May 10, 2020

What is Effective Servant Leadership™?

effective servant leadership

In a post some time ago, I elaborated on the qualities of the Emotional Scrum Master. People who reacted to this post asked me for tips and tricks on how to grow their EQ. While I was producing more articles on this subject, I came to realize that there is so much to write about, my pen would be dry long before the last tip or trick could be shared.

During a 20/20 vision on my writings, I discovered clusters of knowledge that are essential to Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches: Genuine coaching techniques, knowledge of psychological principles and above all, understanding and developing “Self” awareness.

It led me to see the enormous gap that separates available education and the reality of our profession:

  • Scrum Masters get trained to understand a framework and implement a process.
  • Agile coaches are trained on driving organizational change
  • Agile managers sign up for agile introduction workshops bearing the adjectives “executive” and “Agile” in their name to appeal to their target audience.

The reality is that our work mainly consists of working with people.

To be more precise, working with people under stress and in difficult situations where safety needs to make way for insecurity and change. And note, the vast majority of us are not trained for this kind of work, i.e. organizations put their faith into the hands of amateurs trying to implement processes to the best of their knowledge and ability. What we lack are the knowledge and skills to take people along, to open them up for change and to feel and professionally support them.

How Effective Servant Leadership (ESL) emerged

I found out earlier in my career that knowing a framework is not the greatest challenge for Scrum Masters, but stuff like changing the mindset of a Java Back-end developer is. I decided to try several coaching classes, where one can practice and learn how to work with people. The coaching classes gave me a very rich toolkit I make use of every day.

I experienced that the existing coaching educations contain elements that are extremely valuable for everybody working in our profession. The problem is that these classic coaching educations focus on coaching in a larger context and miss the focus and problem space of our profession. It makes sense to get rid of the material that is not applicable to our reality as change agents in complex organizations.

Another issue I observe is that in general, psychology and coaching focus on fixing a person’s problems, i.e. they have a problem-fixing approach. I have perceived being a Scrum Master as an endless effort of root cause analysis, fixing problems, implementing improvements, etc. I described in an earlier article that continuous problem-solving tends to demotivate and spirals downwards by uncovering more problems. I am convinced and successful in creating sustainable change sourced in positivity. Servant leaders can be more effective if they learn how to coach positively by moving their focus from problem analysis towards setting improvement goals.

We don’t need to fully understand a problem to be able to solve it. Instead, we can set goals to improve our situation and the problem will unfold by itself.

What are your goals?

I am convinced that formulating goals and working on steps to reach these goals is a very good alternative to in-depth problem solving.

Instead of thinking about your shortcomings as a scrum master, try thinking about goals like these:

  • You are able to think and act clearly when you are confronted with strong emotions like resistance.
  • You know how to get everybody on the same page.
  • You know how to successfully mediate in conflicts.
  • Your team takes initiatives because you know how to motivate them.
  • You have the key to implement changes swiftly.
  • You can pop an excellent powerful question, even when you are under pressure.
  • You use your intuition and intelligence to train and coach people and you feel secure because your approach is sourced in science.
  • You know how to apply systems thinking in practice.
  • You feel secure because you know your inner self, helping you to control your emotions.
  • You implement changes that have a long-lasting impact.
  • You have great soft skills.

The ESL doughnut

The Effective Servant Leadership “doughnut” is an overview I created to summarize the skills and focus areas we need to acquire to become effective servant leaders.

Effective Servant Leadership doughnut

I experienced that a servant leader becomes more effective by learning and practicing:

  • To understand and know yourself so that you can manage (parts of) yourself when you are coaching.
  • The basics of classical human psychology and coaching.
  • The principles of Solution Oriented Coaching (Solution-focused (brief) therapy (SFBT) that was created by Steve de Shazer and his wife Insoo Kim Berg).
  • Agile organizational design and transformation principles.
  • How to engage with people by learning how to Communicate emotions and beliefs.
  • Coaching yourself, individuals, teams, organizations, leadership and product development.

Now what?

Read more details about effective servant leadership here.