Servant-Leadership (Robert K. Greenleaf)

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Leading by serving first. Explanation of Servant-Leadership of Robert K. Greenleaf. (1970)

Contributed by: Ietze Oostinga MA MGM

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  1. Summary
  2. Forum
  3. Best Practices
  4. Expert Tips
  5. Resources
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What is Servant-Leadership? Description

Servant-Leadership is a practical altruistic philosophy which supports people who choose to serve first, and then lead as a way of expanding service to individuals and institutions. Servant-leaders may or may not hold formal leadership positions. Servant-leadership encourages collaboration, trust, foresight, listening, and the ethical use of power and empowerment.


Robert K. Greenleaf (1904-1990)In 1970, AT&T executive Robert K. Greenleaf (1904-1990) coined the term in a short essay entitled: "The Servant As Leader". In the essay, Greenleaf describes some of the characteristics and activities of servant-leaders:

The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. He or she is sharply different from the person who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions. For such it will be a later choice to serve - after leadership is established. The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.
The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people's highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, will they not be further deprived?

Origin of Servant-Leadership. History

In the East, Chanakya or Kautilya, a strategic thinker from ancient India, wrote in his 4th century book Arthashastra: "The King (leader) shall consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects (followers)". 

In the West, the concept of servant leadership can be traced back to Jesus, who taught his disciples: "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:42-45)
 

Characteristics of Servant-Leaders. Traits

A servant-leader has ten characteristics (Greenleaf, R. K., 2003):

  1. Listening. The leader has a deep commitment to listening intently to others. Listening also encompasses getting in touch with one's own inner voice and seeking to understand what one's body, spirit and mind are communicating. Listening, coupled with regular periods of reflection, is essential to the growth of the servant-leader.
  2. Empathy. The servant-leader strives to understand and empathize with others. People need to be accepted and recognized for their special and unique spirits.
  3. Healing. Learning to heal is a powerful force for transformation and integration. One of the great strengths of servant-leadership is the potential for healing one's self and others.
  4. Awareness. General awareness and especially self-awareness, strengthens the servant-leader.
  5. Persuasion. A servant-leader relies on persuasion, rather than using one's positional authority.
  6. Conceptualization. Servant-leaders seek to nurture their abilities to 'dream great dreams'. The ability to look at a problem (or an organization) from a conceptualizing perspective means that one must think beyond day-to-day realities.
  7. Foresight. The ability to understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and likely consequences of a decision for the future.
  8. Stewardship. Holding something in trust for another.
  9. Commitment to the growth of people. The servant-leader is deeply committed to the growth of each individual within his or her institution.
  10. Building community. Among those who work within a given institution.

Strengths of the Servant-Leadership philosophy. Benefits

  • Servant-leadership is a long-term, transformational approach to life and work - in essence, a way of being - that has the potential for creating positive change throughout society.
  • Servant-leadership is often compared with transformational leadership approaches, which also emphasize collaboration. While transformational leaders and servant-leaders both show concern for their followers, the overriding focus of the servant-leaders is on service to their followers. Transformational leaders have a greater concern for getting followers to engage in and support organizational objectives. Compare: Appreciative Inquiry. The extent to which the leader is able to shift the primary focus of this or her leadership from the organization to the follower is the distinguishing factor in determining whether the leader may be a transformational or servant-leader.

Limitations of the Servant-Leadership concept. Disadvantages

  • It is not a quick-fix approach. Nor is it something that can be quickly instilled within an institution.
  • Can be perceived by some as rather 'soft'. Listening and empathizing too much with others may lead to indecisiveness or a lack of vision.

Book: Robert K. Greenleaf (1998) - Insights on leadership: Service, stewardship, spirit, and servant-leadership (L. C. Spears, Ed.) -

Book: Robert K. Greenleaf (2002) - Servant-leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness (L. C. Spears, Ed.) -

Book: Robert K. Greenleaf (2003) - The servant-leader within: A transformative path (H. Beazley, Julie Beggs, & Larry C. Spears, Eds.) -


Servant-Leadership Forum
  Egalitarianism and Servant Leadership
This topic is so near and dear to me that I just wanted to share following tidbit with visitors.
Mr. Greenleaf referenced the bible numerous times in his dialogue while creating the Servant Leader theory. Yet, religion, church and education stru...
     
