Do You Have What It Takes to Become a Servant Leader?

Mar 25, 2016 3 Min Read
mother teresa the servant leader

Leading through serving others

The word “servant” quite instantaneously creates a negative connotation, and to associate this word with leadership may as well be unheard of. Introduced in 1970 by Robert K. Greenleaf, the term servant leadership basically suggests that the leader is a servant first. In this form of leadership, one naturally feels the need to serve others first, and only then is aspired to lead.

Identifying a servant leader

Servant leaders usually put others before themselves. There is a high drive to ensure that the growth, development, well-being and needs of people and communities they belong to are fulfilled and met. In a team environment, this would simply mean having a manager who is ready to do whatever it takes to ensure that his team doesn’t get left behind. The ten characteristics of a servant leader according to Larry C. Spears (former president of the Robert K. Greenleaf Centre for Servant Leadership) include:

  • Empathy
  • Healing
  • Self-awareness
  • Persuasion
  • Conceptualisation
  • Stewardship
  • Listening
  • Foresight
  • Commitment to the growth of others
  • Building communities

(An interesting question to ask yourself to see if you are a servant leader is – Are you a giver or a taker? – to read more go to: https://leaderonomics.com/leadership/are-you-a-giver-or-receiver

The challenge



Due to their unique nature, servant leaders have almost opposite characteristics to other styles of leadership. As servant leaders tend to prioritise others, it is always difficult to measure the level of impact their actions have on the people they serve. How does one know if those being served are truly growing and developing? How can we measure, realistically, the effect of a servant leader on all levels of a community?

In many ways, servant leadership uses more “heart” than “head” in decision-making. The ability to connect intimately with the people they serve through empathy and awareness, is a gift not many have been able to develop naturally. Nevertheless, it is a skill that can be honed over time. However, this can also cause some servant leaders the issue of having an imbalance of too much heart and too little head when it comes to the decision-making processes.

Some notable leaders who practise servant leadership include the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa.

In a nutshell

To summarise this unique behaviour associated to leadership, it is safe to conclude that servant leaders place a strong emphasis on collaboration, trust, and empathy as their key differentiators. The definition of power to a servant leader, is heavily influenced by the need to use it ethically, and conscious decisions are made to ensure everything they do is focused on serving others better. Their objective is always to enhance the growth of individuals and communities they come into contact with.

To be a servant leader takes a lot of patience, strength and a sense of equanimity. If this is your style of leading, then it is likely that you are good at engaging people and enjoying healthier working relationships with the people you interact with. You may not always end up making the difference you wanted, but at the very least, always remember that you (literally) put your heart and soul into it!

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Darshana is a former HR Media Specialist at Leaderonomics. A PR consultant, photographer, and associate trainer, her career path has been anything but monotonous.

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