Banish Fear and Make Scrum Roles Awesome

Modern Agile is a construct that’s picking up a lot of steam. There are many ideas contributing to this as you can see by their helpful reading suggestions. This image sums up the main things Modern Agile would teach us:

Credit to

Credit to


Today, I’d like to give my take on the “Make Safety a Prerequisite” and “Make People Awesome” axis. In future posts, we’ll examine how each role in the Scrum Guide might look when done awesomely and when safety is a prerequisite.


The Bad

To be safe means one’s environment is hospitable to life and growth. It means one may pursue being awesome without fear of failure. Safety is not necessarily free of occasional anxiety or failure, simply that those conditions do not inspire fear. To know safety, first let’s unpack understand fear:

fear (n): a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc.,whether the threat is real or imagined.

That’s right, even imagined conditions inspire fear.

An environment of fear has many effects. They are both physical psychological. Here are just some:

  • Rational thought is short-circuited in favor of immediate reactions
  • Sights, sounds, etc become associated with danger and can cause fear reactions in the future (PTSD)
  • Chronic fear weakens the immune system and can cause cardiovascular damage, ulcers, etc.
  • Chronic fear makes it harder for us to regulate emotions, read non-verbal cues and leaves us susceptible to intense emotions and impulsive reactions.
  • Other consequences of long-term fear include fatigue, clinical depression, accelerated aging and even premature death

In short, fear limits our ability to be at our best and actually harms us in real ways when it is a long-standing, environmental reality.

We even have to combat our own ego. Dr. Philip Holder, a North American Wing Chun Association Grandmaster rights,

More fear has been created as a result of perceived or anticipated loss of face (ego) than was ever created out of anticipation of loss of physical well being.

He goes on to say

A great deal of this fear is a result of people’s inability to prioritize.

A wise person once told me I wouldn’t care to keep a friend that talked to me the way I sometimes think of myself. By being harsh and unforgiving, we condition ourselves to fear failure even when we have not yet experienced it. Holder also states:

We are all what we practice to be. If you practice baseball every day you will become a good baseball player. If you practice carpentry every day you will become a good carpenter. If you practice being happy every day, you will become happy. If you practice fear (anger) every day, you will become a fearful and angry person.

I believe him.

What then would safety look like in our environment and in our own minds?

The Good

A safe environment would be one wherein people do not feel the fear and persistent anxiety that comes with thoughts of impending danger, evil or pain, real or imagined. Trust between co-workers would be strong. Leadership would demonstrate their trust by giving those entrusted to them the freedom to self-organize as they see fit. Many arts and work philosophies could co-exist and bring their unique value free from the rancor of any process or culture gestapo. Culture and practices would be free to grow and evolve guided by a clear and shared purpose. Organizations that operate this way can be referred to as teal organizations. I highly recommend spending some time reading the reinventing organizations wiki to get an idea of different organizational structures and modus operandi if you organization fits a more amber, orange or green paradigm.

We would train ourselves to assume possibility and growth are always possible. Linda Rising calls this state of thinking the agile mindset. Check out her talk on it here. We would know how to improve rapidly, having found clever ways to fail safely.

If we are able to believe that our environment holds no danger and if we have taught our egos to be comfortable with exposure and even failure, then we become open to untapped growth and a bigness we might have thought impossible.

This sets the stage for…


To me, being awesome means having an astonishing and life-giving impact on the world around you.  This kind of effect doesn’t just happen; it takes hard work, initiative and at times risky leadership. I love the phrase,

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The meaning is, “If you don’t risk anything, you won’t gain anything.” To be awesome then requires not only the skill to execute on an idea, but also an understanding of what risks are worth taking — which will pay off and which may not. Additionally, minimizing the negative effects of failure i.e. lowering risk enables risk takers to learn from exploration without crashing and burning along the way.

There much more that can be said about an agile mindset, the prerequisite of safety, and people being awesome but this will do for now. Next time, the qualities and behaviors of an awesome Scrum Master when safety is a prerequisite.


Jason is a developer, Scrum Master, writer, teacher, coach, husband, father, and community leader out of Tulsa Oklahoma. He's been delivering software since 2007 and absolutely loves the values and principles of agility especially as given form by the Scrum framework.