 
  The Servant-Leadership Model Should Be Taught to Anyone in a Position of Authority
I believe that each CEO, political leader and anyone in a position of authority should be taught the servant leadership concept.
Furthermore, I believe that people may respect another person's position of authority for several reasons, but for o...
     
 
  The Leader is an Enabler
Within the context of the Mission-Men-Self ethos of servant leadership, the Leader enables those around him or her to transcend their personal expectations as a means for achieving the common purpose.
This may require the deflation of the ego-ba...
     
 
  Influence of Culture on Servant Leadership
In an article, Dierendock discusses how culture might influence servant leadership, mentioning two cultural dimensions (Hofstede) that (positively) affect servant leadership within organizations.
1. Humane ...
     
 
  Followers Empower Servant Leaders
Whether paid or volunteer, cooperation is a choice followers make. The better the leaders serves the followers, the more the followers will empower the leader to lead them. Followers let us lead. They may perform at a level that is expected of them d...
     
 
  Quotes on Servant Leadership and Servanthood
Here are some good quoatations I collected on servant leadership:
- To manage, one must lead. To lead, one must understand the work [and the people] that he and his [team] are responsible for. – Deming [Out of the crisis]
- To understand th...
     
 
  Serving and Educating
A leader should begin by the aphorism ‘to serve.’
This he integrates by developing character and responsibility in himself and his ‘associates’.
He seeks to actively listen first before doing the talking.
Further, since corporate bu...
     
 
  Is Servant Leadership a Seperate Style?
I'm wondering whether servant leadership can be considered a leadership style of its own, or is it a portion of every leadership style that exists......
     
 
  Servant Leaders can Turn into Manipulators
Humans are intrinsically selfish, power seekers. And even when one starts out to seek the welfare of others, sometimes in the end one turns out to be a manipulator.
It is the "pedagogue of the oppressed" (Paulo Freire). The oppressed nor...
     
 
  Do not Confuse Kindness and Humility of Servant Leaders with Weakness
Kindness and humility are often confused for weakness in today's competitive world....
     
 
  Servant Leadership at the Top Position
For me this way of leadership is generally the best, but it sometimes depends of the position. The best way to serve people is by being in the top position. The efficiency is going up with high responsability in the organization. Being in the ...
     
 
  What is Competent Leadership?
I believe competent leadership is when the people you are leading reach their goal and exclaim: "We did it!"....
     
 
  Servant Leadership Paradox
The paradox, or seemingly contradicting statement of servant leadership, in the context of leadership and management, can only be the idea “You can’t serve, if you lead.” this may look correct at the start, although, when focused on, one can f...
     
 
  Servant Leadership Blended with Quantum Leadership and Diversity
I have discovered that diversity is "primus inter pares - first among equals." Women and minorities have and will continue to cause structure / hierachy changes in organizations and institutitons.
I wish more corporate board rooms and news media...
     
 
  Needed! Servant Leaders for the Corporate World
Too often we see corporates turning to the "new buzz" in corporate management concepts almost like cows in a herd.
Hence, we see a lot of concepts such as servant leadership being adapted to suit the corporate strategy whilst at the same time ke...
     
 
  Difference between Style and Leadership
If any can answer my question, which is, what is the difference between "style" and "leadership?" For example, a charismatic leader or charismatic style....
     
 

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Best Practices - Servant-Leadership Premium
  Examples of Great Servant Leaders
In studying the bible, the most concise history of the world and our existence, it becomes evident that the most amazing example of the Servant Leadership model is the servant leadership of the son of God, Jesus Christ.
Who, even though h...
     
 
  Servant vs Charismatic Leaders
Are Servant-Leadership and Charismatic Leadership opposites?...
     
 

Expert Tips - Servant-Leadership Premium
 

Write a Personal Mission Statement

Covey wrote this pearl of wisdom in his book Seven Habits: "The key to the ability to change is a change...
Usage (application): Establish focus on who you want to be in your life...
 
 
 

Why can Servant Leaders have such Strong Influence?

