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What Is Servant Leadership in Scrum?

The words ‘servant’ and ‘leadership’ don’t seem like they would typically go together. But when it comes to Scrum, servant leadership is an important part of guiding a team to success. 

Let’s look at what Scrum servant leadership is, how Scrum master servant leaders work in their roles, and why this leadership style works well for Scrum teams.

What is Scrum servant leadership?

In a nutshell, servant leadership is the idea that to be an effective leader, your priority must be to serve others. A servant leader puts other people’s needs, goals, and development before their own, and strives to hold themselves accountable for their team’s success. 

The term ‘servant leadership’ was first coined by Robert Greenleaf in his 1970 article “The Servant as Leader.” He defined it as:

“The servant-leader is servant first … It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions …The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them, there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”

Servant leadership was conceptualized far before Agile or Scrum project management came into being. But nowadays, the idea of servant leadership is commonly used in Scrum.

How does Scrum servant leadership work?

There are a variety of common roles in a Scrum team, and most teams have a Scrum master. However, a Scrum master is not the leader of the Scrum team in the traditional sense. Scrum masters are the facilitators of the project, in charge of ensuring that Scrum principles are upheld and used to best practice. 

Some of the Scrum master’s key responsibilities include coaching other team members, removing any roadblocks to their success, and mediating any conflicts. They keep their Scrum team on track and often coordinate Scrum events, such as daily stand-up meetings. 

As you can see, Scrum masters definitely fall under the servant leadership framework. Their role centers around supporting and facilitating their fellow team members as much as possible.