team leadership meeting in office

The Definitive Guide to Servant Leadership

You’ve heard it before, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.’ In today’s world, servant leadership is the new way to lead.

This term has become popular lately, but many people have trouble understanding exactly what it means.

If you’ve ever wanted to become more effective at leading others, this article is for you. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about servant leadership so you can lead by example.

What Is Servant Leadership?

When you observe an individual practicing servant leadership, you are experiencing a person who embodies the concept of actions being louder than words. Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy where the goal is to serve others and lead by example.

Far too often, leaders are viewed as individuals in authoritative positions, with ample amounts of power and esteemed titles. However, it is not only those who can be leaders. Some of the most influential leaders in a community are those who practice servant leadership.

The most significant difference between the two styles is that servant leadership emphasizes the development of those they lead compared to merely organizational growth. As servant leaders, they don’t need a fancy degree to be effective. Instead, they are showing others how to lead by them, observing the very behaviors that make an effective leader.

How Did Servant Leadership Originate?

Robert K. Greenleaf coined “servant leadership” in 1970. He brought the title into fruition through his essay “The Servant as Leader.” In this writing, he outlined what characteristics differentiate a servant leader from the other leadership styles.

Greenleaf is the founder of the Greenleaf Center, a non-profit that was previously named the Center for Applied Ethics. He started this organization in 1964. The center continued to promote this new leadership style and demonstrate to others, through workshops and publications, how to fully embrace this different way of thinking and leading.

This approach to leadership, the growth of people, and how to best train future leaders is thousands of years old, but it was Robert Greenleaf that coined the term Servant Leadership that we use today.

Why Does Servant Leadership Matter?

There are many advantages to servant leadership. To begin, a servant leader’s skill is knowing when to be down on the ground and when to sit back and allow their staff to take on more of the responsibility and leadership. By balancing these two needs, the servant leader can build up new company and community leaders without the traditional and hierarchical authoritative design.

When this happens, organizations will start to experience growth through the evolution of their employees. Empowering employees in their roles allows for heightened productivity, better engagement, and boosted morale.

In traditional leadership models, employees are molded into a system that resembles a dictatorship rather than a democracy. Staff members are often afraid to express their opinions and insight due to fear and control tactics that are put into play. Staff are keenly aware of who is in “management”, and you’ll hear things like “you’re the boss”.

By incorporating a servant leadership model within an organization, employees will build up their confidence, exert more authority, and create a sphere of influence. When entire companies adopt Servant Leadership theory and apply it, you will see transformational leadership in not just the company’s words and “about us” section but in the actions of individuals at every level of the company.

This approach to both work and life creates the possibility of unlocking what I all High-Achieving Servant Leadership that has been seen historically to:

  • Allow companies to grow at an accelerated rate
  • Maintain growth over a longer period of time, compared to other leadership models
  • Decrease the cost of hiring while simultaneously attracting a higher level of talent
  • Increase the skills, emotional intelligence, and job satisfaction of every level of the company.
  • Fundamentally improve the wider community around those working for the company.
leadership word cloud

Characteristics of an Effective Servant Leader

For those looking to incorporate a servant leadership approach into their lifestyles, organizations, or communities, there are a few characteristics that are commonplace and will need to be integrated to be effective as this style of leader.

Has a Sense of Purpose

To fully embody the person that a servant leader is supposed to be, you must have a direct sense of purpose. This purpose could be to achieve a shared goal for your neighbors/investors/customers, to build a positive rapport in the company in which you are employed, to develop new leaders, or another deeply intentional goal. Either way, having a sense of purpose is vital to the success of a servant leader.

When people have a sense of purpose, they are driven to complete significant tasks that achieve positive outcomes. The feeling of having purpose is ingrained in our everyday lives already. When you consider your reasons for getting out of bed every morning, that is having a sense of purpose.

Relating that to other elements of your life and work allows that same sense of motivation to translate to other areas. What’s more, by identifying the purpose, you are helping to mold others into the leaders that the world needs.

Note that for a company to follow servant leadership, while it is important for the team to have a shared purpose, often, the individuals in the company will often have their own individual purposes. This is okay and actually encouraged. People will often join a team known for this leadership style as a means of helping to identify and cultivate their individual purpose.

Accepts and Respects People for Who They Are

We all know the emotional struggle that occurs when you attend a job interview. While you are invested in the job and excited about the possibility of employment, the feeling of judgment in the room is palpable.

