Emergent Leadership

In Scrum, the whole team is supposed to self-organize. By “whole team” we mean all seven people, the Product Owner, the Scrum Master and the “Doers.”

They always self-organize — well, we can’t say they always do it successfully. Occasionally they do not self-organize well, but they did self-organize, kind of, given the conditions they were in.

I guess we should say quickly that there can be many reasons why a team does not self-organize well, and these reasons or conditions can be inside the team or outside the team.

But let’s not talk about the negative cases. I want to focus on the positive cases.

One positive case is emergent leadership.

In most organizations, there is the “official leadership,” often described as “the hierarchy.”  Because we are modern and always believe in new things, we use a method of organization that is thousands of years old — the hierarchy. (I might be sarcastic.)

But, as anyone who has observed any organization yesterday (or has watched MASH) knows, the official hierarchy is rife with problems, and the only way to really get anything done is to go to the unofficial leaders. (Or to people who do “real work.” Similar, but different. Yes, I exaggerate to cause your knowing smile.)

How do we do this in Scrum?

First, there is no leader of the team.

Some people think the Product Owner is “the leader.” This is, yes, partly true. The PO does make the final decisions on the order of the Product Backlog — and this is important — but the PO does not lead the team, even though we want him to inspire the team also, with the vision. The PO certainly does not make every decision, or even all the key, tough decisions.

Some people think the Scrum Master is “the leader.” OK, we do want the SM to be a servant leader, and that certainly is a type of leadership, to the degree the SM does it well. Again, the SM is not the leader.

What do you think of when you hear leader?

Some think of Napoleon or Alexander the Great. Some, Attilla the Hun. Some Odysseus.  Some George Washington. Some Dwight Eisenhower. Some Winston Churchill. Some Gandhi. Some Jesus. Some Tom Brady. Some Michael Jordan.

But not all leaders are so famous. Only the last two on that list led one (smallish) team to victory.

While being a leader of a Scrum Team may not make you famous, you can still be very happy that you did it. It is a wonderful thing to help others have a better life.

Scrum expects leaders to emerge. Scrum offers the opportunity to lead to anyone at any time. (The only clear exception might be when obviously we must make a decision about the next PBI to work on, in which case the PO must decide this.)

The leader is not tempted to boast, and some of the best leadership happens when no one even knew they were being led. You can lead even if no one called you a leader. Your leadership can last for a second, or an hour or a day or a Sprint or a release, and a team in a day could have several leaders (with perhaps none having been officially designated a leader).

What is leadership?

Scrum does not say, and I think that it is difficult or impossible to define. There are some quotes, and some are famous, but they are not very helpful in doing it, in being a leader. (Of course the quotes might help some — google them.)

This lack of definition is a good thing, because it allows you to be whatever kind of leader you can be and allows the team to accept that leadership without ever agreeing on a mental concept of leadership or “the leader.”

Sometimes a leader is the one who is not flustered by a problem and just keeps going, and then everyone else starts “going again.”

Sometimes a leader says, “Well, let’s get some help from outside the team.”

Sometimes a leader says, “What if we…” and then tries some experiments, and eventually solves the problem of the day.

Foolish as I may be, I will attempt this definition: Leadership is that quality in people that enables them to influence others to achieve something worthwhile, something they are proud of, something that they were uncertain they could do.

So, I think Scrum assumes that a team does not need to have just one leader (although I suppose that could happen), but that at different times and in different situations, different people in the team could emerge as leaders.


See these:

Emergent Leadership: The Trait That Smart, Innovative Companies Seek Out In Employees

Difference Between Assigned Leadership, Emergent Leadership

Emergent Leadership

Please tell me your thoughts.


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