French and Raven have distinguished 6 bases of social power (excluding a 7th one: connectio...
Usage (application): Understanding the Mechanisms behind Servant Leadership
 
 
 

Exactly How Does the Servant-leadership Lead to Need Satisfaction of the Followers?

The main distinction of servant-leadership from other leadership theories is the focus on followers’ needs instead of focusing on the personal interes...
Usage (application): Servant Leadership, Organizational Justice Satisfaction
 
 

Resources - Servant-Leadership Premium

Primer on Servant Leadership

Primer by Don M. Frick on Servant Leadership, taken from Robert K. Greenleaf: A Life of Servant Leadership, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2004...
Usage (application): What is it? Skills? Relevance?
 

Servant Leadership Models and Research

Presentation about Servant Leadership, in which some important studies about servant leadership are discussed. The presentation includes the following...
Usage (application): Teaching Servant Leadership, Coaching, Mentoring
 

Two Recent Trends in Leadership

Business thought leader John Spence presents 2 important trends in leadership:
  1. BEHAVORIAL: Spence argues there is a move from
 

Servant Leadership Models and Characteristics

Author: Dr. Lawson.
Presentation about the concept of Servant Leadership, in which the models of servant leadership by Patterson and an extensio...
Usage (application): Teaching Servant Leadership
 

Reflection for Business Leaders

This presentation is about the reflection in the context of business leaders. The presentation includes the following sections:
1. Anatomy of a m...
Usage (application): Leadership Reflection, Servant Leadership, Values, Moral Leadership, Vocation, Leadership Ethics, Bounded Ethicality
 

Authentic Leadership: Your Own Style?

This presentation focuses specifically on authentic leadership (using Fire Chiefs as an example), and discusses the concept in-depth. The presentation...
Usage (application): Authentic Leadership
 

Servant Leadership and Trust

Although many studies have investigated the clear relationship that exist between leadership and trust, only few studies investigate the link between ...
Usage (application): Servant Leadership, Leadership
 

Interview Desmond Tutu: Introduction to Servant Leadership

1984 Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu on (Servant) Leadership by answering the question: "What in your opinion makes a good leader? What qualities?"<...
Usage (application): Initial Understanding of Servant Leadership, Trainings, Workshops
 

Stewardship and Leadership

Stewardship, the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one`s care, is an area where many organizations can learn from family bu...
Usage (application): Stewardship, Leadership, Family Businesses, Family Firms, Servant Leadership
 

Ineffective Leadership and Unethical Leadership

Presentation about Bad or Unethical Leadership that includes the following sections:
1. Webs of Significance
2. The Webs of Leadership
...
Usage (application): Leadership Types, Management, Ethics
 

10 Leadership Theories in a Nutshell

This 5-minute video gives a brief overview of 10 theories of leadership, explaining their main differences:
1. The Great Man Theory (
 

Summary by Deepak Chopra on 'True, Enlightened Leadership'

Indian writer of many alternative and spiritual books Deepak Chopra explains what he believes is "True Leadership": Great leaders are
 

Introduction to Leadership

Presentation about Leadership that explains key characteristics of leaders as seen by several authors. The presentation includes the following section...
Usage (application): Leadership Training
 

Introduction Into Welfarenomics

This presentation elaborates on the concept of welfarenomics. The presentation includes the following sections;
1. Contents
2. Welfarenomics...
Usage (application): Welfarenomics
 

Video Introduction to Leadership

Quick visual intro to the subject of leadership by showing short impressions of:
harmony, driving performance, following rules, vision, being res...
Usage (application): First Understanding of Leadership, Trainings, Workshops
 
 

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Compare with Servant-Leadership: Level 5 Leadership  |  Appreciative Inquiry  |  Hagberg Model of Personal Power  |  Change Model Beckhard  |  Changing Organization Cultures  |  Bases of Social Power  |  Charismatic Leadership  |  EPIC ADVISERS  |  Core Group Theory  |  Leadership Styles  |  Leadership Continuum  |  Contingency Theory  |  Competing Values Framework  |  Expectancy Theory  |  Seven Surprises  |  Seven Habits  |  Situational Leadership


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