Agile Leadership

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Categories: Agile, Leadership

With Agile Methods, leadership styles are diverse and based on organizational specific environments, goals and the human resources on the Scrum project. While many of us are fully aware of the term Servant Leadership, there are other leadership styles that are also relevant. A discussion follows on the variations of common agile leadership styles that are used with Agile Methods.


Servant Leadership


To no surprise, the preferred leadership style for Agile projects is Servant Leadership. With this style of leadership, serving others comes first and foremost. The expectation is that one needs to instinctively have a sentiment of wanting to serve first. The next mindful choice is the desire to lead others. The servant-leader is very different from the person that is a leader-first because that specific need is based on the attainment of power. The leader-first and the servant-first are two very different types where one is strictly focused on ensuring that other people’s needs are being served, first before their own. The servant-leader is an organizer that realizes results by focusing on the needs of the Scrum Team. This is the preferred style of leadership for a Scrum team.


Unbeknown to many, the concept of servant-leadership started years go by Robert K. Greenleaf in the year 1970. Greenleaf published an essay entitled “The Servant as Leader”. He described the servant-leader as having a strong desire to help others. This person identifies ways to meet the needs of customers, communities and teammates. This type of leader encourages ethical reasoning among those that are followers. The servant-leader typically develops long-term relationships with followers and they encourage their personal development so that they can obtain their full potential. The concerns of the servant-leader are the achievements of all stakeholders; not just a select few.


A Servant-Leader uses their abilities of listening, compassion, dedication and perception when working as a Scrum Master or Product Owner for the Scrum Team. This role shares their authority and influence with the team. The Scrum framework identifies the Product Owner and the Scrum Master as the servant-leaders of the Scrum team. To be successful, the servant-leader should possess the following skills:




  1. Listening

The servant-leader should listen closely to what is said and what is not said by the Scrum team members and stakeholders. They need to understand others by getting in touch with their inner selves and reflecting on their own feelings.


  1. Empathy

The servant leader acknowledges people for their skills and capabilities. The assumption is that people, specifically the Scrum team members, are sincere.  People are accepted as individuals even under the scrutiny of social or work-related issues.


  1. Healing

Servant-leaders are great motivators that are self-healers and they use this skills for healing Scrum team members’ relationships with others. They are understanding and take on the responsibility of helping their colleagues who are going through emotional dilemmas.


  1. Awareness

Being aware and specifically, self-awareness is a strength of the servant-leader. This trait permits them to understand and incorporate concerns that pertain to ethics, authority and beliefs.


  1. Persuasion

A servant-leader is persuasive, as opposed to using their role and authority to gain agreement and influence decision making among the Scrum team members. They never force or coerce the team because they always resort to friendly persuasion.


  1. Conceptualization

This role can visualize and evaluate problems on a theoretical and futurist perspective as opposed to focusing on near short-term objectives.


  1. Foresight

The servant-leader has an instinctual mind that permits them to make use of and apply lessons learned and existing truths to forecast outcomes of present situations and conclusions.


  1. Stewardship

The servant-leader is committed to serving others by using persuasion rather than control to gain the trust of Scrum team members and others in the organization.


  1. Commitment to the growth of others

Those that are servant-leaders are committed to the growth of individuals in the organization. They take responsibility for nurturing others in terms of personal, professional and spiritual growth. The servant-leader ensures that access is provided to resources that enhance the development of others. Teams are also encouraged to engage in the decision-making process.


  1. Building Community

Servant leaders are interested in building communities within a working environment, primarily because of the focus in society toward large institutions that shape and control human lives.


Table 1: Servant-Leader Desired Skills


There are additional agile leadership styles that may be not so familiar as the servant-leadership style of agile management. They include but are not limited to the following:


Leadership Style


  1. Delegating

Leaders that delegate are included in most of the decision making, and only a few selected planning and decision-making tasks are delegated to team members based on their levels of competency. This style of leadership is proper in cases where leaders are in sync with the project specifications and time frames have limitations.


  1. Autocratic

An autocratic leader makes their own decisions without any team member involvement in discussions before decisions are made. This is not a recommended style of leadership and it should only be used in exceptional situations.


  1. Directing

This leadership type directs team members regarding which tasks are needed, when they should be done and how they should be accomplished.


  1. Laissez Faire

This leadership style leaves the team without supervision most of the time. The leader does not interfere with daily work activities. Many times, this style results in a state of chaos.


  1. Supportive Coaching

Supportive and coaching leaders provide direction and support. They then monitor the team by means of listening, providing assistance, encouraging and having a positive outlook during indecisive times.


  1. Task-Oriented

The task-oriented leader imposes the completion of tasks and the meeting of deadlines.


  1. Assertive

The assertive leader addresses concerns and shows confidence when establishing authority with respect.


Table 2: Leadership Styles



Keywords: leadership, styles, agile



SCRUMstudy. (2016). A Guide to the Scrum Body of Knowledge (SBOKTM Guide.), 3rd Edition

Keith, Kent M. (2017). To Serve First. The Servant Leadership Journey. Retrieved from


Posted on: December 05, 2017 04:02 PM | Permalink

Comments (11)

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A great review of servant leadership. Thanks!

Good article Denise. Empathy is a big one.

Thanks for sharing summary of qualities a servant leader should possess.

Thanks for sharing summary of qualities a servant leader should possess.

Thanks of sharing, great article Denise

Great write-up. Thanks for sharing.

Good article, and I agree about serving leadership role. Thanks for the post.

Very well described.
Thanks for sharing!

Look forward to more such articles

Thank you for sharing.

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