Those sitting in front of you are looking at your life achievements and deciding if they are in alignment with the vision they have for not only the company but also their staff.

However, the emotions do not end there. Far too often, employees feel like they are not accepted for what they bring to the table. It can feel as though all of your achievements and experience are for naught as the company tries to discipline and train you into a different person entirely.

As a servant leader, you accept and respect the people around you for who they are and what they bring to the organization, cause, or community. This mentality allows you to see different aspects you may have otherwise missed.

Of course, an individual’s skills, wisdom, training, and experience have a strong bearing on if someone is a good fit for a job and how their input should be weighed in a given situation. A hierarchical model will more often dismiss the views of others because they are not in authority. Leadership experts note that servant leaders are more likely to consider the diverse backgrounds of their team and will often find the better choice faster.

In the end, these different aspects give you a more complete view of the world and a better sense of the correct approach to problems that you face.

Empathetic

Especially for those who are authoritative leaders in the workplace, empathy is often left at the door. Many times, these leaders are driven by deadlines, outcomes, and profit. Any issues that arise outside the office are commonly seen as a hindrance to their goals and not appreciated or welcomed.

Being a servant leader comes with the ability to be empathetic to the needs of those around you. Whether it is the loss of a family member, health issues, childcare problems, or something else entirely, the ability to be effective in your role rests on possessing empathetic emotions and being in tune with them to help those around you. Multiple empirical studies show that servant leaders score higher in emotional intelligence.

Businesses do exist to make a profit, among their other goals, so revenues, expenses, and time must be considered. What authoritative leaders do not realize is that their approach to management may hinder their companies from reaching the very goals they are seeking.

Good Listeners and Communicators

When you think about the most conducive way to obtain the information needed to be an empathetic leader, learning through listening and communicating are the top ways to understand. However, it is not as simple as opening your ears and mouth. There are specific components that need to be adhered to in order to gain knowledge effectively.

One of the biggest obstacles that authoritative and hierarchical leaders have is the inability to provide active listening when needed. Perceived time constraints and the urge to drive the conversation often interfere with the skill of active listening. When these detriments insert themselves into a conversation, it can lead the dialogue into a negative space.

An individual feels supported when they have the ability to guide a conversation and bring to light topics and issues that are on their mind. When leaders adopt the active listening technique, they give the other person control of part of the conversation and only provide insight and direction when asked or required.

Appropriate communication comes in the form of having an open dialogue between individuals without the appearance of confrontation or disrespect. For instance, if an authoritative leader is to enter a meeting and immediately accuse a staff member of doing something wrong, that is not open and appropriate communication.

Likewise, suppose the authoritative leader was to step into an employee’s office and engage in conversation about the projects that the team is currently working on. In that case, they could find out their status and guide any problem areas. This conversation would be done without accusations and, instead, it would become a collaborative dialogue.

Selfless

Individuals who abide by a servant leadership mentality do not have their own personal gain or need to be viewed as “right” as a goal in the dynamic. Instead, the individual has adopted the method of putting the needs of others above their own. The ultimate goal of a person who exercises servant leadership is to create better conditions for everyone as they collectively work towards the shared goal.

For those in authoritative or hierarchical leadership positions, it can be easy to see a positive performance review, a hefty raise, or an increase in company profits as the goal. However, for those in a servant leadership position, seeing that a project is completed with everyone’s input added in, that quality work is done in a way that is cohesive to everyone in the organization, or the positive impact on team members’ personal growth are additional goals they aim to obtain.

As you adjust from a corporate mentality to a selfless one, you can find yourself reverting to old habits. If you find yourself in this position, ask yourself, “What can I do to serve those on my team best?”

Another problem that can arise when transitioning between a corporate mindset and a servant one is that you are groomed to believe that you are above participating in specific tasks. For some, booking their own travel or answering the phone would be insulting due to their job title. Others may frown upon needing to schedule meetings.

It is essential to remember that the all-hands-on-deck process is often implemented in servant leadership. Therefore, those who would not typically fulfill specific tasks may find themselves doing so for the betterment of the team and the overall goal. It is here that selflessness comes into play. You will see it in the actions of people throughout the company, at every level.

A Good Mentor

Imagine a world in which you wanted to go to your immediate supervisor because doing so would mean receiving gentle guidance, gathering appropriate insight, and having open dialogue to talk about goals for the future and suggestions for upcoming work obligations and projects.

