Servant Leadership in an Agile Culture

Servant Leadership, a definition

Servant Leadership is a term that comes up from time to time in talking about
Agile. What is Servant Leadership?

“The servant-leader is a servant first… It begins with the natural feeling Servant-Leadership-Book
that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.

 The best test…is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

— Robert Greenleaf

In other words, it’s not about the leader, it is about the team.

Many of us have experienced a more traditional approach in leadership in which the leader tells the team what to do and the team does it (i.e. Command and Control leadership). Does this mean that in Servant Leadership the team tells the leader what to do? Yes and no.

Command and Control vs Servant Leadership

A good metaphor to compare the difference between Command and Control Leadership and Servant Leadership is a factory vs R&D lab. In a factory, there are widgets that need to be made in a certain way, and the goal is to produce these widgets as a fast a possible. Things are controlled and more like a machine. Typically, there is one boss to direct and ensure the factory is running smoothly. This is a Command and Control approach.

In a R&D lab, a team is experimenting, trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. There is no set way to produce yet. Things are very uncertain and to improve after each experiment the team needs to work together and discuss what to change or keep the same. Typically, a leader facilitates this and removes impediments to keep the team moving forward. This is a Servant Leadership approach.

Comparison Table

Below is a comparison of Command and Control and Servant Leadership in different dimensions:

Dimension Command and Control Servant Leadership
Business Metaphor Organization is a machine Organic structure of relationships
Authority Top down Participation by entire group
People Viewed as instruments of production Viewed as greatest assets and sources of creativity
Leadership Style Distant and detached Connected and present
Supervisory Approach Dictate, control, punitive Listen, facilitate, encourage
Most Common Request Tell me, “What have you done” (for me lately) Tell me, “What do you need” (from me)

Servant Leaders and Agile

As companies face changing priorities, Agile development practices have become more important to help an organization succeed. Things are not as certain and do require some ‘experimenting’. In this environment, Servant Leaders act differently than a Command and Control leader.  A Servant Leader listens, facilitates, and encourages his or her team. On the other hand, a Command and Control Leader takes control and tells his or her team what to do, sometimes dividing the work among the team without telling the whole picture.

The Servant Leader creates a culture of innovation, collaboration, and agility. Of course, there are times when Command and Control Leadership is needed, an example is when ‘the house is on fire.’ In this instance, if there is an emergency or issue that needs immediate attention, it is better to have a leader that can tell the team what to do in order to respond quickly.

So, which leader would you rather work for? I can say from my experience, I would rather work for the Servant Leader. This leader makes me feel valued, my ideas matter, and I’m contributing to the team. At the end of the day, I just want to feel like I belong and I’m contributing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *