general good and not only the good of certain indivuduals of the team when voting.

In other words, the servant leader, will not make a decision but could influence in the decision making as difference of the plain democratic leader that will leave everything to the will of the team blindly. 

For all of this also I conclude that if a servant leader have or learn good negotiation skills, is very important. 

Is this interprataton correct as what is expected as a servant leader in regards of decision making and differences with plain democratic leader? 

Should as Scrum Master adquire negotiation skills and take courses on the matter? 

02:30 pm December 28, 2021

The 2017 version of the Scrum Guide stated that the SM is a servant leader; however, this has been changed in the 2020 version to the SM being a true leader, which means that the SM should endeavour to become well versed in all leadership styles.

03:21 pm December 28, 2021

Hi Scott,

As far as I understand of this article,… 

 it was changed to avoid mis interpretations of the role since many companies thought of scrum masters only as facilitators so the change to true leader but it is still serving the  dev team and PO to become great and also to help to better collaboration and relationships with stakeholders among many things. but I still see the element of servant leadership? 

05:51 pm December 28, 2021

One thing that I point out to people is that the term "servant leader" is two words.  The goal is to be a servant to the organization by helping them to learn how to make decisions, do work, remove impediments as a group.  However, there are times that you have to step in as a leader and make decisions because the organization is at a standoff.  I coach others that in the situation where you have to be the one to make a decision it is conveyed in a manner such as 

Since we can't come to a common decision, I believe we should do <insert decision>.  By agreeing to this decision, you are agreeing to experiment by doing something, inspecting it, then adapting as necessary.  Doing nothing is definitely the wrong decision. 

This also plays into the servant portion because you are showing them that sometimes you have to do something in order to determine if it is right.  

I agree with @Scott Anthony Keatinge that as a true leader you should be versed in many types of leadership styles and be able to adapt as needed.  You should also be able to meld multiple styles together if the situation warrants.  

One thing I want to point out, everything anyone says is their interpretation unless they are the ones that originally made the statement.  So the articles that you are referring to are just the opinions of the people that wrote them.  Part of being a Scrum Master is understanding and embracing empiricism.  I encourage you to read on the topic of empiricism as you are doing on leadership.  Then start to form your own opinions based upon your experiences.  There is no right or wrong answer in empiricism.  But you can arrive at decisions for right now based upon what you know. 

06:33 pm December 28, 2021

A Scrum Team is not necessarily a democracy, and so there is no particular requirement for a Scrum Master to be a democratic leader. It may be more appropriate to think of a Scrum Team as a holacracy, and perhaps the servant leadership evidenced by a Scrum Master ought to promote this.

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