What is servant leadership and how can it empower you team?

Benefits of servant leadership

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What is servant leadership?

10 principles of servant leadership

7 characteristics of servant leadership

Servant leadership vs. traditional leadership

What does servant leadership look like in practice?

Pros and cons of servant leadership

How to become a “servant first” leader

Getting the best out of your team requires using a variety of management styles. The right style can help build trust, generate results, and motivate team members to action. 

That said, the best style of leadership depends on what your goals are. If you have a desire to work toward the greater good or inspire your employees to make an impact, servant leadership might be right for you. 

Let’s define servant leadership and discuss the model’s main principles and pros and cons. We’ll also dive into some examples of how this type of leadership can be used to effectively motivate and inspire your team.

Table of Contents

What is servant leadership?

The servant leadership style is based on the idea that leaders prioritize serving the greater good. Leaders with this style serve their team and organization first. They don’t prioritize their own objectives.

Employees in a servant leadership environment are more likely to feel that their voices are heard. This makes them 4.6 times more likely to work to the best of their abilities. So what is servant leadership? 

The term “servant leader” was first coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970 in the essay “The Servant as Leader.”  Basically, the servant leadership style was based on the idea that leaders prioritize serving the greater good. Leaders with this style serve their team and organization first. They don’t prioritize their own objectives.

Servant leadership seeks to achieve a vision by providing strong support to employees. In turn, this allows employees to learn and grow while bringing their own expertise and vision to the table. This hinges on building influence and authority rather than using control and toxic leadership tactics.

In servant leadership, employees are empowered. But the leader doesn’t just disappear.

The servant leader focuses on:

  • Setting the strategic vision for the company and communicating that down to the team level 
  • Encouraging ownership and extending supported trust to the team 
  • Making sure that the team has the required resources, budget, skills, and attention to make an impact
  • Providing a framework within which their team can flourish (instead of prescribing them specific directions on each of their duties)
  • Bottom-up empowerment, which means building their team members’ self-confidence, decision-making abilities, and collaboration skills

Benefits of servant leadership

10 principles of servant leadership

Robert K. Greenleaf established 10 principles of servant leadership. The former president of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, Larry C. Spears, breaks down these 10 principles as follows.

  1. Listening: It’s important to fully listen to members of the team without interrupting.
  2. Empathy: It’s important to get to know your team so that you can use empathetic leadership to help them grow.
  3. Healing: Members of your team may have trauma from previous toxic work experiences. Help others to create a healthy work-life balance to give them the space to heal.
  4. Self-awareness: A servant leader must also recognize their own strengths and weaknesses. This is to understand how they fit within the overall team.
  5. Persuasion: Servant leaders can use persuasion and influence instead of just power to get team members to be on the same page.
  6. Conceptualization: Servant leaders need to be able to use big-picture thinking. With this, they can conceptualize plans for their team and their organization.
  7. Foresight: It’s important to use what you and your team learn to improve in the future.
  8. Stewardship: Lead by example so that your team can do what you do, not just do what you say.
  9. Commitment to the growth of people: You need to allocate time and resources to help people and teams grow. Tools like organizational training,  development programs, and growth and transformation coaching can help.
  10.  Building community: Servant leadership requires building relationships between co-workers. As a result, team members learn to trust each other and become more productive.

Benefits of servant leadership

7 characteristics of servant leadership

Servant leadership is about empowering your team and helping create a positive work environment. But what does it actually look like? Let’s break down the seven characteristics of servant leadership.

  1. Teamwork: The team needs to come first. 
  2. Employee satisfaction: Employee satisfaction and cooperation turn the wheel. 
  3. Adaptability: Servant leadership varies from revenue-focused sales environments to non-profit organizations that set out to promote social good. 
  4. Motivation: Servant leaders provide high levels of support to employees, fueling motivation and engagement.
  5. Transparent communication: The team trusts a leader who can provide clarity, even in complex, changing situations. 
  6. Authenticity: Servant leaders need to genuinely care about individual and team development. Leadership much embrace authenticity.
  7. Accountability: Ownership activates commitment and purpose. Employees work toward goals they’ve set for themselves and take responsibility for the results.

Benefits of servant leadership

Servant leadership vs. traditional leadership

“Servant first” leadership represents the opposite of the traditional leadership model. Traditional leadership is defined as a model of leadership where the leader is seen as the central point of the team. Employees are there to support the leader’s efforts to meet company goals.

In contrast, servant leadership puts the needs of others at the forefront. Under this leadership philosophy, the more you invest in serving as a “scaffold” for your employees, the more productive your team becomes.

Here are three more ways that servant leadership is different from traditional leadership:

  • More inclusive: A servant leader must foster an inclusive culture in their team. Inclusive teams allow every person to build a sense of belonging. This gives them a chance to thrive.
  • Focused on the team, more than the customer: Servant leaders focus on their team’s needs, but this doesn’t mean that customers don’t benefit. Servant leaders focus on the growth and well-being of the team. As such, they can create high-performing professionals who can serve customers better.
  • Greater emphasis on ethics: Servant leadership has ethical implications that aren’t as prominent in traditional leadership. Servant leaders who behave in an unethical way may cause issues within their team, such as decreased motivation and growth.

What does servant leadership look like in practice?

Successful servant leaders have a genuine desire to serve employees. They’re also effective, charismatic decision-makers and clear when they set expectations. 

Here are some concrete examples of servant leadership. 

1. Being an example — humility, authenticity, and trust

Humility must be the foundation of your leadership. If you speak out of superiority and power, your subordinates will do what you say out of fear. Instead, your actions and words should be a credible and genuine model to follow. 

2. Showing why the work is essential — awareness and purpose

In the mechanism of a clock, each part is crucial. The same goes for any team. Each employee is essential to the team’s operation.

Making sure this message reaches employees can increase their motivation. It can also enhance their performance.

One way to do this is by talking explicitly about the downstream impact of their work. You can show them the impact both inside the company and out.

Talk less about numbers and metrics and more about the person or people who’ll use and build on what they’ve done. Always link their specific achievements to wider organizational goals. This fosters a deeper connection to the company’s mission.

Most importantly, recognize the good work they are doing. Many workers consider recognition of their achievements to be the most important aspect of a role.

3. Encouraging collaboration — community-building and commitment

As a servant leader, you’re the engine that generates a sense of community and teamwork.

Increase collaboration by encouraging employee commitment to each other. You can also encourage them to delegate responsibility. Finally, you can involve team members in decision-making processes.

For example, ask them what they’d like to do on that new project or how they think they can add value to their work. The key here is to be patient and take the time to do this. It can be so tempting in today’s busy world to just get through the day without caring for your employees and their needs — but servant leaders are different. 

Benefits of servant leadership

4. Supporting the team’s growth and development — foresight and resourcefulness

Identifying and anticipating the needs of employees is a major aspect of the servant leader’s role.

For example, when assigning project duties to each team member, make sure you provide the resources or the ability to procure them. Act from a service-first mindset, and you’ll truly empower them to accomplish their tasks.

5. Caring for the members of the team — empathy and compassion

Similarly, the servant leader will cultivate a friendly environment. In this environment, employees should feel comfortable. They shouldn’t feel threatened by expressing specific complaints or asking questions.

In this context, it seems especially important to favor empathy and understanding. For example, when your employee comes to you with a complaint about a coworker, you don’t dismiss it because you’re busy. You take the time to help them work through the conflict and ultimately resolve it. You’re compassionate. 

6. Asking for feedback — listening skills

Promote a sufficient level of relationship with the employee that favors active and close listening. A servant leader asks open-ended and follow-up questions as a matter of course, not just when something’s wrong. They’re receptive to feedback — they don’t just give it.

