Monday, May 18, 2015

Servant Leadership means gaining knowledge and teaching others.

Clerks still get a bad rap but they are
leading the Agile Reformation. 
There are plenty of things to discuss when you get into the world of agile development.  There are certifications and long nights working with developers.  There are times when you feel like a nursery school teacher trying to get your people working together.  Other times there are moments of quite contentment where you realize you are doing the right thing and that you are making a difference.  Agile is many things.  It is not boring.  This week on the blog I wanted to share a little wisdom I learned many years ago as I wandered my college campus.

This week was commencement week at Illinois State University. Graduate students and undergraduates walked for ceremonies.  What made the experience more heartfelt for me was that some of the people walking were the children of friends and family.  For all those newly minted Redbird alumni, I just want to say welcome to a very special club.

The moto of the university is “And gladly would he learn and teach,” although it has been changed since I went to campus.  I thought this bit of wisdom came from the Bible but instead it comes from Chaucer and describes the medieval clerk.  A clerk.  The person who makes sure the bills are paid.  The person who makes sure the paperwork is in order and the person who for all of history has toiled anonymously under tyrants, kings, generals and thought leaders.  No one in elementary school dreams of being a clerk.  The life of a doctor, firefighter or astronaut seems much more satisfying.

Here is a secret, the modern world would fly apart without clerks.  The trains run on time because someone has a job to make sure that they do.  They have a staff of people who make that happen. The trains run on time in bad weather and during contract negotiations.  The trains work when budgets are cut and the politicians have unrealistic expectations.  Over the last 400 years clerks, using engineering skills and bureaucratic knowledge have created the modern world we live.  That is a mighty burden on a class of people which most of us look at with shame and contempt.

It is the clerk and the teacher who has the burden of 400 years of western civilization to maintain.  If we go back to the ancient Egyptians, that burden is over four thousand years of history.  All of it managed by clerks who were educated with the best knowledge of the past and willing to try and improve on existing practices.  Where I am going with this is that it is up to us, those of us many people negatively refer to as clerks to try and make a difference in our offices and communities.

The agile movement was founded not by business leaders but project managers.  These clerks were the people who noticed that what they were doing was not working and decided that some radical change was in order.  This is why we have the agile manifesto.  This is a reformation happening not from the C-suites or boardrooms of power.  Instead, it is taking place in the cubicles and the leaders of this reformation are clerks!

If you are wondering how this ties back into my nostalgia for my Alma mater.  The slogan is: “And gladly would he learn and gladly would he teach.”  A good servant leader is a lifelong learner.  Each day they take the knowledge they have gained and share it with others.  So whether it is explaining heteronormative theory to the HR lady or SOLID programming principles to a junior developer, it is up to a servant leader to be learning all the time and sharing our knowledge with others.  As a Scrum professional and agilest it is up to us to lead reformation by gladly learning and gladly teaching others.  I think that lesson alone has stayed with me since I was undergraduate.

Until next time.