Effective Leadership Styles for Scrum Masters

leadership-styles-scrum-masterScrum masters have to know and be able to apply effective leadership styles to serve agile teams. Servant leadership alone is not enough, Scrum masters and tech leads need to know a variety of leadership styles to support agile teams and help them to deliver value. This post provides an overview of many effective leadership styles that Scrum masters can use when working in agile teams.

The Scrum guide states that “the Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team”. Scrum masters should help teams to adopt Scrum and improve their way of working, and serve the team by creating an environment where people can work effectively and are protected from outside interference.

Servant leadership is a style that is often mentioned as the leadership approach that Scrum master can use. Mindtools describes it as:

As a servant leader, you’re a “servant first” – you focus on the needs of others, especially team members, before you consider your own. You acknowledge other people’s perspectives, give them the support they need to meet their work and personal goals, involve them in decisions where appropriate, and build a sense of community within your team. This leads to higher engagement, more trust, and stronger relationships with team members and other stakeholders.

Leadership styles

Although servant leadership can be effective when leading self-organizing teams, it isn’t the only leadership style that Scrum masters and tech leads can use. In fact, there are many other effective leadership styles. A good Scrum master has a toolbox with leadership styles and practices, and knows what to use in which situation.

Here are different leadership styles that Scrum masters can use to support and lead agile teams:

My suggestion to Scrum masters is to read about these leadership styles and try using them in your daily work.

Leadership stories

InfoQ-LogoWorking as a freelance editor with InfoQ for Culture and Methods gives me access to many modern inspiring ways to manage organizations. Over the years I’ve spoken with people that have had a significant influence in leadership, like David Marquet, Jeff Sutherland, Dave Snowden, Jurgen Appelo, Frederik Laloux, Esther Derby, Bonnitta Roy, and many others.

Here are some of the interviews that I have done for InfoQ in which opinion leaders and practitioners share their leadership stories:

Books on leadership

Here’s some recommended reading on leadership:

Book Cover: Book: Emotional Science
Book: Emotional Science
Book Cover: Book: Enterprise Agility
Book: Enterprise Agility
Book Cover: Book: Agile Methods for Safety-Critical Systems
Book: Agile Methods for Safety-Critical Systems
Book Cover: Book: Adaptive Space
Book: Adaptive Space
Book Cover: Book: Work Together Anywhere
Book: Work Together Anywhere
Book Cover: Book: Accelerate
Book: Accelerate
Book Cover: Book: Kanban Maturity Model
Book: Kanban Maturity Model
Book Cover: Book: Company-wide Agility with Beyond Budgeting, Open Space & Sociocracy
Book: Company-wide Agility with Beyond Budgeting, Open Space & Sociocracy
Book Cover: Book: The Age of Surge
Book: The Age of Surge
Book Cover: Book: The Age of Agile
Book: The Age of Agile
Book Cover: Book: Agile Management
Book: Agile Management
Book Cover: Book: What Drives Quality
Book: What Drives Quality
Book Cover: Book: Working with Coders
Book: Working with Coders
Book Cover: Book: Agendashift  (part 1)
Book: Agendashift (part 1)
Book Cover: Book: The Stupidity Paradox
Book: The Stupidity Paradox
Book Cover: Book: The Manager's Path
Book: The Manager's Path
Book Cover: Book: Scaling Teams
Book: Scaling Teams
Book Cover: Book: Soul Centered Leadership
Book: Soul Centered Leadership
Book Cover: Book: It's all upside down
Book: It's all upside down
Book Cover: Book: The Antifragility Edge
Book: The Antifragility Edge
Book Cover: Book: Tes: The Team Engagement Strategy
Book: Tes: The Team Engagement Strategy
Book Cover: Book: Agile Engagement
Book: Agile Engagement
Book Cover: Book: Make Them Grow: Give Feedback People Apply
Book: Make Them Grow: Give Feedback People Apply
Book Cover: Book: Starting and Scaling DevOps in the Enterprise
Book: Starting and Scaling DevOps in the Enterprise
Book Cover: Book: Timing is almost everything
Book: Timing is almost everything
Book Cover: Book: Managing for Happiness
Book: Managing for Happiness
Book Cover: Book: Putting Stories to Work
Book: Putting Stories to Work
Book Cover: Boek: Agile Managen
Boek: Agile Managen
Book Cover: Book: Commitment
Book: Commitment
Book Cover: Book: Creating Great Teams
Book: Creating Great Teams
Book Cover: Book: Debugging Teams
Book: Debugging Teams
Book Cover: Book: The Agile Mindset
Book: The Agile Mindset
Book Cover: Book: More Fearless Change
Book: More Fearless Change
Book Cover: Book: Kanban Change Leadership
Book: Kanban Change Leadership
Book Cover: Boek: Dienend leiderschap
Boek: Dienend leiderschap
Book Cover: Book: The Scrum Culture
Book: The Scrum Culture
Book Cover: Book: Soft Skills
Book: Soft Skills
Book Cover: Book: Reinventing Organizations
Book: Reinventing Organizations
Book Cover: Boek: Scrum voor Managers
Boek: Scrum voor Managers
Book Cover: Book: Turn the Ship Around!
Book: Turn the Ship Around!
Book Cover: Book: The People's Scrum
Book: The People's Scrum
Book Cover: Book: Agile Reflections
Book: Agile Reflections
Book Cover: Book: Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
Book: Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
Book Cover: Book: Management 3.0
Book: Management 3.0
Book Cover: Book: Coaching Agile Teams
Book: Coaching Agile Teams
Book Cover: Book: The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid
Book: The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid
Book Cover: Book: iTeam: Putting the 'I' Back into Team
Book: iTeam: Putting the 'I' Back into Team
Book Cover: Boek: Organisatiedynamica - Theorie en praktijk van organisatieverandering
Boek: Organisatiedynamica - Theorie en praktijk van organisatieverandering
Book Cover: Book: Agile Project Management with Scrum
Book: Agile Project Management with Scrum
Book Cover: Book: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
Book: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

Try out new ways to lead teams

I try out ideas from these leadership experts and practitioners when I coach and mentor teams, Scrum masters, Product Owners and managers. I also teach leadership practices and skills in my workshops to help people to improve collaboration and increase their effectiveness. As always I’m more than happy to share my knowledge and experiences with you :-).

Who has inspired you with new ideas on leadership?

(Note: post has been updated on December 13, 2017: more leadership approaches added)

Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. I find that most people that have heard of the Servant Leadership “style” have no clue as to how to apply that knowledge. Nor how that application will effect the group. Few if any have heard of Greenleaf nor of his ultimate test of the effective Servant Leader. So I believe that the agile community has done a disservice to leaders by introducing would be leaders to a new buzz word in the halls of business – that is as empty of promise as most of the phrases in CEO Speech Bingo.

  2. David, I’m seeing similar things. People talk about servant leadership, but their understanding of how to apply it is swallow. Many haven’t even heard of any other leadership styles, except for “command and control” of which they think that it should never be done. This is one of the reasons why I wrote this post.

    All leadership styles have value, knowing how to apply them as a Scrum master will serve your team and the organization your team is working in.

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