Pros and cons of servant leadership

The servant leadership style can amp up an employee’s motivation and courage to be more creative and innovative. This is because leaders give ownership and some control to employees. Doing this can:

  • Strengthen the corporate culture
  • Decrease voluntary turnover
  • Draw out more engagement and commitment from employees

On the other hand, getting it right takes time, energy, and skill.

Getting to really know people, their motivations, and areas of growth takes time. It takes time to translate a vision into clear objectives and priorities. It also takes time to communicate this vision clearly to the team. The results don’t happen overnight. It’s not easy.

Let’s examine the main pros and cons of this leadership style.

Pros of servant leadership

  • The characteristics of success are well-defined
  • Builds deeper, trust-based relationships
  • Encourages greater ownership and responsibility
  • Encourages innovation, curiosity, and creativity
  • Develops a people-focused culture
  • Delivers a significant positive impact on company performance
  • A strong method for ensuring decisions are made in the best interests of the company
  • By serving the employees of a company, you are serving the customer
  • A high level of internal staff growth
  • Develops future leaders
  • Boosts morale across teams
  • Leaders earn respect from team members
  • Employees feel more valued and appreciated in the workplace
  • Improves pride in work

Cons of servant leadership

  • The concept can be difficult to communicate
  • Can be more time-consuming for leaders
  • Can be difficult to attain — it’s a constant journey rather than an end goal
  • Requires a high level of authenticity that can be difficult to achieve
  • Retraining existing leaders as servant leaders can be tough and time-consuming
  • Some may perceive servant leaders as weak or ineffective
  • The formal authority of the leader may be diminished
  • Team members are expected to make a decision, but they might not have a strong understanding of the big picture
  • Different leadership styles across teams can cause confusion
  • Employees may not have the necessary confidence to take charge and drive the business forward
  • The initial speed of decision-making is slower due to high team involvement
  • Potential for misalignment among team
  • It may be out of sync with corporate performance management and incentive systems
  • Decreased motivation and resourcefulness when the leader intervenes to fix issues for the team
Benefits of servant leadership

How to become a “servant first” leader 

Servant leadership is a transformational leadership style, but it takes some practice. Here’s where you can focus your efforts to embody servant leadership characteristics.

1. Build strong communication skills

Servant leadership theory is built around getting the most out of your team. To do that, you’re going to need to be able to communicate organizational objectives and missions clearly. This is so that they are properly equipped to make wise decisions.

Working on communication skills such as conciseness, body language, and clarity will help you achieve this.

2. Improve your listening skills

Communication isn’t all about what you say, though.

This management style is all about hearing your team members’ points of view. Practice your active listening skills to really understand their decision-making process.

3. Develop empathy

Empathy is crucial in a leadership role. It’s especially important for servant leadership. Empathy means being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes. It allows you to see things from their perspective.

This is a vital skill to practice if you’re looking to become a transformational leader.

4. Work on your self-awareness

Charismatic leaders may be charming and great at communicating their ideas. But it’s important that they are also strongly aware of their own limitations.

Developing your self-awareness means noticing how you act and what you say and the impact it has on those around you. Part of this is also recognizing where your actions don’t align with your ideal vision of yourself and determining a clear path to rectify this.

5. Learn to use your influence for good

Persuasion is a part of being a good leader. It means being able to convince others that your thinking is the right path.

This skill might be seen as a slightly different leadership style from servant leadership. But there’s a place for persuasion as a servant leader.

Here’s an example. If your team is divided on an issue, you may need to bring your skills of persuasion and influence into play to land on a unanimous decision.

6. Start putting others first 

An autocratic leader is one who looks out for themselves primarily. That’s the opposite of the servant leadership model.

To be an effective leader, it’s important to develop your selflessness. This means you look out for the goals and well-being of others before you think about your own goals.

Of course, there’s a line to respect. You still need to look after your own well-being. But the point is to deprioritize your own agenda.

Doing so will improve employee engagement, which is a factor known to increase employee performance by as much as 73%.

7. Keep the organization’s goals in mind

The servant leadership approach still centers around achieving organizational goals. This is true even while prioritizing team engagement.

As such, it’s important to keep these goals in mind. Don’t let the interests of any individual move the needle to a point where you are no longer following these objectives.

Your job as the leader is to guide the team toward a decision that makes sense with the company’s vision in mind.

8. Learn how to develop others holistically

Other leadership styles have different approaches to developing employees. Usually, the goal is to improve employee efficiency and productivity. This is true for democratic leadership or autocratic leadership.

Efficiency and productivity are still important under the servant leadership model. But it’s just as crucial to coach each team member so they can develop better:

  • Decision-making skills
  • Communication skills
  • Big-picture thinking

Developing your direct reports more holistically will improve team capabilities. It can also increase employee engagement.

Engagement is great, not only from their perspective (as they feel more fulfilled by their work) but also from the viewpoint of the company. Businesses simply measuring employee engagement have been shown to increase profits by as much as 24%.

Employ servant leadership at any level

It’s not necessary to have a highly influential role in your company to start practicing the servant leadership style. But it’s a practice that has a huge impact on employee well-being and engagement.

Lead projects by supporting the rest of your colleagues, addressing their needs, and providing resources and support. This can create positive results at any level.

Read more  What Are The Pros And Cons Of The Servant Leadership Model?

Practice your communication skills, develop empathy, work on your self-awareness, and be sure to focus on developing your employees more holistically. Do this, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a capable and effective servant leader.

Need someone to speak with about your servant leadership development journey? Request a custom demo to speak with a coach.

Benefits of servant leadership

— Update: 06-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Servant Leadership Explained by a CEO: Pros/Cons, Examples. from the website www.leadershipahoy.com for the keyword benefits of servant leadership.

Servant leadership has been a rare sight during my career as a CEO in the world of business. I am confident that Servant Leadership can be useful in business, especially in our modern times when corporate responsibility is becoming ever more important and many employees seek a cause they can support to serve the greater good. Servant leadership is the answer to many of these things.

What is Servant Leadership?

Servant Leadership focuses on improving people, society, and organizations. In Servant Leadership, the leader serves others, which leads to strong ethics, and engaged, motivated employees. A servant leader with too much focus on serving others can lose track of organizational goals and purpose.

This article explains Servant Leadership in-depth, with its history, pros and cons, characteristics, examples, and how to become a good servant leader. I also share some thoughts and stories on servant leadership based on my experience as a CEO. Check out our video on Servant Leadership below if you prefer that medium, or keep on reading for great insights on servant leadership and how to become a great servant leader.

What is Servant Leadership?

It’s commonly thought that a servant is always at the lower end of the totem pole. That’s far from the truth. There are some leaders who transform the positive qualities of servitude into strong leadership qualities. This is the framework of servant leadership – one of the most humbling of all leadership styles.

Great servant leaders typically have good listening skills, lots of empathy, the ability to develop others, good persuasion skills, and big picture thinking abilities. Servant leadership often leads to high employee engagement, highly motivated employees, and a strong sense of ethics. Servant leadership can sadly lead to much focus on the individuals with less focus on the actual goals of the organization as a consequence. Furthermore, servant leadership is known to take a long time to establish and that is doesn’t work in all organizations. A servant leader needs to have very little or a complete lack of ego – this is an unusual trait among leaders. 

