Servant leadership style is a leadership philosophy or approach that emphasizes serving others as a means to lead. Servant leaders are driven by a desire to serve others, not an ambition to lead them. They focus more on lifting others than on lifting themselves.
By contrast, traditional leadership theories emphasize traits such as assertiveness, dominance, and self-confidence as necessary components of effective leaders.
Let’s take a look at the framework and top 10 principles of being a leader in the servant style.
What is servant leadership's origin?
In 1970, Robert K. Greenleaf (1904-1990) coined the term servant leadership, in an article entitled The Servant as Leader. Greenleaf, a Terre Haute, Indiana native, spent his entire managerial career developing management research, development, and education at AT&T.
After working for AT&T for approx. 40 years, Greenleaf spent 25 years as an influential consultant for several leading institutions, including Ohio University, MIT, Ford Foundation, B. K. Mellon Foundation, and others.
What is servant leadership?
Larry Spears, Executive Director of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for servant leadership, explains the term servant leadership briefly as follows:
How does servant leadership differ from traditional leadership?
Servant leadership style is a way of leading that emphasizes empathy and connection over control and domination. Effective servant leaders are driven by a desire to serve others, not an ambition to lead them.
Traditional leadership emphasizes traits such as assertiveness, dominance, and self-confidence as necessary components of effective leaders. A traditional leader is a person who is comfortable in a position of authority. This type of leader possesses strong leadership qualities such as charisma, confidence, and self-assurance. Traditional leaders are used to leading people and delegating tasks to those under them. They enjoy being in control and keeping important information confidential from others.
The servant leadership framework
The servant leadership framework is a theory for creating an environment where all people can thrive in an organization.
Whether you’re leading a small team, a large organization, or both, it can help you to establish a common purpose and clear goals, while giving everyone the flexibility they need to succeed.
It also helps to create an organizational culture that is both respectful of individual contributions and committed to supporting and empowering everyone.
Service to others
When a good leader assumes the leadership position of a servant, the act of serving others becomes a priority. Power and self-interest are not at the root of authentic leadership style.
A holistic approach to work
It calls on organizations to rethink the connections between people, organizations, and society as a whole.
According to the theory, individuals should be encouraged to be themselves in both their professional and personal lives, leading to a more integrated valuation of individuals that ultimately benefits the long-term interests and performance of the organization.
Promoting a sense of community
Only communities, in which individual members are jointly liable for each other's actions, can foster a sense of community. To succeed, an organization may only succeed if it establishes this sense of community. Further, effective servant leaders' actions are considered to be the source of this sense of community.
Sharing of power in decision-making
The best demonstration of servant leadership is through the cultivation of servant leadership qualities in others. By encouraging the talents of employees, empowering work environments, and encouraging participatory behavior, a servant-leader improves employee motivation and, as a result, business performance.
There are many different ways to apply the servant leadership framework in organizations today, but it can start with one simple concept: everyone has value to bring to the table, even if they don’t have a title or a formal position. If you can start seeing your team members as assets rather than liabilities, you’ll be on the right track to building a culture of servant leadership.
What are the 10 principles of servant leadership?
Servant leadership is a leadership style that focuses on the needs and desires of others. It’s about being a good listener, being willing to take the time to understand others, and working hard to make everyone around you feel heard and appreciated.
The following are Robert K. Greenleaf’s 10 servant leadership principles that every servant leader needs to keep in mind:
A great place to start with servant leadership is by being an active listener.
Effective listening takes practice, but the rewards of being a good listener are immense. Perhaps one of the most important benefits of being a good listener is that it allows you to better understand other people’s perspectives. Being a good listener can help you to build better relationships, increase trust and inspire confidence among your team members.
Being a good listener doesn’t mean that you have to wait for your turn to speak. Instead, it means that you are truly interested in what the other person has to say. It means putting your thoughts and judgments aside, and focusing on the person in front of you. When you listen to someone else, you give them the gift of your full attention. This speaks volumes and can have a real impact on your relationships, both personal and professional.
The servant leader also pays special attention to what goes unspoken in the management context.
Empathy is the ability or capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference. Effective leaders need to be able to see situations from their team’s perspective, but they also need to be able to understand the feelings and emotions that accompany those situations.
Developing your empathy can help you to build better relationships with others, while also improving your ability to respond to a wide range of situations effectively. Effective servant leaders are dedicated to understanding and responding to their team’s unique needs and experiences, and empathy is at the heart of this approach.
Empathy is not the same as sympathy or pity. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone, and pity is feeling that someone is unfortunate or unfortunate. Empathy is about understanding and experiencing what someone else is going through from their perspective, not from yours. Being a truly empathetic person takes practice, but it’s an essential quality for servant leaders.
Another important aspect of servant leadership is healing. This can take many forms, from healing the wounds of others who have experienced hardship to healing broken relationships within or between teams.
Healing is often seen as an inclusive and holistic process that involves people’s physical, emotional and spiritual states. Healing can help individuals to overcome their past and create a better future, and it can help teams to function more effectively and harmoniously.
Servant leaders recognize the importance of addressing the needs of their people in these three areas of their life. They recognize that addressing these needs is often an essential part of inspiring confidence, trust, and loyalty among the people they lead.
The servant-leader has wide awareness, particularly self-awareness. He can see circumstances from a more complete, comprehensive perspective.
Being aware of your actions and the impact of those actions on others is a key quality of servant leadership. Servant leaders are aware of the impact that their actions have on their followers and are careful to respond in ways that respect and honor their team. In addition, they are also aware of the impact of external forces on their organization, such as political or cultural factors.
