Six Tips to Improve as a Servant Leader Starting Tomorrow

Six tips that can be carried out without too much effort or preparation. Just try another behaviour


Marty de Jonge

3 years ago | 4 min read

Last week I spoke to a Scrum Master who said: “Marty, I don’t really need a full-time organizational coach but I am curious about what team coaching is and how you look at it from different perspectives. I work a lot within groups and of course daily with my own team”.
This conversation triggered me to give her six concrete tips, to help her as Scrum Master become a better servant leader within her daily work in groups or teams.

“ The Scrum Master is a servant-leader for the Scrum Team. The Scrum Master helps those outside the Scrum Team understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t. The Scrum Master helps everyone change these interactions to maximize the value created by the Scrum Team. — Scrum guide 2017 “

In addition to ‘serving’, a good Scrum master should, in my view, also be able to facilitate, steer, guide, oversee and look ahead and thus also be a transactional leader.

(In the article below I described my vision (the Why) on the topic op transactional leadership in detail. In this current article, I focus on some practical best practices to increase your servant leadership skills. (the How))

Watch out for ‘servant-leaders’!

They might be doing just half of their job.

Six tips

  1. Give positive feedback.

How often does someone tell you (genuinely) that you are are doing a great job? Be honest, it’s nice to hear once in a while what you’re doing right, isn’t it? That’s why my first tip is: Start by giving more positive feedback yourself!

A compliment for wearing nice clothes doesn’t count. (this could even be destructive if that would be the only compliment you could give someone) Describe the behaviour you experience, what you like about that behaviour or how it makes you happy. Trust me, the world and your workspace will be a lot more fun and satisfying if we all would do this some more.

2. Embrace resistance.

From now on, don’t see resistance as annoying or negative! Instead, feel happy for someone to speak out and show him/herself. By resisting, someone expresses that s/he is engaged in the subject. Use this energy to show teams that different opinions are welcome. By listening carefully and asking open questions. The more differences we can integrate as a team, the richer and better our results will be.

(In the article below, I did a deep-dive in ways how to integrate multiple points of view and still be very decisive as a team.)

Intent-based leadership in a Consent-based environment

How they both balance, and strengthen each other.

3. STOP all stupid meetings that don’t deliver value!

I know that we lose an incredible amount of time and flow with stupid consultation and cover your *ss meetings. Here you can help by discussing the procedure, value and outcome of the meeting. A quick and easy check you can use to assess if the ‘right’ procedure is used, is to look for signs that the meeting is helping the team to

  • Reach a common goal.
  • Maintain an energetic vibe.

If it lacks any of these two elements, it is a red flag that indicates the meeting is not delivering the intended value.

4. Mirror what you see: reveal existing patterns.

Teams and groups have a great self-learning capacity. You just have to get them going. Visualising behavioural patterns in mutual interaction helps enormously.

I want to challenge you: Start describing openly what you see happening in the group, without judging.

Tell people what the observed pattern does to you ( = feedback), ask whether people recognize it and whether the pattern is effective. With this, you will break things open quickly, in the sense that people will start to use different behaviour or at least become more aware of (contributing or destructive) behaviour.

And remember, everything starts with behaviour. Different behaviour also means different results.

5. Don’t be vulnerable but approachable!

Let people more often take a look behind your mask. ( I know it is scary) Start to say out loud what you think and feel and invite people to discuss their views with you. Describe how you feel in the group and open up to make the hidden implicit undercurrent, which is always there, explicit. You’ll see, others will start to copy you, providing a safer environment in the group and increasing mutual trust.

6. Let it go!
Groups are capable to do much more than we think. By wanting to stay in control as (servant) Leader, we make the group dependent and vulnerable. Therefore, let go more. Lean back and let the group do the work. Really, letting go does not necessarily mean less hard work. You will always observe the team closely and be willing to jump in where necessary. But only if they need you. Learning by doing is so much more effective than seeing it or being told what to do

Now it's your turn!

Six tips that (even if I say so myself) can be carried out without too much effort or preparation. No large training programs for personal developments, but just try another behavioural approach, experiment with it, adapt it based on your experiences or use it more often.

A good practice that I have used more often in my assignments is to meet with all Scrum Masters for an hour every two weeks and to hold a retrospective.
These are about working within teams and the challenges you encounter as a Scrum Master / Servant Leader. In those retrospectives, we always have a section in which we talk about our own behaviour in our role.

Tip 7. Practice what you preach!

If you have a similar kind of meeting within your organization, (if not, it’s a great thing to start doing) all choose one of the six tips above to start working on for yourself in the upcoming sprint. Important, really choose 1, no more. Focus on experimenting with that specific tip and keep it in a booklet, online in Microsoft OneNote or wherever you want.
In the following retro, you present back to the group what you’ve done, what you’ve learned from it and what your tips are for your colleagues or yourself to further improve.

I am curious to hear about your experiences!


Created by

Marty de Jonge

As an agnostic change agent, I am constantly amazed at what happens in organizations and learn every day. Enthusiastic writer and always open for discussion.







Related Articles