Servant leadership was first conceptualized by Robert K. Greenleaf (in his 1970 essay “The Servant as Leader”[1]. He described two broad categories of leaders:

  • Servant-first
  • Leader-first

A person who is a leader-first is more concerned with exerting power and achieving personal gains. On the other hand, a servant-first leader puts people first. As Martin Luenendonk[2] states, “Servant leadership is something innate- the wish to serve is not something you instill in yourself, it is a feeling that comes from within.” Great care is taken to ensure that the highest priority needs are being met. The servant-first leader strives to help people grow and make a lasting positive impact on society.

Ultimately, a servant leader relinquishes most of his or her authority. It’s a completely selfless type of leadership that focuses on improving people at their core and organizations in their entirety. These are strong elements also present in democratic leadership style and transformational leadership style which you can find in our portal for leadership styles. (In fact, I suggest you take our democratic leadership course with lessons on inclusion, participation, and teamwork created by a CEO.)

What Are the Characteristics of a Servant Leader?

Greenleaf suggested that servant leaders should display eight qualities.

Benefits of servant leadership
Feel free to use the picture as long as you link back to this page.

1.   Good Listening Skills

A servant leader is only able to meet the needs of those being served if those needs are understood.  Therefore, listening is important, especially active listening where a lot of questions are also asked. This leader should understand verbal and nonverbal cues in order to effectively discern the true needs that should be met. (Article tip: Why should leaders speak last?)

2.   Empathy is part of servant leadership

Empathy is a big part of servant leadership. This quality enables the servant leader to identify with and care for team members. It’s a quality that helps build trust within the team and provides a struggling team member with the support needed to move forward.

3.   Ability to Develop Others Holistically

There is much more to a person than the work he or she is able to produce. Servant leaders look at the holistic wellness of those they lead. They want their team to be well mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally. For an even more dedicated style on developing people, read about coaching leadership and how to create a leadership development plan.

Benefits of servant leadership
Servant leaders make people grow, even in difficult situations and circumstances.

4.   Servant leaders have awareness

Servant leaders are emotionally intelligent. Help Guide[3] defines emotional intelligence as “the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict.” It has four attributes:

  • Self-management
  • Self-awareness
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship management

Emotional intelligence helps servant leaders identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats within a team. Equipped with this knowledge, the servant leader can work with the team to improve the organization. (Get a free copy of our E-book “7 Tips on How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence” here: Emotional Intelligence E-book.) You can wathc our video on Emotional Intelligence below, or continue reading about Servant Leadership.

5.   Persuasion

All this empathy, holistic development, and concern help the servant leader achieve the primary objective of leadership – the development of an organization. In essence, the very nature of servant leadership helps him or her persuade the team to achieve its true potential. 

6.   Big Picture Thinking

Big picture thinking adds a visionary element to servant leadership. Therefore, servant leaders are able to conceptualize a plan for the way forward. This helps them encourage the team to do the day-to-day tasks necessary to achieve the ultimate goal.

7.   Make Informed Decisions

Servant leaders learn from past mistakes so that the organization can improve going forward. They also frame present realities with this historical evidence in mind and use this information to make future decisions. Perhaps the biggest contributor is that servant leadership builds on good listening skills which combined with empathy means that the leader gets a lot of input from the organization in order to make informed decisions. (There are strong similarities between democratic leadership and transformational leadership when it comes to listening and gathering input. You can find them here: leadership styles.)

8.   A Knack for Community Development

The organization’s team isn’t a servant leader’s only concern. This leader is also concerned about the growth of the community in which the organization is based. There are always ways for the team to add social value. The giving nature of servant leadership has some similarities to the love and care of spiritual leadership.

You can learn about many of the above things in our democratic leadership course which contains some of the secret tips to drive engagement and participation that I have used during my career as a CEO. Servant leaders benefit greatly from implementing democratic leadership as well. Check it out here: democratic leadership transformation course. Keep reading or check out our main article on leadership styles for information about more than 25 other useful leadership styles.

How is a Servant Leader Different from a Transformational Leader?

The primary difference between a servant leader and a transformational leader is that servant leaders develop the people within the organization and community while transformational leaders inspire people within the organization to work towards a common goal. A transformational leader does care about each team member. However, the time and care a servant leader would take to develop each team member is missing. We have an in-depth article on servant leadership compared to transformational leadership if you are interested.

What are the Pros and Cons of Servant Leadership?

Advantages of Servant Leadership

1. Team morale is high

A leader using servant leadership genuinely cares about the team. People thrive in these settings and are highly motivated to put out their best efforts. Team members are, therefore, more likely to be loyal to the organization. (Compare with Affiliative leadership which is also focused on caring.)

2. Collaborative decision-making increases employee engagement

A team works best when the opinions of all team members are valued, in a similar fashion as in democratic leadership. (Check out my master course on democratic leadership.) Servant leaders facilitate collaborative decision-making. They understand that each person brings a unique set of experiences and ideas. Furthermore, those on the front lines tend to understand more than upper-level management. Remember to stand back with your own opinions to let others be heard: Why should leaders always speak last?

Benefits of servant leadership
Collaboration is strong in servant leadership – the servant leader values what everyone has to offer.

3. Strong example of ethical behavior

Servant leadership means setting strong examples of truly ethical leadership. Although ideas are welcomed, those ideas that negatively impact the organization are rejected. Additionally, the servant leader leads by example, uses ethical leadership, and tends not to do anything unethical.

You can find the above-mentioned democratic and affiliative leadership styles here: Leadership Styles.

Disadvantages of Servant Leadership

1. It takes time to build Servant Leadership

Relationship building forms an important part of servant leadership. It takes time. Team members need to be engaged and the leader has to take the time to understand who they are and what motivates them. Understanding their needs and creating solutions to meet those needs take time.

2. It doesn’t work with every organization

There are some industries where servant leadership is a misfit. For instance, a military leader would be ineffective because he or she wouldn’t have the power to make quick decisions – life or death decisions that could seriously affect his or her people. When quick decisions are of great importance, consider commanding leadership instead.

3. The team can lose sight of goals

The heavy emphasis on holistically developing each team member can result in the team losing sight of the organization’s goals. A servant leader should bear this in mind and learn how to strike the delicate balance between the two and not sacrifice the purpose of the organization in favor of people development. After all, most organizations need some elements of pacesetting leadership as well.

4. The flip side of motivation

Servant leadership can decrease employee motivation. The team starts off with a huge burst of motivation because they feel like they matter. However, that can eventually take a turn for the worse if the leader has to step in to solve specific problems or challenges. Why exert extra effort when the leader solves the problem him or herself anyway?

5. In Servant Leadership, ego takes a backseat

Self-sacrificing behavior is a common feature of servant leadership. This makes servant leaders hard to find since most leaders like a sense of power and control. Ego has no place in servant leadership. A certain level of ego is a normal contributor for people to strive for leadership positions. 

Keep on reading on how to be good at servant leadership as well as some experiences from my career below, or go to our main article with information on more than 25 leadership styles, including commanding and pacesetting leadership that were mentioned above.

How Can You Be Effective at Servant Leadership?

Servant leadership can create a beautiful work environment if you know how to use it well. Remember that it should come from a genuine place; people can detect fake and inauthentic servant leaders. Here are some tips for effective deployment and usage of servant leadership.

1. Be a selfless mentor

You have to develop a mindset of service – you are there to serve. The crux of your role relies on helping each team member grow. It’s not something that you can delegate unless you also coach and instill servant leadership in a thorough way in your mid-level leaders, which in turn takes time. Hence, servant leadership can be difficult to scale in larger organizations. Some additional advice can be found in our article on the Coaching Leadership Style. You might also consider creating leadership development plans for yourself and managers that report to you.

Benefits of servant leadership
Coaching is an important tool in servant leadership.

