Servant Leadership

While the concept of servant leadership has been around for ages, it was not until Robert Greenleaf coined the term in 1970 in his paper, The Servant as Leader, that it became popular.

Servant Leadership

Greenleaf defines it as wanting to serve first in order to ensure that other people's highest priority needs are being served. Servant leaders use less institutional power and control while shifting authority to the followers. Secondly, servant leaders have a positive effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, will they not be further deprived? If inequalities and social injustices exist, a servant leader tries to remove them (Graham, 1991).

Servant leadership is both a leadership philosophy and set of leadership practices in that it emphasizes serving, while having ten principles (Spears, 2010) that guide the servant leader:

Ten Principles of Servant Leadership

  1. Listening - Making a deep commitment to listening intently to others in order to identify and clarify the will of a group. This means one must get in touch with one's inner voice, and seeking to understand what another's body, spirit, and mind are communicating.

  2. Empathy - Understand others and empathize with them by accepting and recognizing their special and unique spirit. The servant leader must assume the good intentions of their coworkers and not reject them, even when forced to reject their behavior or performance.

  3. Healing - Having the potential to heal one's self and others so that transformation and integration can take place. In The Servant as Leader, Greenleaf writes, “There is something subtle communicated to one who is being served and led if, implicit in the compact between the servant-leader and led is the understanding that the search for wholeness is something that they have.”

  4. Awareness - Being mindful of one's surroundings, and especially being self-aware, will strengthen the servant-leader. Fostering awareness can be difficult, as one never knows what may be discovered.

  5. Persuasion - While traditional leaders rely heavily upon their positional authority in making decisions, servant leaders rely on persuasion to convince others in order to build consensus within groups. This principle is noted as one of the clearest distinctions between the traditional authoritarian model and that of servant leadership.

  6. Conceptualization - The ability to look at a problem or the organization from a conceptualizing perspective so that one goes beyond the day-to-day realities in order to bring visions to reality.

  7. Foresight - Using the intuitive mind to understand lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision in the future in order to solve complex problems.

  8. Stewardship - Holding the institution in trust for the greater good of society.

  9. Commitment to the Growth of People - People have an intrinsic value beyond their tangible contributions as workers, thus the servant leader is deeply committed to a personal, professional, and spiritual growth of each and every individual within the organization.

  10. Building Community - Servant leaders seek to identify a means for building community among those who work within a given institution.

As the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership notes, traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the top of the pyramid. Servant leaders are different in that they share power, put the needs of others first, and help people develop and perform as highly as possible.

Next Steps

Servant Leadership Self-Assessment Questionnaire

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Graham, J.W. (1991). Leadership, moral development, and citizenship behavior. Business Ethics Quarterly. 5(1), 43-54.

Greenleaf, R.K. (1970, 1991). The servant as leader. Indianapolis, IN: The Robert K. Greenleaf Center.

Spears, L.C. (2010). Character and Servant Leadership: Ten Characteristics of Effective, Caring Leaders. The Journal of Virtues and Leadership, 1(1), 25-30.