When the disciple is ready…

A while back, I wrote a post titled The Yes List. The point of that was to emphasize essentially a lean approach to introducing change into an organize by focusing most of your efforts on those already receptive to the change. This is nothing new. There is a well known phrase that encapsulates this dynamic quite well:

When the disciple if ready, the master appears.

Raphael School of Athens

In Fearless Change, authors Rising and Mann point out a potentially discouraging aspect of human nature, namely that we are absolutely irrational in our decisions without exception. If you doubt this is the case, you have but to dig into the results of multitudinous studies that confirm this reality.

The implication is that we may not expect to simply present individuals or organizations with a “better way” and expect them to see the light. The reality is that most will resist being changed quite vigorously in the face of proof that the new way is better. Much more than a well-reasoned argument is required before meaningful change will occur.

I used the phrase “potentially discouraging” earlier because a change agent need not succumb to defeat after her sincere efforts at improvement meet with resistance or even failure. The roots of this frustration are likely an inappropriate expectation of how change happens in an individual or by extension an organization.

This is good news for me.

As a Scrum Master, constant change and an openness to improvement is a constant and driving force in my daily work. Naturally then, this focus drives me towards the sort of frequent frustrations described above. It came as a welcome realization that I could avoid the selfish anger with co-workers and upper-ups when they just didn’t “get it” no matter how many times I told them what we should be doing.

This is a key realization for a servant leader. For those parents out there, this is a direct analogy of parenting. A good parent will meet their children where they are and disciple them as they need. It is insufficient and haughty to assume that a young human can simply suck it up and behave when every indication tells us that humans progress in stages and according to well understood patterns of development. Why do we think adults and organizations should be different?

We’re all just humans after all.

If you are to be an effective coach, teacher, driver of discovery, encourager, and changer of men and women you must dedicate yourself to understanding yourself and your fellow humans. Resist the conceit to claim superiority because of education, title, or parentage.

Humility is your greatest advantage.

If you are ready to admit you don’t know it all, you’re ready to accept feedback and apply yourself to improvement. If you are ready be transparent with those who would criticize your efforts, you are ready to discover ways to course correct. If you are ready to be taught, you have become the disciple. Now and only now:

…the master will appear.


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.