Archive - September 2013

30.09 20130

In Search of Servant Leaders

By: michelemuse Categories:Agile

My son is involved in scouting.  Boy Scouts of America is a great organization that teaches boys how to become self-reliant, to function as a part of a team, and then, in turn, to become servant leaders for the group and the community.  It just struck me recently that although this organization is now over 100 years old, it is utilizing the relatively “new” model that I am coaching business teams to follow every day.  The Agile model is considered fairly new in product delivery circles, but the techniques have been utilized under different names and for different purposes for over a hundred years. In Scouts, the first step towards success is to complete the trail to first-class rank path.  This path teaches the boys the skills that it takes to become self-reliant and that are essential for making contributions to the group.  As the boys learn these skills, they are members of tight-knit, small patrol groups inside the larger organization.  In the patrol groups, the scouts learn to self organize and to peer-train to accomplish work objectives as a team in the most efficient way possible.  Throughout their time in Scouts after first class, the boys are required to hold leadership positions in the organization, rotating the positions every six months so that everyone shares the servant leadership responsibilities.  As patrols and patrol members mature, they are expected to help the younger, less experienced scouts and patrols and increase the amount of service hours contributed to the community. My son is involved in a very active Boy Scout troop that uses a boy-led model.  This model takes servant leadership even one step farther, instilling the values of independence and responsibility.  While there are adult leaders involved to guide the boys, the troop is led by the boys themselves.  This concept is more difficult for the adults than it is for the boys.  Adults often feel like they know the best way to manage issues and concerns, and they want to tell the children the right way; however, true learning comes through discovery in a safe environment.  The adults are in the group to ensure the safety of the environment, allowing the boys to become self reliant through discovery-based learning.  Utilizing this model, the growth in the boys and the strength of the groups are tremendous. Similar to scouting, in the Agile business world, small cross-functional teams are pulled together to work to achieve organizational objectives.  A training path is offered to teach individuals and teams the new framework and skills necessary to be successful in executing project work through the Agile framework; however, the teams, composed of peers, are self led and also participate in a great deal of peer-to-peer training.  These groups self organize to deliver iteration and organizational objectives and utilize a servant leader to keep on the path of delivery.  As teams and team members mature, they are expected to take on the responsibility of training others in the framework and to speak with other groups about how to be successful using Agile techniques. In the Agile world, managers develop new leadership techniques to utilize with teams.  In a traditional environment, managers are comfortable being directive, but Agile managers must assume the new responsibility of guiding the group, rather than directing it.  Managers must use motivating leadership techniques and help prepare a safe business environment in which the teams can function and explore.  These new responsibilities are challenging when traditionally the role has been managing in a directive style; however, the new style is tremendously rewarding when the enthusiasm of the groups, their growth and the fast delivery of innovative work products are recognized. I was at a Boy Scout meeting recently in which the scoutmaster was discussing this type of self-organizing, peer-led leadership model with the adults.  He stated that many times people encourage you to stand up and do something, but here we encourage you to sit down and watch, and the progress you see will amaze you.  I believe the same is true from a management perspective when you see highly productive Agile teams in action.

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