2. Develop a culture of service within the organization.

It’s good to teach your team how to serve each other and develop supportive work culture. Establishing a charity arm of the organization also helps the team understand the importance of their social responsibility. Learn how to influence culture as a leader, this is crucial for wider and deeper culture changes.

3. Build strong communication skills.

Communication is critical for servant leadership. You should become an active listener and learn how to pick up on non-verbal cues.
I recommend reading our article 17 tips to improve communication.

4. Keep the organization’s goals in mind.

You can find the middle ground between developing your team and ensuring that goals are met. Servant leaders do relinquish some authority but that doesn’t mean that you’re weak. You can show genuine empathy and care for your team while helping the organization succeed.

Servant Leadership – my story

The first time I read about servant leadership I was a bit surprised since it fits how I work relatively well. A lot of my success as a leader has been built on some of the principles of Servant Leadership. Reading and learning about servant leadership also humbles me since it reminds me of how much more I have to learn and how many more things I need to perfect. After all, life is a learning journey that never ends. Still, I am happy to see that so many of the things I do fit well into servant leadership. Let me give you a few examples.

How I am aligned with servant leadership?

I pride myself on being a good and active listener. I ask a lot of questions to fully understand the person in front of me as well as the topic being discussed. This has served me well since I can collect several perspectives from different levels of an organization when approaching a decision. Hearing thoughts and perspectives like this has given me very valuable information over the years and it has also built a connection with the person in front of me. I seem interested, curious, and wanting to understand, which requires as well as indicates empathy which in turn builds trust. The very tangible outcome is that it improves my possibilities of making informed decisions. I have packed loads of tips on how to do this in my democratic leadership course.

Benefits of servant leadership
I spend a lot of my time asking questions to people..

Several people have given me feedback concerning my high expectations of them as individuals. It turns out that I have several times also had a higher belief in their capabilities than they have had themselves. This has helped to build close relationships where the individuals have performed and developed more than they thought they could. This would have been impossible without a good deal of empathy and some visionary thinking.

Furthermore, I always feel it is important to be aware of the emotions and thoughts of others. I adapt my message and attitude to what seems to be needed depending on the emotional state of the person in front of me. Do I always succeed in this? Definitely not. However, being aware of this aspect and actively trying to understand people from this perspective has certainly worked in many situations. Hence, I have most certainly made a better impact on people since I have been aware of the emotional aspects of things. I constantly read books about body language and communication in general in order to sharpen my understanding and ability to read the emotional state of other individuals or groups. (I have collected a lot of my communication tips in this article: 17 tips on how to improve communication.)

As stated above, in order to be able to persuade people, you need empathy and relationships. Trying to help people in finding the way forward and truly understand them leads to better persuasion capabilities.
Becoming good at leadership is a lifelong development effort. Never stop learning how to help, lead and work with people. Check out our repository of leadership styles articles if you want to keep on developing yourself.

Pros and cons of servant leadership – examples

I have experienced and seen how strong a vision and big picture can be if more people are involved. Involving people is great for collecting ideas on where to go and how to get there. It also anchors the vision, creates a sense of empowerment and accountability. The vision becomes “ours” and not “mine”. This is very powerful when it comes to motivation, inspiration, and willingness to execute – all of this improves the outcome if you ask me. You can get these elements with democratic leadership and transformational leadership as well. (Both can be found here: leadership styles.)

However, I have also experienced the disadvantages of servant leadership. Sometimes a leader must make difficult decisions that have bad consequences for people. Some will understand, some will not, and your relationship will suffer depending on the situation and the reactions to your behavior. I have found myself trying to avoid some necessary decisions a bit too long in order to avoid jeopardizing the relationships obtain through my leadership.

Is the ego gone? No, it isn´t. A true servant leader would shelf the ego and I must admit I haven´t fully been able to do that. Not yet at least. I have managed to limit my ego and make it less of a problem for others, so I feel I have taken steps in the right direction. Not sure if I will ever truly be able to fully disconnect my ego and if I do, I fear some of my abilities and skills could suffer from a complete absence of ego.

I also need to develop my aim to develop the community. This has not been close at hand in any of my roles and the organizations have often involved so many communities that it has been difficult to really work with this aspect of servant leadership. The lack of community development and a bigger “cause” means my leadership style is much more similar to Transformational Leadership, which has many similarities to Servant Leadership. This is a major deviation from the basis of Servant Leadership which should revolve around a greater good. (Check our servant leadership vs. transformational leadership for a deeper analysis.)

Do you reflect on your leadership often? Any thoughts on how you fit into the concept of servant leadership? Please comment below.

Would you like to learn about alternatives to Servant leadership? Go to our main article with more than 25 different leadership styles explained.

Who Are Some Examples of Servant Leaders?

Mother Teresa- (1910 – 1997) – Roman Catholic Nun

Mother Teresa is one of the best-known servant leaders. She is the epitome of the self-sacrificing qualities a servant leader needs. Forty-five years of her life were dedicated to taking care of the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying in Calcutta. She inspired others to contribute their lives to charity. Perhaps she could also be considered a spiritual leader?

Benefits of servant leadership
A statue of Mother Teresa, a servant leader, outside an Albanian Church.

Dalai Lama (Lhamo Thondup)  (1935- present) – Spiritual Leader of Tibet

The 14th Dalia Lama, Lhamo Thondup, fled his homeland in 1959 and set up a Central Tibetan Administration in India. He is a revered spiritual leader who has helped his followers solve several hard problems. As Jack Chua[4] states,” He has made it his mission to serve humanity by always choosing the path of peace, happiness, and enlightenment, in accordance with his religious principles.”

Cheryl Bachelder (1956 to present)- Former CEO of AFC Enterprises (Parent Company of Popeyes)

Bachelder used servant leadership to completely transform Popeyes. She was CEO of the fast-food giant from 2007 to 2017 and entered the company at a time when earnings were in the red. There was no growth and a major breakdown between the company and franchisees. Her influence increased sales by 25 percent and profit by 40 percent in 2014.

She transformed the workplace into one where everyone was treated with respect and dignity. Her team listened to and responded to the needs of franchise owners. Those leaders who didn’t fit in with the egoless environment left and collaboration increased.

Read more  What Is Servant Leadership and How It Can Benefit Your Organizations and Its Employees

Do you have other examples of servant leaders? Do you have something to share concerning your own servant leadership? Please tell us more in the comment section below.

Still thirsting for knowledge on how to become a better leader? Keep on reading about leadership styles. I personally recommend the Goleman framework, it has helped me tremendously in my career as a senior leader, you can read our article here: Six leadership styles based on Emotional Intelligence.
Check out our free E-book “7 Tips on How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence” by clicking here: Newsletter Emotional Intelligence E-book.)



[1] https://static1.squarespace.com/static/51473514e4b0090a1cad74f9/t/5194e399e4b0b0879dc2e8ef/1368712089353/Greenleaf+essay+part+one.pdf

[2] https://www.cleverism.com/servant-leadership-guide/

[3] https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/emotional-intelligence-eq.htm

[4] https://leaderonomics.com/leadership/lead-like-famous-servant-leaders

— Update: 08-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article What Is Servant Leadership and How It Can Benefit Your Organizations and Its Employees from the website businesstrainingexperts.com for the keyword benefits of servant leadership.

Benefits of servant leadership

For many years, organizations were run with a strict top-down form of control. Leaders were in charge and gave orders. Employees were followers and did what they were told. 

That style of leadership has, fortunately, fallen out of favor over the years. Today we recognize that the polar opposite of that traditional relationship is a best practice for effective leadership: leaders serve employees. 