Being aware is not just about being informed; it’s about being informed and then taking action. Awareness is about knowing your team members’ needs and how to respond to those needs in effective ways.
Self-reflection, listening to what other people say, remaining open to learning, and connecting the dots are all ways to improve awareness.
The effective servant-leader builds group consensus through persuasion and does not take advantage of their power and status. This characteristic most clearly differentiates servant leadership from traditional, authoritarian styles.
Servant leaders should be persuasive, but they should not be manipulative. Being persuasive means using your communication skills to persuade your team to move towards something that they believe in. Persuasion is not coercion or manipulation.
Servant leaders use persuasion to inspire confidence, loyalty, and trust among their people. They know how to inspire people to move towards something that they believe in, and they do so honestly and ethically.
A servant leader thinks beyond the day-to-day. He focuses on the long-term perspective.
Trust and confidence in your skills and abilities as a leader are essential parts of inspiring confidence and loyalty among your followers. One of the best ways to build trust among your team members is to be able to conceptualize your plans, strategies, and ideas in ways that are meaningful to your team.
Conceptualization is similar to persuasion in that it involves the ability to communicate your ideas effectively to others. The difference is that conceptualization is a broader skill that involves the ability to present any idea in a meaningful way. Conceptualization is essential in a variety of contexts and situations, including strategy discussions, project planning, and goal setting. E
Foresight is the ability to see the long-term implications of current actions and make informed decisions based on that vision. Being able to see long-term implications is essential to servant leadership characteristics.
Foresight helps leaders to avoid making short-term decisions that can derail their long-term goals. It’s also important because it helps leaders to avoid making decisions based on knee-jerk reactions to current events.
Servant leaders can stand back from the immediacy of current situations and make decisions based on a long-term vision. Foresight helps leaders to see past today’s problems and make decisions that will benefit the team’s long-term growth. This characteristic is closely linked to the conceptualization term above.
Stewardship is the ability to oversee and manage the things that are most important to their team members, such as their relationships and their health. Servant leaders recognize the importance of taking care of their followers, both physically and emotionally.
In addition, servant leaders are not only concerned for the individuals within their organization, but also see the organization as a whole, and the impact it has on all of society. It is linked to the obligation to help and serve others.
Commitment to the growth of people
Servant leaders recognize the importance of growing their people. A servant leader believes that individuals have intrinsic values that extend beyond their accomplishments as employees. As a result, they encourage and support employees' personal, professional, and emotional growth.
This commitment to the growth of people can take many forms, from providing challenging and meaningful work to offering opportunities for professional development and growth.
A leader who is committed to the growth of people is a leader who is dedicated to preparing his or her team members for the future. They recognize that their role is not just to get things done but to get the right things done and to do so in ways that allow their team members to thrive.
Finally, a key part of being a servant leader is building community among your team members. Communities are built on trust, loyalty, and the ability to work together effectively and efficiently.
A feeling of community among your team members can help to encourage collaboration and support, as well as to create a culture of shared commitment and excellence. It also has an important social aspect, bringing together people from different backgrounds and helping them to connect and learn from each other.
A servant leader seeks to foster a true community within his organization, but also among other businesses and organizations.
What are the benefits of servant leadership?
Servant leadership is a leadership style where the leader takes on the attributes of a servant. A servant leader is someone who acts with humility, empathy, and compassion. They are self-aware and know their strengths and limitations.
Servant leadership is a type of leadership that fosters an environment where everyone can contribute their unique strengths, capabilities, and perspectives to produce the best results possible.
- Servant leadership focuses on developing teams who are able to work together to achieve shared goals.
- Servant leaders create a culture where everyone feels valued and contributes meaningfully to the organization.
- Servant leaders focus on giving more than receiving.
- They create an environment where people feel comfortable taking risks and having honest conversations about issues that matter to them.
- They believe that everyone has something valuable to bring to the table, regardless of background or experience, and they show up for others in ways that make them feel heard and seen.
- Servant leaders are committed to building strong relationships with their team members so they can support each other in times of need.
How to become a servant leader
Servant leadership is a way of leading that emphasizes empathy and connection over control and domination. It’s about valuing the unique contributions of every member of your team and focusing on their strengths rather than their weaknesses.
The key qualities of a servant leader are humility, respect, and compassion -qualities that are demonstrated by taking care of those you work with, listening to them, and putting their needs above your own.
Another benefit of servant leadership is that it makes you more likely to make decisions based on what’s best for the people who work under you, instead of just doing whatever you think is best for yourself.
When you take this approach, you’re more likely to choose policies that support employee growth and development—and end up with a more motivated and engaged team.
So what are you waiting for? Start being a servant leader right now by practicing these seven steps:
- Show respect for all people at all times
- Be open to feedback
- Be patient
- Be fairly minded
- Practice active listening
- Deeply care
- Take action
What are real-life examples of servant leadership?
The goal of a servant leader is to help others achieve their goals. Examples of servant leaders are Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Dalai Lama.
In today's business world, Howard Schultz, the Founder of Starbucks, and Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, are often referred to as servant leaders.
Further readings about being (or becoming) a servant leader
- On Becoming a Servant Leader by Robert Greenleaf and Peter Drucker
- The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership by James C. Hunter
- The Serving Leader: Five Powerful Actions to Transform Your Team, Business, and Community by Ken Jennings and John Stahl-Wert
- Great Twitter thread by Jamie Russo: 10 secrets of servant leaders
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