When a manager takes on the role of mentor, the dynamic between the two individuals shifts positively. Where camaraderie comes into play is where the trust levels increase. Having a level of comfort and letting your guard down with a critical team member also leads to increased productivity, a boost in morale, and employee satisfaction.

Mentorship is often considered a relationship that takes place with someone outside of your team or place of employment. However, having a mentor as a team leader can be one of the best situations for communities, organizations, and groups, among many others.

leadership meeting - work from home

Traditional Leadership vs. Servant Leadership

While we have touched on the premise of traditional leadership above, comparing and contrasting the differences between it and servant leadership are beneficial to understanding the benefits of serving others.

As we defined above, servant leadership is a philosophy that places the leader in a position of service to those around them. However, traditional leadership is defined as hierarchical and authoritative. Those in conventional forms of leadership often fulfill supervisory positions at companies and organizations or serve in community management roles.

Servant leadership corresponds with serving the individuals on your team and encouraging them through positive coaching and active listening. However, traditional leadership is associated with power and control over teams and employees.

When you incorporate servant leadership, you are working to build confidence in others by mentoring, open dialogue, extending authority, and empathy. These characteristics allow others to enter leadership positions and lend their expertise independently to projects and tasks.

Adversely, traditional leadership gives way to an organizational layout that outlines the delineation of authority. As part of this, the expectation of the leader and supervisor is often to delegate responsibilities to team members.

Additionally, these individuals will often be tasked with the need to exert discipline on team members and manage work expectations.

It is often possible for those in a traditional leadership position to alter their methods to accommodate servant leadership methods. However, this often depends on the organization’s culture and not on the individual in the leadership position.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Servant Leadership

Although it may seem that servant leadership is a no-brainer and should be applied across the board for all organizations and teams, there are some areas where it is not as feasible. Additionally, servant leadership has many benefits, but it also has a selection of drawbacks that should be introduced for clarity.

Pros

The organization grows by serving those who serve it (employees)

It is highly beneficial to take the emotions and goals of those who represent the internal heartbeat of an organization and operate alongside them to accomplish work tasks instead of instructing them on how to do so.

Implementing these behaviors allows employees to feel seen and appreciated. Micromanaging and dictating detailed instructions to those who are structurally underneath you can cause issues with morale and satisfaction in the workplace.

Can boost trust and engagement as employees feel valued

A characteristic of servant leadership is being a good mentor. Utilizing this skill affords a level of camaraderie that traditional leadership doesn’t. Incorporating a mentorship mindset into leadership can increase productivity and teamwork.

Additionally, the transparency that often comes with servant leadership gives opportunities for relationship building and a stronger foundation in the workplace.

Shared goals

When employees are part of a servant leadership dynamic, they feel as though they have entered into a team instead of a superior and inferior setup. Because of this, employees and supervisors can formulate goals with a combination of ideas and insight from all team members.

Individuals will not feel hesitant to share and collaborate due to the non-intimidating environment that they find themselves in.

Cons

Creating a company-wide leadership culture takes time to develop

It can be difficult to sway the style of leadership when different methods have been in place for some time. Many will feel that their methods are appropriate and do not necessitate any changes. Others will inadvertently revert to old habits.

With diligent efforts, leaders can transition to servant leadership methods. However, it will often take mentoring, openness to feedback, and frequent adjustments to get to that point.

Not a good fit for all situations

Servant leadership is an effective way to reach goals, build relationships, and increase productivity. However, the approach is not always the best solution for all environments.

Case in point, if you are managing a project with a quickly approaching deadline or managing a factory production line, time is not always on your side. Therefore, taking the necessary time to have open dialogue conversations is not possible during the majority of the employees’ shifts. While supervisors can enact certain components of servant leadership, it is not feasible to fully implement the method in such a fast-paced situation without support from the top.

Authority can be taken advantage of

We all want to assume the best intentions, but some situations arise where individuals take advantage of the leeway available in a servant leadership approach. Whether it is taking an unnecessary amount of time to complete tasks or not taking the work seriously, situations come into play where a more assertive approach may need to be taken.

Popular Servant Leaders and How They Embraced This Mindset

Although Robert K. Greenleaf brought the term servant leadership to light in 1970, the practice has been in place for centuries. Many prominent historical figures utilized this method to bring forward positive change. Below, I list several leaders that had the most significant influence on the mindset.

