The PM BOK defines a servant leader as a person who: demonstrates the commitment to serve and put other people first; focuses on other people’s growth, learning, development, autonomy, and well-being; concentrates on relationships, community and collaboration; leadership is secondary and emerges after service. But what about the leader him/herself? How does one benefit from servant leadership in an agile IT environment?
Simply giving a description of work that needs to be done and sending an employee on his way does nothing in terms of your team’s personal and professional growth.
You might think that a self-motivating team is the basis of an agile organization and you might be right. In order to get to that level of team involvement, as a leader, you must create a work environment where everyone wins by participating.
As a manager you have (or are working to develop) different skills that can help improve other people’s projects and careers.
You might be wondering why should you do such a thing, but coaching is a highly valuable trait these days, and if you’re still having second guesses about helping people flourish, just imagine your CV with and without the coaching skill. Which picture does your future employer like better?
To achieve this benefit, choose to delegate and not micromanage, meet deadlines and give actionable feedback. Be accountable for decisions and outcomes.
Trust goes both ways, so you’ll need to learn to trust the people around you to make smart decisions, encourage open debate, and create safe environments where everyone’s voice can be heard.
This takes practice but pays off. When having an 1on1, or any other meeting with your teammate, try asking them to tell you more about the problem they’ve been encountering, and to help you understand their perspective of the escalated situation. What’s in it for you? You’ll know how your team functions and what makes or breaks them. Try your best to have time for your people because a small personal problem can easily turn into a business disaster. If you don’t understand how, watch the ‘Butterfly effect’ with Ashton Kutcher.
If you lead with negativity, it will reflect on your team. Servant leaders evaluate how they think about messages, situations, behaviors that they experience. Is input or feedback received in a negative way or as a positive opportunity for improvement? The trick is to differentiate between useful thoughts and non-useful thoughts, and re-frame negative beliefs.
It may come as a surprise, but by sharing what you’ve learned over the years and empowering other people to utilize that knowledge raises your overall impact in your organization. Servant leaders aspire to enable more people to innovate and make decisions, which in the long run, helps the organization remove impediments and bottleneck processes. For example, in an IT company, what’s the good of delivering a working product every two weeks if your product falls under a six-week release process? Servant leaders have a unique way of forming relationships with different departments of the company so they can work with these departments and implement improvements.
People think of servant leaders as ‘nice’ folks who avoid conflict and try to be positive. Although kindness is a personal characteristic which we all should nourish, sometimes the kindest thing is to sit down and have that hard conversation with your team. You don’t show courage if you’re always standing up to everyone. Deal with conflict, make the tough decisions, and hold people accountable. Even if failure happens, remember it’s just another step to the ultimate success.
As many tasks become automated and competition for talent increases, employees look for more alignment between their personal values and company values. Leaders who live company values aligned with the principles of servant leadership foster a more inclusive and productive environment for their teams.
Becoming a servant leader is not an overnight thing. You can’t go to a seminar and get certified. Servant leadership is a trait that you take home from work and practice amongst your family and friends. It’s a way of life and art of warfare.
It seems that in an agile environment in particular the role of the project manager is a bit unknown. That’s because the traditional view of the project has changed.
To quote the PM BOK: Project managers shift from being the center to serving the team and the management. In an agile environment, project managers are servant leaders, changing their emphasis to coaching people who want help, fostering greater collaboration on the team, and aligning stakeholder needs. As a servant leader, project managers encourage the distribution of responsibility to the team: to those people who have the knowledge to get work done.”