What Is Servant Leadership? Servant Leadership In A Nutshell

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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Or an ability to think beyond small tasks and communicate the importance of larger goals to subordinates.


Servant leaders understand the importance of learning from their mistakes and help their followers do the same.


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.

Key takeaways

  • 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.

Types of Organizational Structures

Organizational Structures

Siloed Organizational Structures


In a functional organizational structure, groups and teams are organized based on function. Therefore, this organization follows a top-down structure, where most decision flows from top management to bottom. Thus, the bottom of the organization mostly follows the strategy detailed by the top of the organization.



Open Organizational Structures




In a flat organizational structure, there is little to no middle management between employees and executives. Therefore it reduces the space between employees and executives to enable an effective communication flow within the organization, thus being faster and leaner.

Connected Business Frameworks

Portfolio Management

Project portfolio management (PPM) is a systematic approach to selecting and managing a collection of projects aligned with organizational objectives. That is a business process of managing multiple projects which can be identified, prioritized, and managed within the organization. PPM helps organizations optimize their investments by allocating resources efficiently across all initiatives.

Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

Harvard Business School professor Dr. John Kotter has been a thought-leader on organizational change, and he developed Kotter’s 8-step change model, which helps business managers deal with organizational change. Kotter created the 8-step model to drive organizational transformation.

Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model

The Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model was created by David Nadler and Michael Tushman at Columbia University. The Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model is a diagnostic tool that identifies problem areas within a company. In the context of business, congruence occurs when the goals of different people or interest groups coincide.

McKinsey’s Seven Degrees of Freedom

McKinsey’s Seven Degrees of Freedom for Growth is a strategy tool. Developed by partners at McKinsey and Company, the tool helps businesses understand which opportunities will contribute to expansion, and therefore it helps to prioritize those initiatives.

Mintzberg’s 5Ps

Mintzberg’s 5Ps of Strategy is a strategy development model that examines five different perspectives (plan, ploy, pattern, position, perspective) to develop a successful business strategy. A sixth perspective has been developed over the years, called Practice, which was created to help businesses execute their strategies.

COSO Framework

The COSO framework is a means of designing, implementing, and evaluating control within an organization. The COSO framework’s five components are control environment, risk assessment, control activities, information and communication, and monitoring activities. As a fraud risk management tool, businesses can design, implement, and evaluate internal control procedures.

TOWS Matrix

The TOWS Matrix is an acronym for Threats, Opportunities, Weaknesses, and Strengths. The matrix is a variation on the SWOT Analysis, and it seeks to address criticisms of the SWOT Analysis regarding its inability to show relationships between the various categories.

Lewin’s Change Management

Lewin’s change management model helps businesses manage the uncertainty and resistance associated with change. Kurt Lewin, one of the first academics to focus his research on group dynamics, developed a three-stage model. He proposed that the behavior of individuals happened as a function of group behavior.

Organizational Structure Case Studies

Airbnb Organizational Structure

Airbnb follows a holacracy model, or a sort of flat organizational structure, where teams are organized for projects, to move quickly and iterate fast, thus keeping a lean and flexible approach. Airbnb also moved to a hybrid model where employees can work from anywhere and meet on a quarterly basis to plan ahead, and connect to each other.

eBay Organizational Structure

eBay was until recently a multi-divisional (M-form) organization with semi-autonomous units grouped according to the services they provided. Today, eBay has a single division called Marketplace, which includes eBay and its international iterations.

IBM Organizational Structure

IBM has an organizational structure characterized by product-based divisions, enabling its strategy to develop innovative and competitive products in multiple markets. IBM is also characterized by function-based segments that support product development and innovation for each product-based division, which include Global Markets, Integrated Supply Chain, Research, Development, and Intellectual Property.

Sony Organizational Structure

Sony has a matrix organizational structure primarily based on function-based groups and product/business divisions. The structure also incorporates geographical divisions. In 2021, Sony announced the overhauling of its organizational structure, changing its name from Sony Corporation to Sony Group Corporation to better identify itself as the headquarters of the Sony group of companies skewing the company toward product divisions.

Facebook Organizational Structure

Facebook is characterized by a multi-faceted matrix organizational structure. The company utilizes a flat organizational structure in combination with corporate function-based teams and product-based or geographic divisions. The flat organization structure is organized around the leadership of Mark Zuckerberg, and the key executives around him. On the other hand, the function-based teams based on the main corporate functions (like HR, product management, investor relations, and so on).

Google Organizational Structure

Google (Alphabet) has a cross-functional (team-based) organizational structure known as a matrix structure with some degree of flatness. Over the years, as the company scaled and it became a tech giant, its organizational structure is morphing more into a centralized organization.

Tesla Organizational Structure

Tesla is characterized by a functional organizational structure with aspects of a hierarchical structure. Tesla does employ functional centers that cover all business activities, including finance, sales, marketing, technology, engineering, design, and the offices of the CEO and chairperson. Tesla’s headquarters in Austin, Texas, decide the strategic direction of the company, with international operations given little autonomy.

McDonald’s Organizational Structure

McDonald’s has a divisional organizational structure where each division – based on geographical location – is assigned operational responsibilities and strategic objectives. The main geographical divisions are the US, internationally operated markets, and international developmental licensed markets. And on the other hand, the hierarchical leadership structure is organized around regional and functional divisions.

Walmart Organizational Structure

Walmart has a hybrid hierarchical-functional organizational structure, otherwise referred to as a matrix structure that combines multiple approaches. On the one hand, Walmart follows a hierarchical structure, where the current CEO Doug McMillon is the only employee without a direct superior, and directives are sent from top-level management. On the other hand, the function-based structure of Walmart is used to categorize employees according to their particular skills and experience.

Microsoft Organizational Structure

Microsoft has a product-type divisional organizational structure based on functions and engineering groups. As the company scaled over time it also became more hierarchical, however still keeping its hybrid approach between functions, engineering groups, and management.

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