The term servant leadership was first coined by researcher Robert K. Greenleaf in a 1970 essay titled The Servant As Leader. Servant leadership is a leadership style and philosophy that puts the needs, growth, and wellbeing of subordinates first.
Understanding servant leadership
Greenleaf believed the primary goal of a servant leader was to ensure subordinates became healthier, wiser, and more autonomous to a point where the subordinates themselves embodied servant leadership qualities.
He also noted that servant leadership began “with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, and serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an usual power drive or to acquire material possessions.”
Indeed, servant leadership seeks to move management away from traditional authoritarian leadership styles which focus on structure, power, hierarchy, and rigid give-take relationships. Servant leaders believe that when their team members feel personally and professionally fulfilled, they produce higher quality work more productively and efficiently.
The ten qualities of servant leadership
There are ten generally accepted qualities, or principles, of servant leadership:
- Listening – servant leaders don’t just speak but also actively listen to what their subordinates have to say. Ample opportunity is given to every individual to ensure their concerns, observations, or growth opportunities are considered.
- Empathy – or the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Servant leaders are empathic leaders and care about their followers on a personal level.
- Healing – servant leaders also recognize the importance of solving problems before moving on to new projects. Dealing with setbacks and challenges as they occur helps the team settle differences and move forward.
- Awareness – effective leadership also depends on self-awareness, a highly important but sometimes overlooked ability. Servant leaders need to be aware of the particular strengths and weaknesses in themselves and others.
- Persuasion – servant leaders motivate staff by explaining why a course of action is the most preferred. This approach contrasts with autocratic leaders who instruct subordinates with little explanation or reasoning.
- Conceptualization – or an ability to think beyond small tasks and communicate the importance of larger goals to subordinates.
- Foresight – servant leaders understand the importance of learning from their mistakes and help their followers do the same.
- Stewardship – servant leadership is also characterized by responsibility and dependability. Subordinates tend to have a higher degree of trust in servant leaders and feel comfortable confiding in them where necessary. Servant leaders are also reliable stewards of company assets and mission.
- Commitment to growth – as noted earlier, commitment to growth is a fundamental quality of servant leadership. These individuals lead by example but also encourage subordinates to do the same, thereby enhancing personal and professional growth.
- Community focus – lastly, servant leaders seek to identify ways social and task-orientated communities can be built amongst those employed in the organization. This approach addresses the feeling of loss many are experiencing as the world shifts away from local communities toward larger, faceless institutions.
- Servant leadership is a leadership style and philosophy that puts the needs, growth, and wellbeing of subordinates first. The approach was first mentioned by researcher Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970.
- Fundamental to servant leadership is the ability for a leader to prioritize the needs and personal growth of their followers above their own. Somewhat paradoxically, servant leaders have a desire to serve first and lead second.
- Servant leadership can be defined by ten principles: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to growth, and community focus.
Connected Leadership Frameworks
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