From good to great Servant Leadership


Mike Cohen, Esther Derby, Lissa Adkins, or Kenneth S. Rubin are just a few authors who changed the way we look at Agile and its frameworks. And in 2013 Geoff Watts joined this group when he published Scrum Mastery: From Good to Great Servant Leadership.

The original book cover

Scrum Mastery… is not a book on how to “do Scrum.” It’s a book on how to become great at your job. It makes a clear distinction between good and great Servant Leader (Scrum Master) and shows through practical examples how those differences can affect teams and projects.

So how do you get from good to great? You implement two key concepts presented in Watts’s book: RE-TRAINED and BELIEF.

First, you need to get RE-TRAINED

RE-TRAINED is an acronym (because people love them) for Respected, Enabling, Tactful, Resourceful, Alternative, Inspiring, Nurturing, Empathic, and Disruptive. These are THE characteristics of a great Scrum Master.

The author goes into detail on each of the characteristics in the book, but I’d love to tackle a few that I personally like the most.

Being Respected in a position that has no authority is extremely hard to achieve. It’s one of those things I struggle with a lot on a daily basis and something I keep close to my heart.

Being respected helps you get stuff done for your team(s). It’s about removing impediments from a position that holds no formal power. You can do that only if you have a good rapport with people you work with (who do not have any obligation to report to you or listen to what you have to say).

So how one becomes “respected?” It has a lot to do with being Empathic and Tactful. Although Watts separates the three, I don’t believe being respected can exist without the others.

In order to be more empathic, one has to learn to Actively Listen to other people.

Active Listening is about “actually hearing what others have to say instead of coming up with an answer while the other person speaks.” It’s hard. I know it first hand; I always wanted to have something to say. But the truth is, over the years I’ve learned that you gain more by simply “shutting up” and giving others space to express themselves.

So what can you do to get better at it? One of the ideas my friend suggested is to put your hands under your thighs when you’re sitting. Or bite your tongue ;) Once I learned how to control myself a bit better using these tips, I could focus on the listening part more.

Being tactful is all about learning that silence is one of your biggest friends (and also useful when learning Active Listening). The other part is about knowing when to tackle an issue in public vs. when to do it in private (something I’m still learning to this day).

Once you are tactful and empathic you will eventually become respected. And being respected while holding no formal authority is quite an achievement.

You need to BELIEF

Watts says that “you can’t do this [getting RE-TRAINED] without what I call BELIEF. This encompasses what I consider the key areas of growth for truly great Scrum Masters.”

BELIEF is an acronym for Believe, Enquire, Listen, Illuminate, Encourage, Facilitate.

- Believe in the potential of people, company, and yourself.

- Enquire to learn from the team.

- Listen. Especially to what is NOT being said.

- Illuminate to help the team grow by offering observations instead of a step-by-step guide.

- Encourage people to fail and learn from their mistakes.

- Facilitate to help teams improve their processes and workflows.

Once you BELIEF, you’re ready to get RE-TRAINED and start your journey from good to great leader. Of course, you don’t have to possess everything that Watts mentioned in the book to get on the path of greatness (I know I don’t). But I believe it can be the north star of how you should model your thinking to become great.

But is it really about the Scrum Master?

After re-reading the book recently, I came to the conclusion that even though the book IS dedicated to Scrum Masters (also called Servant Leaders) it IS NOT dedicated to SMs only. Anybody in a position of formal (or informal) power should read it.

The concepts presented by the author work well in every company environment no matter if they’re Agile or not.

It’s a solid reminder of how to be a great leader/manager packed with practical examples and a “no-bs” approach.

There are also great examples of certain exercises and best practices you can use in your day-to-day practice. And I highly recommend it to anyone who’s either thinking about becoming a Scrum Master / Manager or is one already.

One thing to note is that similar to other Agile “classics,” what worked for the author may not always work for you. Each team is different, each company is different, and Cultural Differences also play a big part in leading a specific group of people. Take what the author suggests and adapt it to your environment.




IT Project Manager.

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Albert Pałka

Albert Pałka

IT Project Manager.

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