Abraham Lincoln

As the 16th President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln was the first credited to exercising the use of servant leadership. Lincoln had a penchant for utilizing empathy, awareness, and gentle persuasion to accomplish extraordinary feats.

One of the most incredible things about Lincoln is that he saw that he was working to resolve issues for the good of many and for the long term. He wanted to empower people throughout the USA to make positive changes because having more leaders in the country would allow it to thrive.

Mahatma Gandhi

The most prominent servant leadership trait that Mahatma Gandhi possessed was selflessness. For his entire life, Gandhi put others ahead of himself and worked to create optimal conditions for those around him. At times, he wound up in jail due to the efforts he spent defending the rights of others.

Gandhi established a purpose to remove the discrimination that was happening against Indians. To make this purpose a reality, he worked with community members and advocated seeking resources and pleading with those in traditional leadership roles.

Nelson Mandela

As the first black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela came into his role as a source of change. To continue on that route, he set up his legacy to associate his name with leading others into their own power and teaching them to use their voice for good.

Mandela operated under the philosophy that one should be a servant first and then a leader. He always felt that this process allowed all individuals to thoroughly understand how to collaborate effectively. Without having on-the-ground knowledge and knowing how key players operate, the chances of a successful outcome may diminish.

Cheryl Bachelder (former CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen)

With a career that revolves around serving the public, Cheryl Bachelder knows a thing or two about servant leadership. While others have balked at its efficacy, Bachelder implores them to try it out and see how their outcomes and employees thrive as a result.

Following her work with Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Bachelder authored the book “Dare to Serve,” which focuses on her work in servant leadership and how to drive superior results by serving others. She transformed Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen by focusing the company at serving the local franchise owners and putting their needs above the short-term goals of corporate, and the result saw a failing organization become a hyper-growth example.

Jack Welch (Former CEO of General Electric)

As one of the former CEOs of General Electric, Jack Welch decided early on that his primary work would be in people’s decisions. He decided to focus his energy on building up those around him and tuning into their needs in order to run an effective company.

To start, Welch honed his skills in finding the high-potential staff members to round out the different teams at General Electric. Following that, he would take on whatever was needed to build those chosen individuals into confident leaders. The result of his efforts was a high amount of success during his tenure at the company.

Herb Kelleher (Co-founder of Southwest Airlines)

If you want to hear a great example of servant leadership, you should look at the story of Herb Kelleher and how he effectively practiced what he preached. As the co-founder of Southwest Airlines, he never exerted his power on those who worked in the company or who took one of Southwest’s flights.

In fact, Kelleher would wait in line for boarding and purposely take the least desirable seat. He did not insist on skipping the line or occupying a seat chosen first. Once he was settled in his chair (very back row, middle), he would get up, chat with the flight attendants, and then help serve refreshments to the passengers.

Cup of coffee and napkin with writings on table

Top Tips To Become an Outstanding Servant Leader

As you read through the history and development of the servant leadership concept, you may be inclined to adopt it into your own lifestyle. Perhaps you want to rise into your own leadership or extend encouragement to others. Regardless, here are the top tips for becoming an outstanding servant leader.

Be Authentic

Do not try to be something you are not. Often, people put on a fake persona that they believe to be appropriate for their role. However, the right way to act and behave is to be your authentic self and not emulate somebody else.

If you see another individual who occupies a position of power, do not feel the need to present yourself exactly as they do. The world already has that person; it needs you and your unique self.

Know Your Purpose

While it may be hard to believe, your purpose is not defined by what you do for a living, your family name, or any caregiving roles you have (e.g. wife, supervisor, great-uncle). Instead, your purpose is what you set out to achieve with your life.

To be an outstanding servant leader, it is essential to know what you want to get out of life and what you want to see accomplished. Don’t look to others for this information, as it is specific to you.

If you do not know your purpose, help someone else with theirs. It’s often the best way to discover yours.

Lead With Humility

Nobody is perfect. Even the servant leaders of history listed above had their fair share of failure along the way. The key to navigating these hiccups is to do so with humility. Far too often, people forget that they are human, and humans were not created to be foolproof, error-free beings.

Instead of trying to cover up mistakes, use them as teaching moments. Times of vulnerability and humility are critical components of servant leadership. These times show others that leadership is not a perfect path and that, while there are moments that do not go as planned, they are all part of the learning process.