The better leaders can provide an atmosphere and the tools and support that employees need, the more effective, efficient, and productive the organization will be.

This approach is known as servant leadership and is based on the premise of putting employees first and serving .

What is Servant Leadership? 

Servant leadership is a concept that was first introduced by Robert K. Greenleaf, a manager who founded The Center for Applied Ethics in 1964. In 1970 he wrote his now widely known essay, , outlining his views on the characteristics of “servant leaders.” 

Rather than taking a command and control approach to leadership, servant-leaders recognize that they can be more successful—and their departments and organizations can be more successful if they focus on meeting employee needs and removing barriers that might hinder their performance.

Leadership skills that are focused on supporting employees and providing them with a culture and environment that is engaging will lead to better results, more motivated employees, and, ultimately, higher levels of quality and productivity.

Servant leaders exhibit a number of key characteristics.

Characteristics of Servant Leaders 

The traits of a servant leader are all traits that support a positive, nurturing, and engaging environment where employees can function at their best while receiving positive support, encouragement, and feedback. Some of the most common traits of servant leaders include:

Service of Others 

One of the primary principles of servant leadership is the service of others. By definition, servant leadership requires a mindset where leaders recognize that they can be most effective if they serve the needs of others, in this case their employees or team members.


Effective servant leaders are good listeners. They listen actively and ensure that they understand the needs of those they lead. They create an environment of transparency and trust.


Empathy is an important trait of servant leaders. It is the ability to understand what others are thinking and feeling.


Servant leaders have a high level of awareness of themselves and of those around them.  They are aware of their environment and of the impact of both internal and external elements on that environment.

Emotional Intelligence 

Emotional intelligence is a concept first put forward by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer in 1990 but later popularized by Daniel Goleman. Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage one’s own behaviors and actions—to understand you may be responding to a situation in a certain way and to manage or modulate your responses appropriately.  


Foresight is the ability to look ahead to see what the future might hold; to predict what will happen in the future based on current actions. Foresight is a key attribute of strategic thinking—the ability to take action with a specific end in mind.

Accountability and Responsibility 

Servant leaders hold themselves and others accountable for their behaviors and actions, and for their ability to achieve identified goals and objectives.

Commitment to the Growth of Others 

Servant leaders, with their focus on others, are committed to supporting the growth and development of their team members. They view their role as instrumental in helping employees to learn and grow.

Sense of Community 

Organizations depend on teams of people to get work done effectively and achieve organizational goals. Servant leaders recognize this and, through their strong sense of community, take action to ensure that they are supporting the group and working in concert as a team of equals to be successful.


Servant leaders are authentic. They are genuine;  they do not pretend concern for others. Their actions are consistent with their values.

Benefits of servant leadership

Servant Leadership vs Traditional Leadership 

Servant leaders share some traits with traditional leaders, but there are some key distinctions between the two. 

Most importantly, servant leaders put employees at the top of the typical organizational structure. Their actions are designed to support the needs of employees first and foremost.

While traditional leadership puts the leader in the role of “the boss”—the person who calls all of the shots, controls the rewards and doles out punishment. 

Servant leadership, on the other hand, places the leader or manager in the role of serving employees and their needs.

Clearly, there are a variety of benefits to servant leadership.

Benefits of Servant Leadership 

Servant leadership offers a wide range of benefits for employees and the organization as a whole. These benefits include:

Better collaboration, better teamwork 

Employees who work with servant leaders feel more supported and valued. Consequently, they are able to work together more effectively, collaborate toward common goals, and exhibit better teamwork.

Positive work environment 

When employees are valued and understand that their manager supports them and is committed to serving their needs, the work environment is more positive. In a positive environment, employees are more likely to offer their opinions freely and put forth more effort in support of the team and the organization overall.

Reduced employee turnover 

One very measurable benefit of servant leadership is reduced employee turnover. When employees are satisfied and engaged when they understand that their interests and concerns will be addressed, and when they feel supported they will be more loyal and less likely to leave for other opportunities.

Companies are more agile 

In a servant leadership environment organizations have the benefit of a wide range of inputs. Employees who know that their ideas and input will be seriously listened to and considered will offer more ideas which will spur greater innovation and agility.

Fosters a strong culture 

Servant leadership fosters a strong culture. The team-oriented nature of servant leadership where both leader and employees are working together toward a common goal is supportive and engaging. Employees understand their worth and the value of their contributions to the organization.

Accelerates learning and development 

When employees feel supportive and understand that their leaders are concerned about their satisfaction, productivity, and performance, they are more likely to be committed to their own learning and development. Servant leaders establish an environment that spurs employees to learn and grow.

Creates more leaders 

One final advantage of servant leadership is that it is a leadership style that naturally creates more leaders. Employees are groomed in an environment where leaders serve as role models and coaches, and whether their individual efforts toward learning and improvement are encouraged. They are consequently more likely to be well prepared to move into leadership roles themselves.

Benefits of servant leadership

Disadvantages of Servant Leadership 

While there are many advantages to servant leadership there are also some potential disadvantages.

Longer lead times on decision-making  

When employees have a stronger voice in decision-making, it may take longer for decisions to be made. In certain situations that may prove to be a disadvantage. For instance, when needing to move quickly to combat an emerging competitor or to be first to market with a new product offering. 

Training investment 

The servant leadership style of leading is not one that is widely trained on. Employees are largely not familiar with this style or able to put it into practice. An investment in servant leadership training might be above and beyond that of typical leadership training.

Crisis management can become unclear 

In crisis situations, employees typically look to their superiors to lead—to provide direction and call the shots. Servant leadership doesn’t support this type of leadership which, in crisis situations, could be a critical downfall.

The role of the leader is lessened  

In a servant leadership model, the role of the leader is diminished. They become equal to team members and have less direct responsibility for decision-making and, consequently, less authority. This may not be the preferred style of some leaders who may not be effective in a servant leadership role. 

It may not be suitable for medium to large enterprise organizations 

While servant leadership can work well in many organizations, in medium to large-sized enterprise organizations it may not be effective for some of the reasons mentioned above.

Examples of Servant Leadership 

Examples of servant leadership can be seen far more widespread today than in the past. This style of leadership has been recognized as a powerful way to build strong teams and achieve great results. 

Servant leaders demonstrate they’re caring for others through their actions:

  • They are resourceful in finding ways to help others.
  • They are supportive when employees face problems or constraints.
  • They are focused above all on supporting their team members. 
  • They genuinely feel good about making others happy.

Teamwork can be dramatically impacted in a positive way by leaders who exhibit the traits of servant leadership.

— Update: 09-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article All About Servant Leadership: The Benefits & Characteristics from the website fellow.app for the keyword benefits of servant leadership.

Servant leadership creates a positive environment where employees feel heard, understood, appreciated, and respected. In this article, we will dive into the benefits of servant leadership, as well as tips and tricks for refining your skills as a servant leader. 

  • What is servant leadership?
  • Benefits of servant leadership
  • 7 features of servant leadership
  • 7 tips to become a servant leader

What is servant leadership?

Servant leadership is the notion that you, as a manager or leader within your organization, work to serve those around you. If you’re a servant leader, your main goal should be to serve and empower your direct reports to do their best work. Traditional leadership often focuses on helping an organization thrive, whereas servant leadership focuses on putting the needs of the employees within the organization first. Servant leaders don’t prioritize their own objectives but rather help their team achieve their goals and tasks.  

