Agile 2018

Agile 2018
Speaking at Agile 2018

Monday, June 30, 2014

Learning Servant Leadership from Marines

Marines can teach you a lot about
servant leadership.  You just have to listen.
The life of a software developer and entrepreneur is filled with adventure.  It is also filled with countless hours of meetings, moments of terror, and a few lighthearted memories.  This week I danced around my day jobs office like a portly fool to the popular summer hit “Happy” by Pharrell.  It did it because I had made a bet with one of the scrum teams that they could not get their work done at the end of a sprint.  They accepted my playful challenge and they came through for me.  I had no choice but to dance around the office.  This got me thinking about leadership and what software professionals have to do in order to be successful.

As a younger person, I remember being taught about leadership by two Marine Corps veterans from Vietnam.  Sergeant Major David Ogle and Lieutenant Colonel Richard Weidner were larger than life figures from my youth.  Like many teens in the classroom the lessons they gave me really did not sink in until later in life.  Both taught me a leader had two responsibilities to accomplish the mission goals and to look after the well being of the people under your command.  When forced to choose always accomplish the mission.  I didn’t understand this right away.  Marines made life and death decisions.  Getting a mission done often means getting someone killed.

It would only be later in life that I understood what this unusually lesson would mean.  First, a leader looked after his people because some day you will have to ask them to accomplish a mission.  The people you lead will have to sacrifice themselves and their family lives to get things done.  In a military context, they may risk injury and death.  The other part of this simple lesson was that the leader is not really there to lead others but to serve them.  This is why I noticed officers in the Marines eat last in the mess hall making sure their people ate first.  It is also why most senior enlisted men and officers did not rest until all of the people they led were safely back at base.

This left a lasting impression on me.  It also influenced me on how I lead software development team.  I refer to them as “ladies and gentlemen” since I have the rare privilege of working with co-ed software teams.  I stick up for my developers when there are struggling and give them a kick in a seat when they are loafing.  I purchase hard candy to keep them from smoking and dance around my office when I lose a bet with the team.  It just comes with the job of being a scrum master.  A scrum master is a servant leader who helps his people be the best they can be.

This is not an easy life but I find it very rewarding.  It is all part of the adventure.

Until next time.