Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership Style

This article is taken from my 
Leadership Styles Blog Series

What is Servant Leadership?

The term ‘Servant Leadership’ was coined by Robert K Greenleaf in his 1970 book entitled ‘The Servant as Leader’. 

A servant leader’s main focus will be on the growth and well-being of the people and communities they are associated with. 

Traditional leadership typically consists of the accumulation and use of power by the leader at the top of the organisation. 

However, servant leadership adopts a counter approach seeking to share power, prioritising the needs of others before their own and supporting people to maximising their development and performance.

Greenleaf defines servant leadership in the following way…

"Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world."

Servant leadership completely re-thinks the hierarchical model of leadership and flips it up-side down.  

The traditional hierarchical model of leadership places the leader at the top of the pyramid in a position of authority and power.

Whereas, servant leadership reverses this placement and positions the leader at the bottom of the pyramid in a more supportive and serving role.

Servant Leadership Inverse Pyramid Hierarchy

"Anybody can be great because everyone can serve."

The 10 Principles of Servant Leadership

Greenleaf identified ten principles of servant leadership which he believed were the qualities that effective servant leaders commonly exhibited as part of their inherent everyday behaviour. 

Additional principles and qualities have been added over the years (such as ‘calling’ and ‘nurturing the spirit’) by subsequent servant leader theorists but the list below is the original ten principles as proposed by Greenleaf in 1970.

Greenleaf’s original 10 Principles of Servant Leadership:

  1. Listening
  2. Empathy
  3. Healing
  4. Awareness
  5. Persuasion
  6. Conceptualisation
  7. Foresight
  8. Stewarding
  9. Commitment to the growth of people
  10. Building community


10 Principles of
Servant Leadership

If you would like to find out more about
Greenleaf’s 10 principles of servant leadership
I recommend you read this article.

Key Strengths of Servant Leadership

Ultimately a servant leader will constantly ask, “What do my people need in order to perform at their maximum?”

By identifying what your stakeholders need and then serving that need you will maximise performance and promote success.

Servant leadership can be implemented on an individual, group or organisational level.

Addressing the needs of the individual staff, groups or departments and also the organisation as a whole will ensure everyone within the business has the resources and tools they need to achieve their objectives.

However, servant leadership isn’t about giving people everything they need regardless.

Many leaders will be working within the constraints of a tight budget and with little time at their disposal.

A leader in this position cannot provide their staff with everything they need as they can’t afford it and don’t have the time to do so.

Servant leaderships is therefore not about giving everything but more about supporting people using whatever is at the leader’s disposal.

If an employee can see that the leader has done everything they can to support them, even if they have not received everything they need, they will understand that the leader could not have done more.

It is this underlying ethos of knowing the leader is supporting in every way they can that is the key strength to servant leadership as opposed to the outcome of providing everything and anything.

Ask yourself this question, “If I serve my staff, are they more likely to become servants themselves?”

It has been widely proven that people will work harder and do more to help those whom they highly trust and respect.

Serve them and they will serve you back. In turn, if staff serve each other, everyone serves each other.

Everyone is empowered and everyone leads others in one way or another.

Key Criticisms of Servant Leadership

One of the biggest criticisms of servant leadership is the notion that no one in business should be a ‘servant’ or a ‘slave’ to anyone else.

Instead they should work collaboratively with mutual support.

Although you could argue that by serving others the leader will generate mutual trust and collaboration it would be foolish to think that no one would take advantage of this type of leader.

The majority of employees will respond positively to a servant leader but unfortunately the sad fact is that some people will abuse this style of leadership and just take, take, take.

Another criticism of servant leadership is that it takes a long time to create a servant-culture within an organisation.

It takes time to work with staff, facilitate their development and support them as they grow.

When starting a new business the culture can be established from the onset however when attempting to implement servant leadership into an existing business with a solid legacy the change in culture can take a considerable amount of time to achieve.


28 Question Self Assessment
Servant Leadership Questionnaire

If you are interested in assessing your own servant leadership skills you can download this self-assessment questionnaire for free.

Final Thoughts on Servant Leadership

Personally, I am generally an advocate for servant leadership when implemented effectively as it is closely aligned with the concept of values-based leadership.

I believe it is one of the most effective ways to manage and lead people.

When you research ‘leadership styles’ in the past you would have seen it at the bottom on the list of potential leadership approaches.

Servant Leadership

However, in more recent years, servant leadership ahs been adopted by some big names in the business world as being their central approach to leadership as such servant leadership now tends to receive a more prominent position amongst other leadership styles and approaches. 

Create value for people and serve them as they strive to maximise their potential.

But please note that this style of leadership is only truly effective if it cascades throughout your entire organisation.