Benefits of servant leadership

  • Improves collaboration
  • Empowers employees
  • Increases trust
  • Creates a culture of belonging
  • Accelerates individuals’ leadership skills

    Improves collaboration

Collaboration is a fundamental part of servant leadership. When those around you feel comfortable and supported, they’ll be more inclined to actively participate and collaborate. An organization that embraces servant leadership is an organization that prioritizes inclusive, cross-functional collaboration. 

    Empowers employees

As a manager or leader within an organization, one of the most powerful things you can do is empower those around you to reach their full potential. As a leader that is embracing servant leadership, you should lift your employees and teammates by giving them encouragement, words of wisdom, advice, and guidance. When employees feel empowered, they become more accountable for their work and are ultimately more energized and efficient. 

    Increases trust

Practicing servant leadership is an excellent way to build trust. Being a servant leader means being an ally, and creating a nurturing environment in which you put others’ needs above your own fosters trust. When employees are able to work within a trusting environment, they’re more inclined to take risks and embrace failures. 

    Creates a culture of belonging

In a remote-first or digital-by-default landscape, it can be extremely difficult to create a sense of belonging amongst your teammates. Servant leadership makes everyone feel heard and included, which then helps produce a sense of togetherness. 

    Accelerates individuals’ leadership skills

Leading by example is the best way to encourage up-and-coming leaders. Leaders who put others first provide employees with the tools, resources, and support employees need to thrive. This support allows those being managed to grow, while simultaneously being encouraged to voice their opinions and bring their own expertise to the table, which in turn helps them sharpen their own leadership skills. 

7 features of servant leadership

If you’re a servant leader, it’s likely that you do these seven things:

  • Practice active listening
  • Ask meaningful questions 
  • Are a source of encouragement
  • Prioritize self-awareness
  • Lead by example
  • Invest in your team 
  • Build a community

    Practice active listening 

Being an active listener is essential for effective communication and engaging conversations. Taking the time to actively listen is a sign of respect, and it’s also a great way to show your teammates or direct reports that you’re an ally as opposed to strictly a leader. 

Practicing active listening is easier than you may think. It can be done by: 

  • Expressing interest in the speaker’s message by displaying nonverbal involvement. 
  • Paraphrasing the speaker’s message, but refraining from interruption. 
  • Asking questions that encourage the speaker to elaborate on their beliefs or feelings. 

      Ask meaningful questions

Servant leaders are master conversationalists. Asking meaningful questions is beneficial for many reasons. For starters, doing so demonstrates your ability to be intuitive and caring. Demonstrating a heightened interest in your teammates is imperative if you want to be a good leader. Additionally, asking meaningful questions leads to meaningful conversations. When you ask the right questions, you’ll be able to learn more about your teammates and their experiences; as a result, you’ll be able to help them work towards their hopes, dreams, and work- related goals. 

      Are a source of encouragement

Everyone appreciates having a bright light in a dim landscape. As a servant leader, you should do your best to remain positive and encouraging. Your main prerogative should be to grow and shape those around you, meaning you should strive to provide a constant source of encouragement to your team. 

    Prioritize self-awareness

By taking the time to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, you prioritize self-awareness. Taking the time to look inwards allows servant leaders to become better at their craft so they can continue to serve those around them. 

Since your main priority as a servant leader is to serve those around you, you have to have confidence in yourself and your capabilities. You’re no longer at a point in your career where your agenda aims to only serve yourself. 

     Lead by example

As a servant leader, you empower your employees, but you don’t just disappear once your job is done. Instead, you stay present and act as a constant source of encouragement. Empowering teammates and direct reports to have ownership and responsibility helps to accelerate individuals’ leadership capabilities, which they can then pass on to those around them. Having an exceptional leader accessible makes it easier for employees to model their leader’s behavior. 

    Invest in your team 

In most cases, how your direct reports feel about you as their leader directly reflects how they feel about the organization as a whole; this is why one of your main responsibilities as a leader should be to invest in your team by fostering positive relationships with each one of your teammates. These connections can often be forged by hosting one-on-one meetings, where you gain the opportunity to build trust with each one of your direct reports. 

Strong employee-manager relationships lead to an increased level of trust, which in turn leads to increased output and engagement. Employees that feel like they have the capacity and ability to improve begin to realize their potential, and they have heightened morale and work ethic as a result.  

    Build a community

Leaders are the cog that is necessary for building a sense of community within your organization. Being a servant leader is all about nurturing relationships. If you put in the work, you’ll be blessed with a strong community that is built on trust, transparency, and genuine human-to-human connections. 

7 tips to become a servant leader

Here are seven things you should do if you want to become a servant leader: 

  • Improve your communication skills
  • Listen to understand
  • Show empathy 
  • Offer autonomy
  • Commit to your team’s growth
  • Build trust 
  • Be open minded 

    Improve your communication skills

Becoming a great communicator is arguably one of the most important steps to being a servant leader. Clear communication helps employees feel heard, understood, and appreciated. 

    Listen to understand

Listening to understand, instead of listening for the sake of listening, is a great way to become a better servant leader. Take the time to be present in the conversation and listen to learn and understand the other person’s point of view. 

    Show empathy 

Being a servant leader is all about being able to empathize with those around you, in addition to really understanding what it’s like to be in their shoes. Being able to empathize and understand other people’s point of view will not only help you improve the quality of your performance as a leader, but it will also help you pinpoint areas in which you can support your employees. Your teammates should always feel safe and comfortable when approaching you for support. Empathizing with their concerns is a great way to reiterate that you’re a safe ally. 

According to author Hamza Khan, the number one reason why organizations fail is avoidance. 

“You need to cringe fast and cringe early, and sit down and have the tough conversations with people and seek to understand, to listen. And this is where empathy transitions from plain old empathy to radical empathy, actively trying to understand why another person has an opinion or perception about you or something that you’re doing.” 

    Offer autonomy

Providing your teammates or direct reports with the ability to work autonomously is a great way to build trust. When you choose to allow your team to operate autonomously, you’re showing your teammates that you trust in their abilities. Leading your team in this manner is a great way to build trust, in addition to empowering those around you to act without your guidance or approval every step of the way. 

    Commit to your team’s growth

If you want to become a stellar servant leader, you have to allocate time and resources towards helping people grow. Tools like one-on-one meetings, informational sessions, training courses, online classes, and lunch and learns are all things you should consider when helping your employees grow throughout their career. 

    Build trust 

To have the type of relationship with your employees that allows you to embrace the principles of servant leadership, you first have to build trust. Building trusting relationships with your employees is the gateway to helping them flourish in their careers. 

    Be open minded 

Being open minded is extremely important for servant leaders, because it demonstrates your willingness to grow and embrace varying opinions and perspectives. As a servant leader, you’ll need to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable to share their opinions, even if these opinions don’t align with your own. 

Lead the way!

It’s time to get to work! Now that you’re familiar with servant leadership, it’s time to put your newfound knowledge to the test. You can finally become the servant leader you were always meant to be. 

— Update: 10-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article What Are The Pros And Cons Of The Servant Leadership Model? from the website www.mtdtraining.com for the keyword benefits of servant leadership.

Benefits of servant leadership

Many leadership models have been propagated over the years, as societal and business needs have evolved and progressed. Many of them developed as models through application, rather than measured analyses.

Read more  What Are Vaginal Pearls? Uses And Dangers Of Yoni Pearls, Explained By A Gyno

Scientific, transactional and transformational, coaching, action centred, Tuckman’s forming, storming, norming and performing model and many others have proved effective and built up a series of followers.

One that was conceived and developed over 50 years ago has stood the test of time and proved valuable in its ability to drive measurable results. It’s known as the servant leadership model.

Don’t scoff…it’s not exactly as it sounds. You don’t act like the proverbial servant, with masters driving your every move.

