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Scrum Master! What Is Your Inner Compass?

May 30, 2017

"It's not always easy to be a good Scrum Master. Learn some common pitfalls of Scrum Masters, and to recover from them, or avoid them altogether."

"Knowing my True North gives me the courage to focus my energy where I believe it should be, not according to what is popular or pleasing to others." - Jennifer Cummings

Imagine you went on a jungle safari or a trekking trip with your friends and unfortunately you got separated from your group. There is nobody around who can guide you and you don't know your exact coordinates. The only information you have is that your camp is in a northern direction. What would you do? How would you determine which way north is?

The first thing that comes to mind is to check your compass because you know that compass always points towards True North. So simple isn't it?

"What is easy to do is also easy not to do." - Jim Rohn

Have you ever felt lost at your workplace? Do you often find it challenging to decide which direction to go? And when you find yourself lost, do you look at your inner compass and check your True North? 

Scrum Mastery is a journey and it is very important to always keep your inner compass that guides you towards True North handy.

Author Bill George describes in his book that there are five archetypal leaders: Imposters, Rationalizers, Glory Seekers, Loners, and Shooting Stars who easily lose sight of their True North. Understanding these 5 leadership hazards can help a Scrum Master to become more aware, calibrate their inner compass, and start the journey of becoming an authentic leader.

Leadership Hazard 1 - Being an Imposter:

  • Impostor Scrum Masters lack self-awareness and self-esteem. When a Scrum Master feels like an imposter, he/she faces difficulty in taking action due to indecisiveness and may experience paralyzing doubt.

  • Subsequent inaction may lead to poor results and external challenges. They become stonewallers and care very little about the way they’re perceived by others.

Leadership Hazard 2 - Being a Rationalizer:

  • Scrum Masters who are unclear about their values, principles and ethical boundaries are vulnerable to the hazards of rationalization.

  • Rationalizers don't admit their mistakes for fear of being considered a failure. As a result of their inability to take responsibility for setbacks and failures, they rationalize their problems away, instead of facing reality. They tend to blame external forces when things do not go their way and even sacrifice a team's long-term health for their own short-term gain.

Leadership Hazard 3 - Being a Glory Seeker:

  • Glory seeking Scrum Masters are the ones who are more concerned about their status and reputation than building teams or continuous improvement.

  • When the Scrum Master is unable to balance his/her intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, they fail to link their motivations with their capabilities. They always seek external motivation like money, fame, glory, power, and acclaim.

Leadership Hazard 4 - Being a Loner:

  • A Scrum Master falls into the trap of being a loner when he/she tends to avoid forming close relationships with the Scrum Team and others in their organization. They don't seek out mentors and a community of other Scrum Masters or peers. They are the 'lone wolf.' Their biggest pitfall is their failure to build personal relationships and support structures, due to which they lack support during challenging times. 

  • When Scrum Masters become loners, they become defensive and move away from receiving feedback. Without a mentor, loner Scrum Masters are prone to losing perspective and becoming rigid, which leads to their failure as a Servant Leader.

Leadership Hazard 5 - Being a Shooting Star:

  • Scrum Masters who fall into the shooting star trap lack the grounding of an integrated life. As an emerging leader, a Scrum Master may be at risk of becoming a shooting star just when he/she is moving up so rapidly in their career that they never have time to learn from their mistakes.

  • They rarely make time for family, friendships, their communities, or even themselves. They compromise with their sleep, and exercise is continually deferred. As they run ever faster, their stress mounts. Their sudden rise to leadership often leaves them overwhelmed by personal and professional problems.

It is quite possible for a Scrum Master to fall into one of these traps and lose track of their true north, but getting back on track is a source of strength. Authentic leadership is not about perfection, it is about taking ownership of actions, where you've gone off track, and learning from your empirical experience.

Here are few things Scrum Masters can do to calibrate their inner compass:

  • Self-awareness lies at the heart of the compass. As a Scrum Master, where do you get your strength and where do you find your passion? Self-assessment of skills and your ability to perform the Scrum Master role are at the core of building your inner compass.

  • As a Scrum Master, you are defined by the values and principles of Scrum, which are the deeply held beliefs that guide your actions. Values are tested by not what you say, but how you behave under pressure. If you are not living the values, soon people will lose trust in your leadership.

  • As a Scrum Master, you are a servant leader who leads with your head as well as your heart. This means having a passion for the work and compassion for the people you serve.

  • A Scrum Master leads with connected relationships. Connected relationships enable you to build trust and commitment through the openness and depth of your relationships.

  • Self-Discipline enables a Scrum Master to set high standards for themselves and to hold others accountable for their actions and results. However, when you fall short, it is equally important to admit your mistakes and set an example of vulnerability in the Scrum team.

In summary, Scrum Mastery as authentic leadership is about empowering others on their journeys. It's not about motivating people to follow you. It's about motivating people to reach their fullest potential. It's not about advancing yourself and your interests. It's about inspiring others to bring out their best. It is a transformation from "I" to "We."

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