Why Is Servant Leadership Crucial In An Agile Organization?

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Why Is Servant Leadership Crucial In An Agile Organization?

Agile values and principles leave few other effective methods for leading Agile teams than servant-leadership.

· Agile Zone ·
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What does the term "leader" evoke in your mind? For many of us, a leader is the smartest person in the room, who suggests solutions, exercises power, and sits at the top of the pyramid. But servant-leadership is an edifying leadership style that stands in perfect contrast to the typical stand-alone hero.

Origin of Servant-Leadership

Is there anything wrong with traditional leadership? Why has this concept fallen from glory in the modern age?

Top-down leadership prevailed successfully in traditional organizations that were driven by a hierarchy. This organizational pattern and governance were the by-product of the Industrial Revolution. The focus of businesses those days was the effective completion of repetitive tasks. Superior power at the top and totally obedient hired hands in the lower ladder were the norms. This style of leadership gave minimum or zero recognition to all those who gave unwavering backing to the "hero."

Servant-leader evolved as a part of organizational awakening among knowledge workers. Though it was a known principle in the religious realm, it got acceptance in the corporate culture after Robert K. Greenleaf coined the phrase in 1970. The essence of the term can be summarized as, “Servant first as opposed to Leader first."

Why Is Servant-Leadership A Better Way To Lead?

Servant-leader is a progressive leadership pattern, wherein a leader is characterized by a true stimulus to serve others. This new leadership paradigm has helped many global companies to reinvent themselves, for instance:

• Marriott International
• Starbucks
• Nordstrom
• Balfour Beatty
• McKinney
• The Container Store
• Vistaprint

Let’s find out why servant-leadership is a superior leadership principle for a variety of businesses including software organizations.

1. The Growth and Well-Being of Team Gets Prime Focus

A leader in a servant-leadership model will think in terms of the needs of the teammates rather than his or her personal career growth. He/she will be constantly helping the team to meet its highest priority needs. He will be more concerned about the professional as well as personal well-being of his people. He will consider the success of his team as his success and will strive for that goal. He will be consistently on the lookout to remove obstacles that impede the growth of his team and facilitate smooth functioning by providing all the necessary resources. He will be a good facilitator and motivator inspiring people to choose tasks they are most passionate about.

2. Wisdom and Knowledge of Teammates Are Valued

Unlike in the traditional autocratic leadership pattern, the leader is not the sole person to be looked to for knowledge and wisdom. Each person is involved in the decision-making and problem-solving process. Each person’s knowledge is needed to run the organization smoothly. Wisdom and knowledge of every member are needed to achieve the collective goals and this makes the person accountable and motivated. The "that’s not my job" situation that prevails in hierarchical settings will not grip the kind of self-organized environment that promotes servant-leadership.

3. No Place for Fear

In a traditional management setting, employees will not be brave enough to openly say their opinions to their managers. In other words, they cannot be genuine. They are accustomed to telling their leader what he/she wants to hear out of fear of penalty or loss of recognition. But in a progressive organizational culture, where servant-leadership is the norm, both the leader and the people will stay genuine. People will feel safe to tell the truth. They have no fear of harm as the servant-leader is an unbiased and empathetic listener.

Servant Leadership in an Agile Organization

The values of Servant Leadership match well with the Agile philosophy. Agile is all about empowerment, interaction, collaboration, leadership distribution, trust, and self-managed/self-organized teams.

In a successful Agile organization, the Scrum Master is not a manager but a servant-leader who serves the highest priority needs of those he/she leads. He/she will:

  • Encourage and energize the team to deliver full potential and business value

  • Guide the team towards self-organization

  • Help team members to evolve as leaders

  • Coach and mentor them in adopting and using Scrum

  • Ensure a seamless collaborative culture among team members

In an Agile organization, leaders should adopt an Agile mindset, which is that of a servant-leader.


In essence, servant leaders are not positional leaders. They will actively develop and align the employees' sense of purpose with the mission of the organization. If your organization is undergoing an Agile transformation, you will indeed be changing the organizational culture and values. Servant-leadership is a crucial leadership style that you will be adopting to make this transformation complete.

agile leadership, agile values, leadership styles, principles, servant leadership

Published at DZone with permission of Preethi Philip . See the original article here.

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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