As we will see in this article, servant leadership is more of a mindset and enables you to link with your team members in many aspects of their roles and responsibilities.

We look at where the whole concept came from, what the idea consists of, some examples in real businesses and we cover some of the pros and cons, while sharing some quotes on the whole concept. We finalise by identifying what the process could mean for you in your business.

Let’s start with a clear definition of the term ‘servant leadership’

Servant Leadership Definition

So, what does servant leadership mean? How can we define ‘servant leadership’?

The original modern derivation is thought to belong to author Robert Greenleaf in his essay ‘The Servant as Leader’. In 1970, Greenleaf subscribed to the view that the leader should put the emphasis on what his/her team members require from the leader to become autonomous and free-thinking themselves.

He referred to the ‘leader-first’ and the ‘servant-first’ mentalities. A leader-first mindset, according to Greenleaf, was espoused as ‘the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid”. Also, the leader-first syndrome was seen as occupying positions of power, and came across as ‘often large, complex, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; sometimes corrupt’.

Greenleaf wanted to promote the concept of an opposing viewpoint, driven by the rapidly evolving concepts of altruism and self-sacrifice, determined by new styles of businesses and ‘new regenerative forces operating within them’. (www.greenleaf.org)

Larry Spears, CEO of the Greenleaf Centre for Servant Leadership, stated in an interview:

(Dittmar, James K. (September 2006). “An Interview with Larry Spears”. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies. 13 (1): 108–118)

His work quickly gained interest and ideas pertaining to the philosophy spread during the next few years.

So, in reality, what does servant leadership mean? How can we define the term ‘servant leadership’? Here are some examples.

The overall impression is one of caring, showing empathetic symptoms and highlighting interests of others above themselves. But it also goes deeper and more emphatic than simply showing altruism to others. Devoting our leadership skills simply to being the type of person who is at the beck and call of others would quickly make the leader and their department less competitive and taken advantage of.

Let’s look closer at what the whole concept of servant leadership conveys.

Servant Leadership Theory Explained

Above are the seven pillars from Sipe’s and Frick’s studies, that support the concept of servant leadership principles.

There are many servant-leader characteristics and principles that can be applied in the workplace. Servant leadership books confirm the theories first mentioned by Robert Greenleaf and others.

James Sipe and Don Frick in their seminal book ‘The seven pillars of servant leadership’ espouse that there are seven supports that can be developed by any leader in their quest to demonstrate servant-leadership.

When displayed effectively, the leader can demonstrate the perspective that serving others within the established organisation can lead to a furtherance of engagement and motivation within team members.

Sipe and Frick purported in their servant leadership book that within every employee there is a desire to control their own growth and progress, with the support mechanisms aligned with the servant-leader model as one that develops this initiative within the employee.

There are other facets of the model that can be determined as having impact on the results the servant leader is trying to achieve. Let’s look at just two:

Employee engagement and commitment

It’s often been rightly determined that a major contributor to the effectiveness of any business is the commitment and engagement of their employees. Much of this can be attributed to the specific management style.

Servant leadership can be seen to have an effect on the relationship between the employee and the manager. The method considers that the manager makes their employee the number one priority, putting their overall well-being ahead of all other components of the business. Hence the employee feels trusted and may be obligated to reciprocate this form of relationship.

Trust is built up and the employee feels responsible to their manager in creating higher performance and better results. Hence their engagement and commitment improves. It can also be seen that the reduction in employee turnover is increased when servant leadership is employed.

Following their leader’s role, employees’ commitment to the organisation is affected and improved.

Overall performance on the job

The servant-leadership approach tends to give people a sense of support and well-being, and can also heighten job performance and engagement from employees.

Setting overall goals in a servant leadership manner helps individuals to see that their performance is not being measured simply by top-down criteria, but also by a change in the hierarchy of the organisation and particularly of the department . This “bottom-up” style fills the needs of the employees first, and that elicits engagement and commitment from people working for their leader.

Servant leadership can have a big effect on the overall relationship between colleagues as well. When colleagues talk to each other about the leadership style and what goes on behind closed doors they are more likely to agree that their leaders see them as key components in the success of the business, rather than just an asset that they have to manage.

These principles can be put in place at various levels within the organisation and can be demonstrated as providing further engagement in the working environment for staff lead in this way.

Examples Of Servant Leadership In Business

We all love a good case study in the Leadership Development Training that we run so this blog should be no different! So, what are some of the ways that servant leadership mentality is being used in business today?

Some of the main benefits of servant leadership is to develop others, to drive a vision that inspires people, to get employees to buy into a better future, and build cohesion for the future.

Many organisations have introduced the concept of servant leadership, with varying degrees of success. Here are some examples of servant leadership in action:


The US delivery company, founded in 1971 by Fred Smith, developed a servant leader culture, allowing the company to thrive and grow accordingly.

Their philosophy of ‘People-Service-Profit’ could only work if it was embedded into every decision that the company made. In fact, Smith’s quote of “when people are placed first, they will provide the highest possible service, and profits will follow“ has become a mantra that everyone in the company demonstrates, or they risk going against company culture.


The overall culture of social responsibility that the company drives is deeply rooted in the concept and philosophy of servant leadership, as demonstrated especially by its founder Howard Schultz. After setting up the company, he wanted its culture to reflect the ‘future-focused’ ideology of ‘putting our people first’.

The servant leader philosophy fitted nicely into the big plans he had for the business and it is still championed in the way the company wants their people to thrive and develop in their careers.

TD Industries

How would you like to work for a company with these core values?

  • Build and Maintain Trusting Relationships
  • Fiercely Protect the Safety of All Partners
  • Lead with a Servant’s Heart
  • Passionately Pursue Excellence
  • Celebrate the Power of Individual Differences

They define the culture of the mechanical construction and facilities services company, TD Industries, based out of Dallas, Texas.

They place the emphasis on servant leadership, with their key messages including “we have a diverse, people-centered culture built on a foundation of trust. We accomplish this through a Servant Leadership philosophy that puts others first.”

Fine words, but they prove this adage by walking the talk and getting their people to re-enforce their philosophies in the community whenever possible.


Nordstrom are renowned for their extremely popular customer-centric focus and way of marketing their stores in America .

One thing that isn’t known about them very well is the organisational model that inverts the normal hierarchical pyramid.

Each staff member (known as partners) is seen as a leader in their own right. This attitude encourages staff to make decisions based on their own common sense. This can only happen with a servant leadership mentality that Nordstrom possesses in spades.

The Nordstrom brothers themselves started off in the stockroom and worked their way up. Their business philosophy as they built their business reflected ideally the servant leadership mentality.

Each of these businesses evoke a familiar emotional connection to their staff, partners and customers, driven by an unending desire to support their people and help them bring their best selves to work every day. They display very well the concept of servant leadership in action.

The Pros and Cons of Servant Leadership

Having got this far, we can be forgiven for thinking servant leadership should be the panacea that will solve all business challenges for leaders. But, for the sake of balance, let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of the philosophy, so we can weigh up when it’s good to develop this style and when it’s not so good.

