Upside down Servant Leader

My favorite aspect of the agile and Scrum concepts is promotion of Servant Leadership.  As a manager of all types of technical, support, marketing, and project management teams for enterprise software products, this style fits best with my experience of what works, specifically in managing highly knowledgable and engaged individuals.

Leadership clearly comes in many forms, and has been the subject of countless books and diatribes from business consultants and CEOs.  All show examples of how their preferred approach has been successful.  It isn’t a novel concept that the optimal form is dependent upon the individuals and circumstances.  Looking at software business and technical management, here is how I picture it.

military leader

At one extreme is the autocrat – the leader who believes in his or her way or the highway, runs the software shop in military style, simply making assignments of work and enforcing timelines.  Top down leadership.


At the other extreme is what we used to call the upside-down organization chart.  This was a dramatic concept where the manager’s sole role was to serve the employees.  The concept being that it is the leaves on the organization hierarchy that are the subject matter experts, actually do the work, and management is just there to get them what they need.  Some might believe this form is what is meant by servant leadership, but not really.

Somewhere between these concepts is the Servant Leader model.  In this blog I am not here to explain Servant Leadership, there are plenty of others that do it better than I can. For me, it is how I can lead with authority and accountability, while still having each person on the team AND the team as a whole retaining a level of authority and accountability.  It takes the best of each, from the first extreme it provides strategy and direction, and from the second the leader is the facilitator, the remover of outside roadblocks.   Teams are made up of professionals, and both the leader and each team member has a job to do, and this Servant Leadership term for me pulls it all together well.

I am sure you do not all agree with me, tell me why – or share yet another historical viewpoint regarding other approaches.


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