Have Courage

The thought of being a leader can be terrifying to many. When they envision being in a leadership position, they often imagine public speaking, leading large groups, or even spearheading extensive and challenging projects.

However, it is important to note that leadership is not a one-size-fits-all feature. All roles are created differently and require various strengths. Taking the time to organize a community clean-up does not require any of the above skills. But what it does necessitate is courage and consistency.

Getting out of your comfort zone and finding the strength to lead, in whatever capacity and at whatever level you are at, is crucial to being a servant leader.

Demonstrate Empathy

As one of the critical characteristics of being a servant leader, demonstrating empathy is essential to performing the role of a leader effectively. With empathy, you can resonate with a person’s emotions and further understand the situations they are dealing with in their life and work.

While many have sympathy, this pales in comparison to empathy. To put others before yourself, you have to be able to understand emotions on a deeper level. Only then will you be able to walk alongside a person and understand their struggle and the barriers it places between them and success.

Be Honest and Transparent

It doesn’t help anyone if you mask your emotions and thoughts in conversation. Having an open and trusting relationship is based on honesty and transparency. Without these two traits, your employees are left to wonder whether you are genuinely invested in their leadership growth or not.

Having difficult conversations in an honest and approachable way will go a long way towards developing a bond between you and those that you are mentoring. Furthermore, being a leader means showing by example. Displaying the importance of honesty and transparency will allow these behaviors to trickle down to new leaders.

Learn From Your Mistakes

In the same breath as leading with humility, learning from your mistakes is critical to being a positive role model in the leadership realm. Every journey experiences growing pains, and becoming an effective servant leader is no exception.

While it is not necessary to dwell on what went wrong, it is encouraged to analyze what could have been done differently and develop scenarios that could have had a more successful outcome. Working through this with your team will demonstrate the importance of self-reflection and learning as you go.

Create a Strong Sense of Community

Communities come in many shapes and sizes. Your community is not just the area you live in but also many different realms. One can have a community within their neighborhood and also find it within their chosen profession. Others see a community in various clubs, organizations, or churches they are a part of, while it can also be referred to when talking about people who suffer from a specific illness.

Regardless of what community you reside in, it is vital to find your footing and place within it. Being an effective leader means that you feel protective of those you serve and have a strong pull towards the cause and the purpose that they uphold.

You will quickly notice that when you start to integrate these behaviors and skills into your everyday life, you will not only see a positive shift in your own mentality and focus but also in those around you.

Even if you do not serve in a traditional leadership role where you are integrating servant leadership principles, you will start to see individuals in your social circle react positively to the internal and communication changes you have recently made.

team leadership meeting in office

Servant Leadership in the Modern Workplace

Even though servant leadership has been around for generations, it has not earned its place as the predominant form of leadership in the workplace. With its authoritative and hierarchical characteristics, traditional leadership still reigns supreme when it comes to places of employment.

When you consider the traits of traditional leadership, you see the standard relationships that offices frequently employ. With this, you have a CEO who oversees a subset of staff members. You then have another layer of workers. Those workers supervise employees underneath them.

The relationship is entirely based on work performance. It isn’t often that personal issues are brought into the mix. If there are issues with such, you must bring them to the attention of another department. The human resources department often deals with these issues instead of direct supervisors.

The structure is a very rigid and institutionalized layout that leaves very little wiggle room within the organization and its staff. When you work within a traditional leadership workplace, you won’t find yourself having open dialogue that is genuine and honest. More often, this leads to anxiety that repercussions may follow due to the conversation that you just had.

However, in recent years, the concept of servant leadership has begun to gain traction in the modern workplace. With a stronger focus on agile work environments and leadership skills, information has been coming to light that paints servant leadership as an attractive option to employers.

The great thing about servant leadership is that you can incorporate it in some form within all industries and professions. As I highlighted above, it can be tricky to integrate the concept into fast-paced establishments. When you think about restaurants or an emergency department, being able to devote appropriate time to instilling servant leadership traits is seen as a challenge.

While this may be true, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make changes and have different elements introduced in the workplace. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to servant leadership. Therefore, you don’t have to devote yourself and your staff to specific tasks and procedures, especially if they don’t work with your industry.

However, it is essential to research different methods of servant leadership in the workplace and see which elements are conducive to your staff or team. Remember that the premise of servant leadership is to serve others. Therefore, at an absolute minimum, you can commit yourself to serving your purpose in whatever ways you can.

