Nearly five decades ago, Robert Greenleaf, a writer and philosopher, coined the phrase servant leader, in his essay, "The Servant as Leader." Servant leadership is about wanting to help others and identifying the needs of colleagues, customers, and communities. So, what makes someone a servant leader? First and foremost, the desire to serve. Robert Greenleaf described servant leaders as people who are goal-oriented, initiators, dreamers, good communicators, dependable, trustworthy, situational, and have the ability to withdraw and change focus and direction (2002). In addition, Skip Pritchard asserts a servant leader leads with others in mind, values diverse opinions, cultivates a culture of trust, and develops other leaders (2014).
There are numerous articles that examine the characteristics that servant leaders need such as listening, understanding, empathy, acceptance, healing, awareness, perception, persuasion, conceptualization and foresight. Let's discuss these in detail.
Listening and communicating are essential characteristics for all leaders, but servant leaders must be committed to listening intentionally to others, seeking clarity, and listening to not only what is being said but what is being done. He or she listens empathetically; listening to understand not to reply.
Empathy refers to our ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Essentially, the ability to put ourselves in the other person's shoes. Empathy allows us to connect with other people, build trust, and strengthen our relationships. An empathetic leader is non-judgmental and does not criticize.
Healing refers not only to others but also to the leader himself. Having a concerned and helpful attitude for others when they are down or facing difficulties is a leader being concerned for the welfare of the team. But if a leader does not practice self-healing how can he or she help others?
Let's begin with self-awareness, which refers to the ability to recognize and understand our own emotions and behaviors, how they affect those we interact with, and our strengths and weaknesses. Without self-awareness a leader cannot effectively lead others. Awareness also refers to the ability to recognize an issue and taking action.
Persuasion refers to the ability to use influence to point others in the most beneficial direction for the team. In essence, a leader seeks to convince, not compliance.
Conceptualization refers to the ability to invent or formulate an idea that provides vision and mission; to see the big picture. A leader must be able to think beyond the day-to-day realities.
Foresight refers to a leader's ability to understand past experiences, present realities, and the likely consequence of a decision in the future. A servant leader displays creativity, communicates his or her vision, and is decisive.
Research has shown that when an organization adopts a servant leadership strategy overall organizational effectiveness is positively impacted as well as employee performance, collaboration and creativity, employee engagement, retention, and engagement, and customer service.
Thank you for reading!
Greenleaf, R. (2002). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and
greatness. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Pritchard, S. (2014). Becoming a servant leader. Retrieved from: