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Exploring Scrum Master's Influence: From Good to Great

April 28, 2017

"To be a great leader, you need to care about people. Being a Scrum Master is no different. In this post, we explore this idea."

Leonard Ravenhill wrote in "The last days Newsletter" about a group of tourists visiting a picturesque village. As they walked by an old man sitting beside a fence, one of the tourists asked: "Were any great men born in this village?" The old man replied, "Nope, only babies."

Leadership is developed, not discovered (I have found inspiration in John C. Maxwell's various books).  John defines leadership as influence, and a good Scrum Master has to climb the different levels of influence to achieve a good to great mindset.

Stage 1 - Rights:

When you are made the Scrum Master of a newly formed Scrum Team, your are typically appointed to this position by the organization. The only influence the Scrum Master has at this point is by the role title. People don't respect a positional leader beyond his stated job responsibilities. When the Scrum Master lacks confidence the team lacks commitment. The longer the Scrum Master stays at this level, the lower the morale.

Stage 2 - Relationships:

Leadership begins with the heart, not the head; people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care for them. This is only possible when the Scrum Master climbs to the second level of influence. At this level, the Scrum Master influences their team via inter-relationships. Investment of time, energy, and focus are needed to pay attention to the team's needs or desires. By being respectful to people, their experience, and their personal background, a Scrum Master can create a culture of openness - acknowledging that people are people, and not resources, machines, or replaceable pieces; and not forgetting that after all the great software/products they make are created by people.

A wonderful illustration of this can be found in Amitai Etzioni's book Modern Organizations, about Henry Ford's story. He made a perfect car, the Model T. He was totally product oriented. He wanted to fill the world with Model T cars, but when people came to him and said, "Mr. Ford, we'd like a different color car," he remarked, "You can have any color car as long as it's black." That's when the decline started. 

Having a genuine interest in listening to people with empathy is a key skill that needs to be mastered by the Scrum Master.

Stage 3 - Results:

A Scrum Master needs to create a culture of continuous improvement, an environment that fosters transparency, inspection, and adaptation where the development team is able to assess their progress towards the Sprint goal and focus on delivering value. In order to keep great values and principles alive, a great Scrum Master always has a toolkit handy that he/she could leverage for the benefit of the team and the organization. A few such tools that could help Scrum Masters are: Team Manifestos/agreements to get everybody on the same page and focused on a common goal. Scrum Masters need to create momentum in the team where the development team is able to burst impediments themselves with ease and are intrinsically driven to deliver value. At this stage, things start turning positive. Teams are focused on goals, and team morale is high. People come together to accomplish a task and teams are result-oriented. 

Stage 4 - Reproduction:

A Scrum Master becomes great not because of his/her powers but because of his/her ability to empower the team. Your commitment to developing leaders in the team will ensure ongoing growth for the organization and for the people. At Stage 2, a team loves you as a leader/Scrum Master; at Stage 3, the team admires you as a leader/Scrum Master; at Stage 4, you win peoples' hearts by helping them grow.

Stage 5 - Respect:

People respect you because of who you are and what you represent. Only a lifetime of proven leadership will allow a Scrum Master to reach this stage and reap the rewards that are eternally satisfying. Your greatest joy comes from watching others grow and develop.

The higher you go, the higher the level of commitment. It is a very common myth that if a team has become truly self-organizing and is able to remove their impediments effectively, then the Scrum Master has become obsolete.

The more mature a team is, the more time the Scrum Master spends with the organization dealing with impediments related to adjacent processes, organizational processes, etc.


One thing to note is you should never forget the base stage. Each stage stands upon the previous one and will crumble if the previous one is neglected. For instance, if you move from a relationship stage to the results stage and stop caring for people, your team might feel disrespected.

This was a small attempt of mine to explore the blueprint of the Scrum Master as a Leader by exploring the concept of influence and how to increase it.

What did you think about this post?