Why Is Servant Leadership Crucial In An Agile Organization?

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What does the term ‘leader’ invoke in your mind? For many of us, ‘a leader’ is the smartest person in the room, who suggests solutions, exercises power, and sits at the “top of the pyramid”. But ‘Servant Leadership’ is an edifying leadership style that stands in perfect contrast to the typical stand-alone hero.

Origin of Servant Leadership

Is there anything wrong with the much-known traditional leadership? Why has this fallen from glory in the modern age?

Top-down leadership prevailed successfully in traditional organizations that were driven by a hierarchy. This organizational pattern and governance were the by-product of the Industrial Revolution. The focus of businesses those days was the effective completion of repetitive tasks. Superior power at the top and totally obedient hired hands in the lower ladder were the norm. This style of leadership gave minimum or zero recognition to all those who gave unwavering backing to the ‘hero’.

Servant leadership evolved as a part of organizational awakening among knowledge workers. Though it was a known principle in the religious realm, it got acceptance in the corporate culture after Robert K. Greenleaf coined the phrase in 1970. The essence of the term can be summarized as “Servant first as opposed to Leader first’.

Why Is Servant Leadership A Better Way To Lead?

Servant leadership is a progressive leadership pattern, wherein the key attribute of a leader is the true yearning to serve others. This new leadership paradigm has helped many global companies to reinvent themselves; for instance;

Marriott International
Balfour Beatty
The Container Store

Let’s find out why servant leadership is a superior leadership principle for a variety of businesses including software organisations.

1. Growth and well-being of team gets prime focus

A leader in a servant leadership model will think in terms of the needs of the teammates rather than his personal career growth. He/she will be constantly helping the team to meet its highest priority needs. He will be more concerned about the professional as well as personal well-being of his people. He will consider the success of his team as his success and will strive for that goal. He will be consistently on the lookout to remove obstacles that impede the growth of his team and facilitate smooth functioning by providing all the necessary resources. He will be a good facilitator and motivator inspiring people to choose tasks they are most passionate about.

2. Wisdom and knowledge of team mates are valued

Unlike in the traditional autocratic leadership pattern, the leader is not the sole person to be looked upon for knowledge and wisdom. Each person is involved in the decision-making and problem-solving process. Each person’s calibre is needed to run the organisation smoothly. Wisdom and knowledge of every member are needed to achieve the collective goals and this makes the person accountable and motivated. The ‘that’s not my job’ situation that prevails in hierarchical settings will not grip this kind of self-organized environment that promotes servant leadership.

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3. No place for fear

In a traditional management setting, employees will not be brave enough to openly say their opinions to their managers. In other words, they cannot stay genuine. They are accustomed to telling their leader what he/she wants to hear. Fear of penalty or loss of recognition is the root cause of this behaviour. But in a progressive organizational culture, where servant leadership is the norm, both the leader and the people will stay genuine. People will feel safe to tell the truth. They have no fear of harm as the servant leader is an unbiased and empathetic listener.

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Servant Leadership in an Agile Organisation

The values of Servant Leadership match well with the Agile philosophy. Agile is all about empowerment, interaction, collaboration, leadership distribution, trust, self-managed/self-organized teams etc.

In a successful Agile organization, Scrum Master is not a manager but a servant leader, who serves the highest priority needs of those he/she leads. He/she will:

  • Encourage and energise the team to deliver full potential and business value
  • Guide the team towards self-organisation o Help team members to evolve as leaders
  • Coach and mentor them in adopting and using Scrum
  • Ensure a seamless collaborative culture among team members

In an Agile organisation, leaders should adopt an Agile mindset, which is that of a servant leader.


In essence, servant leaders are not positional leaders. They will actively develop and align the employees’ sense of purpose with the mission of the organisation. If your organisation is undergoing an Agile transformation, you will indeed be changing the organisational culture and values. Servant Leadership is a crucial leadership style that you will be adopting to make this transformation complete.

Originally published at www.bridge-global.com.

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