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.
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):
- 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.
- Empathy. The servant-leader strives to understand and empathize
with others. People need to be accepted and recognized for their special
and unique spirits.
- 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.
- Awareness. General awareness and especially self-awareness, strengthens
- Persuasion. A servant-leader relies on persuasion, rather than
using one's positional authority.
- 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
- Foresight. The ability to understand the lessons from the past,
the realities of the present, and likely consequences of a decision for
- Stewardship. Holding something in trust for another.
- Commitment to the growth of people. The servant-leader is deeply
committed to the growth of each individual within his or her institution.
- 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:
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.) -
To get access to this forum, you need to be a member! Register (30 seconds) | Log in
Servant-Leadership Special Interest Group
Servant-Leadership Education & Events
Compare with Servant-Leadership:
Level 5 Leadership
Hagberg Model of Personal
Power | Change
Model Beckhard |
Organization Cultures |
Bases of Social Power
| Charismatic Leadership
| EPIC ADVISERS
| Core Group Theory
| Leadership Styles
| Leadership Continuum
| Contingency Theory
Values Framework |
| Seven Surprises
| Seven Habits |
Return to Management Hub: Change & Organization | Ethics & Responsibility | Leadership
More Management Methods, Models and Theory
Special Interest Group Leader
All you need to know about management
Management Smart Card