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The Grateful Agile Leader, By Susan Parente

The Grateful Agile Leader

By Susan Parente
November 16, 2022

(Article originally published on IIL’s Center for Grateful Leadership)

We know that servant leadership is an excellent match for Agile methods. For example, in Scrum, the Scrum Master is a servant leader of the Scrum Team. What other leadership styles have a home in the Agile approach? Grateful Leadership is a style of leadership that is somewhat newer than other styles of leadership. It speaks to the fundamentals of providing acknowledgment for people on your team, what they do, and how they contribute. This article makes a connection between this style of leadership and Agile project management.

“Like Judith W. Umlas (the founder of Grateful Leadership), Robert Greenleaf (the founder of Servant Leadership) knew that you cannot build community, much less earn trust, without acknowledging colleagues, expressing gratitude, and offering recognition. If Greenleaf was alive today, I believe he would say that you cannot be a servant leader without being a grateful leader.”  (Don M. Frick, Ph.D., Author of the authorized biography Robert K. Greenleaf: A Life of Servant Leadership)

There is a well-supported place for Grateful Leadership in Agile project management. For example, in the team retrospectives, the project team members are trying to understand what they did well and what could be improved. How can you use Grateful Leadership for both topics, so the team can keep track of their progress, while learning and moving forward? Clearly, it’s a great match for team members to use in the retrospective, to acknowledge team members and their contributions.

Servant Leadership is also very important in Agile. The Scrum Master should be a servant leader and a grateful leader, not a delegative leader or a directive leader. When I first learned about Grateful Leadership, I immediately thought of how well it blends with Servant Leadership and serving the team. This is so fundamental to Agile and, even in traditional project management, Servant Leadership is one of my preferred ways of leading people. At times I find myself leading someone who has a higher pay rate than I do, or someone who is more knowledgeable about the work they are doing. How could I possibly lead a subject matter expert in any sort of directive way? For example, saying, “I’m in charge and this is what you’ve got to do.” If you know somebody that makes more money than you and has more knowledge about the work they are doing, then Servant Leadership makes more sense.

What servant leadership looks like is, “How can I help you be successful, so we as a team can be successful?” Unfortunately, this is lacking in many environments, but it’s very supportive in Agile, and I think bringing Grateful Leadership to the project team is also important. Anywhere one is doing stakeholder management, is an appropriate place for gratitude and acknowledgment. For example, saying “Thank You” to the product owner for being present, engaging, and for wanting to keep up with the progression of the project. There is so much to be grateful for when working on a project!

Through personal growth and development in leadership training, I realized that when acknowledgment is missing, there is something major lacking for me, and this is probably soor others. I am one of those people who will stay up until 2 a.m. to complete a task or a deliverable, if needed by my client. However, if I don’t feel appreciated or acknowledged for the work I do, I don’t have the drive to work extra time that may be necessary…

In summary, it’s difficult to do work when you don’t feel appreciated. Has this ever applied in your personal life? Servant Leadership, as well as Grateful Leadership, allows one to influence without authority. These leadership styles are critical for Agile projects where you may be a team member, Product Owner, or even a project manager.

If you are interested in learning more about leadership and how it relates to Agile and the PMI-ACP certification, please email me at learning@iil.com, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Susan Parente

Susan Parente is a senior instructor at IIL, an Associate Professor at Post University, Adjunct Professor at Montclair State University, and a Lecturer at the University of Virginia. She is an author, mentor and teacher focused on risk management, along with traditional and Agile project management. Her experience is augmented by her master’s in engineering management with a focus in Marketing of Technology from George Washington University, DC, along with several professional certifications. Mrs. Parente has 27+ years’ experience leading software and business development projects in the private and public sectors, including a decade of experience implementing IT projects for the DoD.

Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.

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