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5 Non-Glamorous Things Every Great Scrum Master Must Do

When it comes to leadership everyone has an opinion about what it takes to do it well. No matter the flavor, leadership has its privileges, perks and is arguably a tough and thankless job; somebody has to do it.  Effective leaders pull from many experiences, qualities, skills, and traits to consistently motivate and inspire their people, some of which are more difficult to do than others but must be done and done consistently. In addition to calling the shots there are some not so fascinating things that all great leaders must do. And foremost, true leadership begins with actually caring about your people. 

Though a Scrum team is self-organizing, it is not self-led therefore Scrum requires the Scrum Master to serve and lead at the individual, team and organizational level.   The Scrum Master responsible for helping everyone work together to maximize the value created by a Scrum team; all this with no authority.

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Not an easy feat when all you have to leverage is influence. Great Scrum Masters like great servant-leaders understand that a genuine care for others is paramount in their ability to do this role well. Let’s explore five of the things you’re likely to find a great Scrum Master doing daily to this end:

1. Resilience

“‎Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody else expects of you. Never excuse yourself. Never pity yourself. Be a hard master to yourself-and be lenient to everybody else.” 

― Henry Ward Beecher

Every now and then the idea of throwing in the towel may seem like the best option. Leaders are constantly met with roadblocks, disappointment and set-backs to success but somehow the show must go on.

We all love a good hero’s journey where the reluctant hero goes on adventure, experiences trials and tests, then returns home changed or transformed.  Throughout the journey the hero must be able to recover quickly from difficult situations and be prepared for the next. Much like the hero great leaders will get knocked down nine times and get up ten. 

The resilience of a leader is discovered in their ability to perform and not just during good times but rather how they demonstrate courage, resolve, emotional control and professionalism when things get down right hard or even tumultuous.  Like during a layoff period, mergers, organizational restructuring, an Agile Transformation or rough season in the market. It is imperative to display resilience as people often look to leadership for direction and stability especially during difficult times. Great leaders stay in the game: strong, composed with steady focus on the end goal. The many tough challenges a leader endures creates more opportunities for a leader to develop a resilient leadership posture. There is something very rewarding about coming out of a storm as a stronger leader with a more connected team

2. Transparency

“A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.”

-Dalai Lama

“There is no persuasiveness more effectual than the transparency of a single heart, of a sincere life.”

-Joseph Barber Lightfoot

With a rapidly changing global economy organizations must be nimble.  The ability to respond to change quickly in order to consistently achieve business goals, maintain market share and stay competitive is paramount. Having a workforce that trusts it’s leadership creates a culture that makes this possible. Unfortunately, several studies reveal that only a fraction of their employees trust their leadership and even more believe that leadership is open and honest with them.

Lack of trust is due in large part to a lack of transparency. Transparent leadership is the key to fostering a culture of trust between leaders and their employees. Your ability/willingness as a leader to keep employees happy makes way for a myriad of benefits including earning the trust of your staff. Transparency and a culture of trust fosters better working relationships, better engagement, better alignment and better solutions.   

3. Empathy

“While we often are focused on profitability and growth, and rightfully so, there are times that we need to remember that our teams are people often have things going on outside of work. By having empathy and understanding what else is happening in their lives, we can better lead them through the good and bad times.”

-Antonella Pisani

“Empathy involves letting others know that their feelings are understood and helps them to feel that their perspective is being taken into account”. -Development Dimensions International (DDI)

Have you ever paid attention to how you feel when someone actually can identify or relate to you or express their genuine appreciation for something you’ve done for them? There is something about this that makes us want to do more.  

When it comes to leading people showing them that you care leads inspired reciprocal action. Great leaders are aware of this often overlooked phenomenon and therefore continuously take advantage of opportunities to notice, give praise and show appreciation to their people. This inevitably leads to more engaged, happier, creative staff.

Though on the decline due to technology advancements, research shows that practicing empathy is a skill that ranks far and above all others in determining your overall success as a leader.

4. Humility

“A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing.”

-Albert Einstein

“It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.” 

-Mahatma Gandhi

Own your sh*t. Admit mistakes. Say I’m sorry.  Tell the truth even when it’s hard. Ask questions when you don’t know the answer. Fail fast, fail often. Seek feedback from above, below, and sideways. Always be learning. 

Many will say it’s easier said than done. I would agree. Yet, for great leaders there is no alternative. Humility by far is one of the most underrated and undervalued leadership qualities but definitely one of the most effective. Humility and steely determination to do the right thing for the company, no matter how painful was cited by Jim Collins’ 2001 “Good to Great” thirty year study of nearly 1,500 companies. The companies operating with this style of leadership outperformed the market by nearly three times for over 15 years. The moral of the story:

In the words of 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music winner, Kendrick Lamar “Sit down…Be humble”

5. Listening

“Being a good listener is absolutely critical to being a good leader; you have to listen to the people who are on the front line.”

-Richard Branson

I believe we all have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Learning to listen actively, attentively and deeply to the people you work with makes a person feel valued as a person as well as a contributing member of the team. Not only does it help to foster healthy working relationships it’s the key that can unlock business growth, increased revenues and productivity.

Experts say that the average person actually retains a fraction of what is said to them. What’s tough about listening is that it requires you to quiet your own mind, thoughts and ideas in order to be open to someone else’s without judgement. This can be challenging for some leaders because they are accustomed to being listened to. Make no mistake this is a skill that must be mastered.  Taking it a step further to take action to address questions, suggestions or concerns is where the rubber meets the road.

I’d love to hear about other qualities that you’ve seen from great servant-leaders… Please share in the comment section or if you write a blog post about it link to this article so I can read it!  

Danielle Pollard

Danielle is a Senior Managing Advisor with Responsive Advisors. She specializes in agile team development and peak performance strategy.
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