The power of servant leadership

  • Servant leaders earn respect from their employees
  • It boosts team morale across the workforce
  • Employees realise that management is looking out for their higher interests
  • People feel more valued in their roles
  • Companies share their vision and mission more openly, allowing people to buy into them and be inspired by them
  • Because people feel trusted, they pass on that trust in their dealings with customers
  • People involved in decision-making processes feel more confident that their views are taken into account when businesses challenges are being faced
  • Leaders take into account the views of staff and show more empathy for their positions
  • It builds pride in the minds of people working there, as they see their business as one they would choose to work for rather than just doing a job there
  • Staff grow and develop their skills faster in an environment that supports advancement, decision-making, growth opportunities and collaboration between teams

Servant Leadership weaknesses

  • Not many leaders and managers have grown up with this philosophy, so it may take time and effort for leaders to change their thinking
  • Training managers to adopt the philosophy may need a change of cultural awareness, as staff may not have encountered this way of interacting
  • Because staff will be involved in decision-making, it may take longer for those decisions to be bounced around and conclusions reached
  • In crises situations, staff often look to leaders to take control and make fast decisions, something that servant leadership does not promote
  • Staff may not have the confidence or capability to drive the business forward, hence leaving the business exposed if the decisions are critical to successful market competitiveness
  • A mixture of different leadership styles exhibited by hierarchical enterprises may confuse people, as they don’t know which path to follow, especially if a different style or method has been used for a length of time

So, here we can see the differences between the power of servant leadership and servant leadership weaknesses. Servant leadership may not be the right set-up for every organisation, but in many cases, the pros outweigh the cons if the culture of the company can support the changes in leadership style. Any servant leadership book will extol the virtues of the philosophy, but you also have to identify when it may not be the most appropriate model to follow.

Servant Leadership Quotes

Here are some quotes that epitomise the value of servant leadership within a business:

― Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness

– John C Maxwell

– Matthew chapter 20, verse 26

– Ken Blanchard in The Secret

– Nelson Mandela

 “The qualities of a Servant Leader (LEADERSHIP):

L – Listening

E – Empathizing

A – Acting with awareness

D – Dedicating time for others

E – Empowering others

R – Removing doubts

S – Serving others

H – Helping others with humility

I – Interacting with others with integrity

P – Persevering”

Farshad Asl

The Last Word On The Servant Leadership Style

Simon Sinek talks about the “power of why”. We have to have a reason to come to work and an inner belief that we can actually make a difference at work in order for us to be effective. It’s at the heart of any relationship that managers have with their team members. Most Servant leadership books epitomise the greater good that any leader can accomplish with their teams.

Jim Laub, president of Servant Leader Performance and creator of the Organizational Leadership Assessment (OLA), assessed servant leadership into six key components, which he said, when demonstrated well, will produce a thriving and profitable work culture

Those six components can be broken down thus:

  • Be authentic
  • Value others as human beings
  • Grow their people
  • Provide direction
  • Share leadership
  • Build community

Servant leadership isn’t a model to follow or a style to display; it’s not something you would follow step by step on any Management Training that you may attend; instead, it’s a philosophy to be adhered to, a mindset to demonstrate and an attitude to manifest under real leadership conditions. When done correctly, you will see a greater camaraderie between team members, a higher purpose being driven by the business and the commitment to excellence that many other philosophies won’t be able to touch.

I hope this model has given you some food for thought on what makes a good team leader because modern day leaders really do shape the culture of your organisation which in turn has an impact on whether your people are engaged and motivated with their work. Please take our Free Leadership Assessment which will diagnose your strengths and weaknesses as a leader or check out our Management Skills Courses that will help take your game onto the next level.

Thanks again,


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training   


— Update: 11-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Servant Leadership: Characteristics, Pros & Cons, Example from the website www.investopedia.com for the keyword benefits of servant leadership.

What Is Servant Leadership?

Servant leadership is a leadership style and philosophy whereby an individual interacts with others—either in a management or fellow employee capacity—to achieve authority rather than power. The system embodies a decentralized organizational structure. Leaders who follow this style include customer-facing employees in company decision-making. These employees have a close relationship with the consumer and can make better decisions to retain those customers and acquire new ones.

How Servant Leadership Works

Servant leadership seeks to move management and personnel interaction away from “controlling activities” and toward a more synergistic relationship. The term “servant leadership” was coined by Robert Greenleaf, a twentieth-century researcher who was skeptical about traditional leadership styles that focus on more authoritarian relationships between employers and employees.

The authority figure in servant leadership environments attempts to promote innovation, empower employees, and assure the well-being of those around them. Servant leadership also aims to develop leadership qualities in others. This leadership style requires an individual to demonstrate characteristics such as empathy, listening, stewardship, and commitment to the personal growth of others.

Servant Leader Characteristics

According to Greenleaf’s observations, the servant leader approaches situations and organizations from the perspective of a servant first, looking to lend their presence to answer the needs of the organization and others. Servant leaders seek to address stakeholder wants and requirements as their priority, with leadership to be pursued secondarily. This contrasts with the leader-first perspective, wherein a person aims to gain control quickly often driven by the desire and prospects for material gain or influence.

Developing and mentoring the team who follow their instructions, or the clients’ and customers’ needs, take precedence over personal elevation. Even upon attaining a position of governance, a servant leader typically encourages their subordinates to look to serve others as their priority over personal gains. A servant leader may aim to share power with others and encourage the development and growth of others. This trait can extend to listening to followers carefully to better understand their needs, but it also involves leaders holding themselves and others accountable for their words and actions.

Servant Leadership Example

Where the leader-first dynamic is oriented to appease a personal desire for power, the servant leader looks first at how their service benefits others. For example, a servant leader might question how their efforts uplift those who are underrepresented or are from lower economic standing before seeking to attain a position of control. Their progression to a position of leadership comes after their commitment to service.

This can be seen in the healthcare world, for instance, as medical practitioners work to benefit their patients and assist their peers and teammates in providing that care. In the business world, this can mean seeing that employees, customers, and all other stakeholders can prosper through their service.

Servant Leadership Pros and Cons

Different leadership styles have their own advantages and disadvantages that make them a better model depending on the context.

Some of the advantages of servant leadership are that leaders earn respect from their employees; employees feel valued and that management is looking out for their interests; there is a shared vision; there is often greater trust among employees and leaders; leaders consider the opinions of staff, which is likely to improve innovative efforts; and individuals develop skills and can advance professionally in a supportive environment.

The disadvantages of servant leadership are that few leaders have experience in this type of management; adopting this style of leadership may require difficult cultural change; decisions can take time, which can be detrimental in times of crisis; or staff may be given more responsibility than they are able to carry.

Servant Leadership FAQs

What Is Servant Leadership Theory?

The theory of servant leadership is thought to have been coined by Robert Greenleaf, a twentieth-century researcher. Greenleaf considered that the leader should put the emphasis on their team members so that they can become autonomous and free-thinking. Servant leadership is a mindset that reflects a servant-first mentality rather than a leader-first mentality. Greenleaf considered that a leader-first mentality was “often large, complex, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; sometimes corrupt.”

What Are the Principles of Servant Leadership?

Greenleaf put forward 10 principles of servant leadership: listening; empathy; healing; awareness; persuasion; conceptualization; foresight; stewardship; commitment to the growth of people; and building community.

What Is the Role of a Servant Leader?

A servant leader's role is to be the steward of a group's resources and to teach other leaders to serve others while still achieving the goals set forth by the business.

Who Is a Good Example of a Servant Leader?

Dr. Martin Luther King assumed a leadership role in the Civil Rights Movement and chose to champion a non-violent approach. He fought hard for social justice and ultimately sacrificed his own life, not for accolades or personal gain, but because he wanted to help others. In doing so, Dr. King modeled servant leadership for all aspiring leaders that came after him.

The Bottom Line

There are pros and cons to any leadership style, and some styles are more suited to certain contexts. For example, in a military setting where precision accuracy and strict protocols are necessary, authoritarian leadership is required. In a less structured environment, such as a research setting where teams innovate together, servant leadership is more suitable.


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