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Servant Leadership is….

Servant LeadershipAfter I wrote my post on Situational Leadership a couple of weeks ago, one of my readers commented on it, suggesting that I take a look at Servant Leadership. Servant Leadership is more prevalent in some circles than in others. Some may perceive it as pretty radical concept. Even the name of this leadership style evokes some discomfort in many of today’s leaders. But it can be an effective one, although perhaps more for some environments than others. Let me try to explain. defines Servant leadership as:  “A method of development for leaders originally advanced by authors Peter Block and Robert Greenleaf. Servant leadership stresses the importance of the role a leader plays as the steward of the resources of a business or other organization, and teaches leaders to serve others while still achieving the goals set forth by the business.” The concept itself was first discussed by Robert Greenleaf in the 1970s as an approach in which the leader has “a natural feeling” to serve and to serve first.

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists; when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” Chinese proverb

The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership sees the concept as “a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world”. In Servant Leadership the leader focuses on the growth and well-being of direct reports first. While others styles of leadership usually involves the exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. “The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible”.

With this leadership style you find a reversal or an up-ending of the traditional organization chart, where the leader is on the bottom rather than the top. Here is where the discomfort lies, with the leadership not being placed on the top of the heap. It really does turn the “command and control” style of leadership on its head. Because of the nature of this leadership style, it is prevalent in many religious and social agency organizations where the message of this style also speaks to the organizations’ mission and vision. Individuals who lead their lives as Servant Leaders may not perceive themselves as such, but it’s not a big stretch to see that the title fits.  Consider Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, to name a few. It is clear to see that these individuals placed others’ interests and needs above their own.

The reader I mentioned at the top of this post made the interesting observation that millennials relate well to this style of leadership, and upon consideration, that makes sense. I realize it is a bit of a generalization, but the millennial generation has grown up steeped in the fast-paced, high-tech world where everything is interconnected and often collaborative in nature. Information is shared equally (not always with the best outcomes) and widely. You get the sense when talking with Millennials that work needs to makes sense, they need to see how it fits into everything else, that there is often little distinction between work and play, and that work can come out of play (note how many new enterprises with a high concentration of millennial staff have play areas and/or nap rooms on site).

As I have stated, I am a believer that there is not necessarily one particular “right” leadership style, but that the style needs to fit the environment. I also believe, though, that a leader’s style can mold their environment — not over night, but over time and with the right conditions. If you are reading this as a leader, where do you think your style fits? Is your style having a significant impact on the organization or is your style being dictated by the organization? Either way, how is that affecting you?


This is the forth on a series specifically exploring what leadership is and how we can not only understand leadership but how to implement it

Leadership series directory:

Leadership is…. Three Theories of Leadership
Directing, Coaching, Supporting & Delegating Are What?
Who Are K&P and What Is TLC?


John Whitehead, coaches’ individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.


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