The Grateful Agile Leader

The Grateful Agile Leader

By Susan Parente, PMP, PMI-ACP, CSM, CSPO, PSM I, CISSP, CRISC, PMI-RMP, RESILIA, ITIL, GL®CP, MS Eng. Mgmt. | Risk Management Guru – Agile Specialist – IIL Senior Instructor

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, where 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 of these topics, so the team can know how they improved, and how can they learn and move forward? Grateful Leadership is clearly 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. One of the reasons for this is that I am sometimes leading somebody who makes more money than I do, or someone who knows more than I do 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 makes more money than you and they know more than you about the work they are doing, then Servant Leadership makes more sense.

What servant leadership looks like is, “I can’t do what you do and we need your support and efforts, so how can I help you be successful, so that you 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 there to ask questions, being involved, being engaged, and for wanting to know how things are going with the project. There is so much to be grateful for when working on a project!

Through personal growth and development via leadership training, I realized that when acknowledgment is missing, there is something major lacking for me. If I don’t feel acknowledged, or if I don’t acknowledge others, when acknowledgment is missing, I am not motivated. I am one of those people who will stay up to 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 or even on my own time. I can work my way through something, if I feel I am appreciated. I am clear about how important acknowledgment is for me, so I recognize that it is likely important for others.

In summary, it’s difficult to do work when you don’t feel appreciated. Have you ever felt that way? Both Servant Leadership, as well as Grateful Leadership allow 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.

To learn more about Grateful Leadership, see the Center for Grateful Leadership site, where you may obtain much more information. Membership is free, and it is priceless!

If you are interested in learning more about leadership and how it relates to Agile and the PMI-ACP certification, please email me at parente@s3-tec.com or susan.parente@iil.com, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

About the Author
Susan Parente (PMP, PMI-ACP, CSM, CSPO, PSM I, CISSP, CRISC, PMI-RMP, RESILIA, ITIL, GL®CP, MS Eng. Mgmt.) 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 Masters in Engineering Management with a focus in Marketing of Technology from George Washington University, DC, along with a number of professional certifications. Mrs. Parente has 25+ 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.