One key complaint about servant leadership is that outsiders view it as a supervisor that is a pushover instead of a leader. It is important to note that taking the time to work alongside your team instead of observing it is not being a pushover. Just ask the senior leaders and trainers in the many military branches of Special Forces (e.g. Rangers, Seals, etc.) that follow Servant Leadership and Followership. Moreover, taking the time to understand where employees are coming from and using empathy also do not make you a pushover.

Concept of mentorship and support in the business

Examples of Servant Leadership in Action

For those new to the idea of servant leaders who are trying to get their organization on board with the concept, having examples of what the method looks like can be helpful. Below I outline some scenarios in which servant leadership is played out and how others benefit from it.

The Mayor and His Community Garden

You are the mayor of your town, and you want to start a community garden. After gathering a group of locals who have expressed interest in helping, you find yourself delegating responsibilities as you would in the office.

Over time, you see that the volunteers aren’t showing up for work sessions like they once were. Communication has dwindled, and you aren’t making much progress. You overhear people talk about how individuals who have been missing in action felt that their ideas and suggestions weren’t taken into account and that their experience lends itself well to the task at hand.

You realize a change needs to happen to bring your community together in the way you intended. You personally call each volunteer and ask for their suggestions on getting the garden up and going. You give those who express interest in specific tasks the space to move forward with their ideas.

On the next workday, you go from volunteer to volunteer, asking what you can do to help. You are given jobs to do, and you deliver in the way they asked. Additionally, you grab bottles of water for everyone and help to keep the job site clean. Within no time, the community garden is complete, and plans for another are already in place.

Corporate Style Parenting

You work at a large corporation and supervise a team of 15 individuals. Among your staff is a healthy mix of male and female employees at all stages of life. While some are nearing retirement, you also have workers with young children at home.

You have noticed an uptick in absences lately with one of your staff members. While your company is generous in the allowable time off for illness and medical needs, this individual has been taking more time off than any other person in the department.

To sort the issue out, you call this individual into your office. As you outline all of the days missed in the past few months and how they are over the limit allowed by the company, you notice the demeanor of your employee change dramatically. He slinks down, and he looks as though he could burst into tears or shout at any moment.

You stop what you are saying and set down your papers. Seeing him visibly upset, you move your chair closer to where he is sitting. After a few minutes, you ask if he would like to talk about the situation. He looks hesitant until you explain that you’d like to help in any way you can.

Eventually, the employee spews out that his wife travels a lot for work, and there have been several bouts of illness at his son’s daycare center. When he has a fever, he must be home until his temperature has been normal for 24 hours. Recently, there was a cycle of hand, foot, and mouth disease that all the children came down with at the same time.

Because they don’t live near family, he has nobody to stay with their child when he is sick, and his wife is traveling. He feels like he is letting down the team, but he doesn’t know what else to do.

Following that conversation, you brainstorm different solutions to the issue. To start with, you extend him allowable time off to give him more breathing space. Furthermore, you extend the option to work flexible hours to accommodate his family’s needs. Lastly, you set him up for remote work for the days he needs to be home but can still be available when his son is asleep or playing.

After the conversation is over, you can see the complete change that has taken place in your employee’s body language. His negative emotions are gone, and he looks as though a huge weight has been lifted off his shoulders.

Imposter Syndrome

A new employee has started at your company. They have just graduated college, and this is their first paid position in their field of study. With the entry-level position that was open, their education and internship experience made them seem like a great fit.

While they appeared confident during the interview and orientation, you have noticed that through the days and weeks of settling into the job, they no longer resemble the candidate that you first met all those weeks ago.

During meetings, you see that they sit back and observe rather than voicing ideas and opinions. Even when asking what insight they have due to being a recent graduate, they do not provide much of a response.

Although the employee is early for work every day and stays productive throughout all meetings and tasks, you can’t help but wonder what has led to this change. The person you hired wasn’t afraid of participating in the conversation. During the interview, they provided many examples of innovative ideas that they picked up in college and could be applied to the workforce.

You decide to have a sit-down meeting with your employee. Not wanting it to come across like a disciplinary event or an overly serious conversation, you casually ask if you two can talk. When they agree, you go to the company’s lunchroom to grab a cup of coffee together.

Through conversation, you start to understand that your new employee is suffering from a bit of imposter syndrome. Being that they just entered the workforce, the employee is still adjusting to the art of applying what they know to real-life scenarios.

