Does ‘servant leader’ sound strange to you? After all, does it make sense to talk about leading a team so that it moves forward to achieve goals, while being behind it to tend to the wants and needs of team members? Yet in numerous project management situations this style of leadership can be very effective. What might look like incompatibility at first blush becomes a doubly positive force for obtaining better results faster and more efficiently.
Agile project management methods like Scrum are a case in point. Handling change and rapid development cycles requires intelligence and creativity from team members. Leaders that try to pull rank are likely to do more harm than good. On the condition that everybody understands the basic rules of engagement, the contributions to be made and the objectives to be met, hierarchical levels can be taken out of the equation.
A servant leader then:
- Assures the well-being of the team and team members
- Prioritizes his or her own actions to help team members solve problems (without dictating the solution)
- Focuses on people, on the understanding that well-motivated and enthusiastic people will meet project targets and expectations best.
At the same time, the servant leader is also the lynchpin for communicating with sponsors, stakeholders and other management. This is as challenging as any other leadership approach. That means good servant leaders are usually the ones that have had the right training and experience. And the right training also instills the recognition that servant leadership is one possibility among several, to be applied as and when the situation calls for it.