When you think of agile servant leadership, what ideals come to mind? 

Openness? Empathy? Support? These are just some of the critical attributes of an effective servant leader. By definition, these leaders value putting their teams, groups, and organizations first. 

Unfortunately, all too often this focus on the team leaves someone important out of the equation: the leaders themselves. 

In a recent conversation, Coveros CEO Jeffery Payne sat down with agile leadership expert, coach, and author Bob Galen to discuss how software leaders can help prioritize themselves in order to better serve the teams they lead. Here are some key takeaways from that discussion.

Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s vital to being an effective leader.

While taking a step back and putting yourself first might seem indulgent to some leaders, Bob and Jeff both argue that it’s a critical piece of effective agile leadership. 

“If you’re starving yourself,” Bob says, “then the quality of your service will decline.”

Jeff likened servant leadership and self-care to the instructions we receive when flying on a plane. In case of emergency, we’re always asked to put our masks on first before helping others. “If you don’t take care of yourself first,” Jeff explains, “you’re not going to be able to, in a panic or rush, take care of those around you successfully.”

To implement effective self-care, you first need to assess your leadership ecosystem.

As Bob Galen highlights, your agile leadership ecosystem is your current state. Leaders have some key questions they should ask to understand how well or how poorly they’re taking care of themselves:

  • Where am I right now?
  • What’s my personal state with my team?
  • What’s my agile state?
  • What’s my organizational state?
  • What role am I in?
  • How mature is my team?
  • What is my work in progress (WIP) limit?
  • What are some of the challenges and pressures I face?
  • What are the cultural dynamics influencing my self care?

Leaders need to take time for mindfulness and self-reflection in order to inform more strategic thinking.

According to Bob Galen, mindfulness is a key piece of self-care. Whether it’s journaling, meditation, or just taking quiet time away from everything else, leaders need dedicated time to self-reflect and think on the issues they face. 

Whether it’s once a day or once a week, Jeff and Bob both agree that leaders need to carve out specific time for this self-reflection and make it a key part of their schedule. 

Without this self reflection, they argue, leaders often get bogged down in fighting fires and focusing on tactics, rather than setting the strategic vision that their teams need.

Self-care and mindfulness can help leaders control their reactions to crises. Teams look to leaders for this reaction.

“Folks are looking to us as leaders, as role models, whether we like it or not,” Bob says. “So we need to choose how we’re going to show up.”

Agile leaders set the tone and mood of their entire teams and how they react to challenges. 

According to Jeff and Bob, leaders need to ensure they have the mindfulness to react to crises with calm and steady thinking. In return, teams will follow their example in their own reactions. 

Want more insight into how to let mindfulness drive your agile and DevOps leadership? Watch Jeff and Bob’s full conversation here

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