What is "Servant Leadership?"

The term “Servant Leader” is largely based on the work of Robert Greenleaf. He describes a servant leader as someone whose first focus is on serving rather than leading. One of the tests that Greenleaf talks about is whether those served grow as persons. There are 11 generally accepted characteristics of servant leadership:

1. The leader Chooses to lead
That is to say, even if this person is not in a leadership position, they have made the choice to act as a leader. Or, if this person IS in a leadership position, they have chosen to actually behave in the manner of a leader rather than just occupying the position and exerting authority.

2. There is a focus on Listening
Communication is two-way rather than just an "edict from on high." This develops a relationship based on mutual respect. There is often much more experience and knowledge on your team than you are aware. Without listening, you would be giving up a significant asset.

3. The leader has Empathy for those he leads
The leader truly identifies with those that are led. There is a genuine concern for the well being of the entire team. This is especially important when there is change occurring in the organization. Whether it is implementing a new warehouse management system or a major reorganization, change creates anxiety.

4. The leader is interested in Healing
The lines between work life and home life are more blurred than ever. Servant leaders recognize that their team does not function in isolation from whatever challenges they may have personally.

5. The leader is highly Aware
Team members believe that the servant leader has a high level of awareness of what is going on. This includes organizational matters locally and corporately. It also includes, by virtue of the leaders listening ability and empathy, issues facing individual team members. This fits with what Dale Carnegie describes as having a "genuine interest" in other people.

6. The leader uses Persuasion rather than authority
This produces a higher level of cooperation amongst the team. One plant manager I recently interviewed referred to his style as being very "collaborative." During his collaborations with his team, the team often came up with solutions. Because it was their idea, they took more ownership of it. This is another example of building a relationship based on respect.

7. The leader encourages Conceptualization
It's not only the leader's vision that is important...it is also the team's. In fact, the leader encourages their team to think of what "can be." Defiance Metal Products in Defiance, Ohio recently completed a restructuring of their manufacturing facility. The project was led by their Lean Champion, Mary Short. But what really made the project successful was that Mary's relationship with her maintenance team enabled some very creative and highly efficient solutions.

8. The leader has good Foresight
The leader has the ability to pick up on trends and to understand their implications for the future. They also can "see" what the future consequences will be from a decision made today.

9. There is a strong sense of Stewardship
Followers of a servant leader feel that the leader has a strong sense of "making the world a better place." The leader seeks to prepare the organization to contribute to the greater good.

10. There is a commitment to the Growth of others
Servant leaders tend to be mentors and have a strong desire to have their team become "all that they can be." They have the "ability to see ability" in their team and they position their team to be successful.

11. There is a strong sense of building Community
Followers of servant leaders typically will feel part of something more than just an organization. Often, followers will describe the organization as a "family" because of the connection that exists. The leader enjoys a position more than simply as "boss" or "supervisor."

In the end, servant leadership is a style that focuses significantly on the relationship with the followers. It requires setting aside ego in the interest of accomplishing tasks through the followers.

In other words, a servant leader seeks the success of their followers rather than accolades for themselves.


  1. Great insight. I aspire to be this kind of leader, and recognze how I both already try to exhibit these characteristics, and that I can also improve in them. Thanks, Chris!

  2. You asked for ideas for more, so how about personal integrity. At home, at work, with people who may need to see it modeled. Great quality in a servant-leader.


Post a Comment