What’s more, being around colleagues who are more experienced in the field has led them to doubt a lot of what they have learned throughout the past few years. When asked to provide input at meetings, they have found themselves frozen or, at times, not wanting to give their thoughts due to the possibility of embarrassment.

Knowing this, you have an honest and authentic conversation with your employee in which you express that everyone started in the same way. Even though it may be hard to believe, the wisdom everyone seems to possess comes from learning from one another and sharing different experiences and suggestions.

Together, you identify areas where they can shine and make plans for weekly check-ins to see how everything is going. At the end of the conversation, you start to see the personality of the employee you interviewed come back into the picture.

FAQs

When you gather information on servant leadership, you may come away with additional questions. Below, I highlight some of the most frequent inquiries I receive about this subject.

What is the main goal of a servant leader?

The main goal of a servant leader is to approach leadership in a way that is in direct service to the individuals and purpose that they are working towards. To achieve the desired result, a servant leader must work alongside those on their team instead of employing traditional leadership methods that border on authoritative power and designation.

Ultimately, servant leaders will aim to share power between themselves and those around them. It is not often that a leader of this variety will pull rank and demand specific reactions or direction. Doing so would diminish the effectiveness of this leadership method and cause a strain on relationships.

What makes servant leadership successful?

Servant leaders reach success in the way they approach others. Having open dialogue, a clear sense of purpose, working to serve others, and expressing empathy for colleagues allow individuals to feel heard and seen.

Furthermore, staff often report that they feel more confident when a part of this mindset due to the open-mindedness and implementation of ideas from more than just the supervisor.

A great indicator of servant leadership success is the relationship between yourself and your team. If you feel the bond growing more substantial and outcomes being achieved on high-quality levels, you can rest assured that the implementation of servant leadership has made a successful impact.

How do you know if you are a servant leader?

Knowing that you are a servant leader can be done by stepping back and analyzing the place that you are in during your leadership journey. If, after reading through the characteristics of a servant leader, you arrive at the fact that you line up appropriately with what that method includes, then you can likely label yourself as a servant leader.

One critical thing to remember is that being an adequate leader, servant leader included, is a continual learning process. You are often reevaluating and formulating the right skills that are needed by your team and your own situation.

Ultimately, you can define yourself as a servant leader when you can wholeheartedly and honestly check off all of the multidimensional measures that this mindset should create in a leader. As a refresher, these standards include:

  • A Sense Of Purpose
  • Accepts And Respects People For Who They Are
  • Empathetic
  • Good Listener And Communicator
  • Selfless
  • A Good Mentor

How to become effective at servant leadership?

We have all heard the phrase: “If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again.” This mantra also applies to the process you undergo to become a top-notch and effective servant leader.

With that information, the key to becoming an effective servant leader is to continue to put in your best effort each and every day. After the day has come to an end, evaluate how it went. Think about what things worked well and what could have been improved.

It is only with constant re-evaluation that you can adjust your methods appropriately to meet the needs of yourself and those you are serving. Furthermore, as I mentioned in the last question, being an effective leader means that you are continually learning and utilizing these newly discovered skills.

Joining a community of like-minded individuals will help. In Atlanta and Houston we have CEO Netweavers. If you do not have a local group, consider building community.

How can servant leadership be improved?

The best way to improve your servant leadership is to continue being an example to those around you. Many naysayers express complaints that servant leaders are pushovers and lack authority.

However, if you are part of the servant leader community or a team that is run by one, you will know that this is not the case. Many positive attributes come out of servant leadership that aren’t always brought to the forefront.

The mentality of being a servant leader has to be shown to others in order to gain momentum in the workplace and in everyday life. Without having examples to turn to, many individuals will be hesitant to implement a method such as this.

Resources

If you are interested in learning more about servant leadership and how to implement it in the various environments and communities you serve, I have listed some valuable resources below for further insight.

This list contains just a handful of resources that can help you on your path to obtaining more knowledge of servant leadership and what methods are best to implement in your community. New information comes out every day, and more and more companies are taking on this new mindset for their staff.

Having all of this information brings to light new and innovative principles that are helpful to others.

Conclusion

Servant leadership isn’t just a buzzword. It’s a philosophy that has been around for centuries. It’s based on the idea that we are stewards of each other and thus are responsible for serving others.

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