What is Servant Leadership and Why Should I Use It?

I’m not sure about you, but over the last couple of years I have been hearing about Servant Leadership more and more. I’ve always had a vague idea of what Servant Leadership meant. However, after hearing Carol Olsby speak on the topic at this weekend’s Women’s Leadership Summit (which was absolutely amazing by the way), put on by Shandel Slaten of True Life Coaching, I decided that I should dig a little deeper. I wanted to find out what Servant Leadership really is and figure out how it’s worked for companies that have incorporated this mindset.

What is Servant Leadership?

For those of you that don’t know, the phrase “Servant Leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in as essay that he published in 1970. In that essay, he said:

“”The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to 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 unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.’

“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

To put it plainly, Greenleaf is stating that a servant-leader is much less concerned about themselves and much more concerned about the happiness and well-being of others on his/her team. The servant leader takes the time to ask the questions that can determine whether every person on that team is best equipped to get the job done.

Why Would I Implement Servant Leadership?

More often than not, leadership positions are used for personal gain rather than to serve others and bring out the best in them. Servant Leadership emphasizes trust, empathy, and collaboration between a team and it’s leader. Now, can you honestly point me to one leader that wouldn’t want more trust, empathy or collaboration in their team environment? I sure can’t.

Servant leaders are typically more in-tune to their company’s mission. A servant leader will work to align themselves and their team with the mission and goals of the company instead of always striving for their own wealth, power or fame.

Servant leadership even goes beyond personal interactions within a company. “In business [practicing servant leadership] would start with your customers and ultimately [involve] serving society through the good work you’re doing on behalf of your customers,”says Bill George, a professor of management at Harvard Business School and the former CEO of Medtronic, a large medical technology company.

It seems that because servant leadership is such a great idea, we might be hearing about more people practicing it, right? No necessarily. There are a lot of companies out there practicing servant leadership, but they just might not be using the word for it. In fact, on Saturday, Carol was able to think of a number of large corporations who have practiced servant leadership, including Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, and FedEx.

What If…?

I learned so much at this year’s Women’s Leadership Summit. But, I would have to say that my greatest takeaway was the information that I learned on servant leadership and the curiousity that it sparked for me. What would this world look like if we all took a serving approach to our leadership? And not just in our daily jobs, but what about even at home or in our communities. How do you think this world might be different?

15 replies
  1. Ming
    Ming says:

    Nice post Alyssa. You pose a good question. What if we all took a serving approach to leadership.. ah, the ripple effect it would have.

  2. RecruitingANIMAL
    RecruitingANIMAL says:

    Servant Leader is a disgusting and meaningless term. You might dedicate yourself to a cause but that doesn’t make you a servant. A servant can’t fire people. If you’re a leader you can.

    A servant is not just a helper. A servant is a pesron who gets bossed around. A leader doesnt get bossed.

    Why not call it the wimp leader? That’s what servant leader means.

    I’ve known many people who want to call themselves vegetarians because they don’t eat red meat because they just think they’re nicer if they don’t kill. The chickens and fish? Well, hey, don’t be a fussbudget.

    Other people like the idea of pacifists even though they don’t really believe it. Others fancy themselves anarchists even though they’re not.

    The people who like term want to hide their power from others or themselves by using a modifier that contradicts leadership. They prefer not to handle the truth.

    • Alyssa Magnotti
      Alyssa Magnotti says:

      Thank you for your point of view. The way that I see it, true leaders are able to see past their own personal goals and are willing to align themselves for the betterment of the team and the mission as a whole. That’s definitely an attribute that I would want any of my leaders to possess! Look at leaders like Martin Luther King Jr! He accomplished so much and led this country into one of the greatest revolutions that it’s ever seen-All with an attitude of servitude. :]

      • RecruitingANIMAL
        RecruitingANIMAL says:

        Martin Luther King served a cause of his own choosing. You might say that he served his people. That means that he dedicated himself to their welfare. But he was the boss of his own organization. He did not take orders.

        A servant does not have executive power. A servant gets bossed. A servant takes orders.

    • Daveguerra
      Daveguerra says:

      no that is not servant that is slave and that is not leader and that is not losing

      servant voluntary

      not disgusting nor meaningless

      au contraire mon fraire

      it is higher purpose

      not meaningless and not disgusting


      Kind Regards

      • RecruitingANIMAL
        RecruitingANIMAL says:

        Wanting to do something that will serve you well is not serving you. You can’t say of a boss that “She served me well.”

        A servant is not a voluntary position. A helper is. If you want to call someone a helpful boss, that’s different.

        We can stretch and come up with some examples of voluntary servitude. Some people serve gurus voluntarily because they believe that they have a huge amount to gain which they can get nowhere else. I don’t think this is like that. That’s a submissive role. This isn’t. This person is the boss.

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Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] principals, I think that people would be much, much happier. It all seems to stem from the idea servant leadership. Leaders need to realize that they are there to serve their subordinates, not the other way around. […]

  2. […] Magnotti, stated in her blog, “I learned so much at this year’s Women’s Leadership Summit. But, I would have to say […]

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