Leadership and The Scrum Master

When I am asked about leadership, I always mention that a leader cares about people’s needs and not their feelings.

Some people have a strong reaction to that statement and that is my intention. People’s needs are often manifested via their feelings.

If you try to address feelings, you will fail because the feelings are the result of the needs not being met. Take care of the needs, and everything falls in place.

I will give you an example.

Years ago, I was Director of a software development department, and I heard a lot of complaints from the developers about their laptops. Slow, bloated with junk that IT pre-loaded and refused to remove. So, their feelings were not good.

I could just have promoted a fun day or other activity to make them feel better. That would be rather temporary and didn’t address the problem.

What I did was to get into a real fight to fix the problem. I got everybody a laptop allowance.

They could go and buy whatever they wanted but they had to support it. We removed all corporate apps and placed them in a virtual machine. Their laptops were free of junk and worked as they wanted to. Guess what? Everybody was very happy, and productive.

Back to leadership, I ask you a few questions:

  • Do you put a lot of effort in helping your people grow as professionals?

  • Do you have “their backs?” Meaning you will fight to get them what they need regardless how difficult the fight may be?

  • Are you looking of opportunities to increase efficiency and make them more productive, so they deliver more and often without working absurd hours and get exhausted?

  • Are you there for them whenever they need?

  • Are you asking questions all the time so you can offer observations and help guide people in a direction they may not have seen by themselves?

When the Scrum Guide changed in November 2020 and removed that “servant leadership” and replaced with true leadership, it was because “servant leadership” as a concept got distorted. True leaders serve their people’s needs but they also must lead them.

The distortion of “servant leadership” manifested in multiple ways. It became a hands-off approach, the team knows best, and I just watch. That is wrong! Sometimes the team doesn’t know and often the team wants guidance.

I heard a few weeks ago a Scrum Master saying that she would push the team to what she considered a fun event regardless of some team members liking it or not, under the pretense of team building. How can it be team building when many don’t want to do it? That is an example of not addressing their needs.

I wanted the same Scrum Master to rather tell me something like “I incentivized one of the team members to get training in a new programming language, so they get more skills so that are useful to themselves and the company.”

Leaders serve their people’s needs. Leaders don’t default to everything being a trust or some other people issue without looking first whether the working conditions suck, or the processes are inefficient.

People related issues are not common and we often attribute dysfunctions to that when we should be looking elsewhere.

Look for their needs first! Incentivize and support their growth! Be there for them before they even notice that they need you!

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