Servant Leadership


If you are a leader, Robert Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership is required reading. Assuming you cannot find the time, the following paper by Larry Spears summarizes the main ideas of Servant Leadership. The link is here. The key characteristics of a servant leader are as follows:

  1. Deep commitment to listening intently to others. Seek to understand.
  2. Strive to understand and empathize with others.
  3. Heal yourself and others – commit to making those you serve stronger and better, and yourself too!
  4. Persuade rather than exercise authority
  5. Nurture your ability to dream big, to conceptualize
  6. Develop foresight, learning from the past and present to envision the future
  7. Stewardship – “to hold in trust for others”
  8. Contribute to the growth of others
  9. Build a sense of community

Great ideas from 40 years ago! As we attempt to move faster and build an innovation-centric culture, we cannot rely on the traditional authoritarian leadership models. Instead, create an organization where the people doing the real work are valued and trusted to get the job done, and serve those innovative, intelligent people to help each one draw out their own best talents and abilities. Wouldn’t that be a great place to work?

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7 thoughts on “Servant Leadership

  1. Great Article.
    This leadership style is especially important for the Millennials (Gen-Y). The main premise of servant leadership is to empower others to do their best work, which is exactly what this new generation wants. Dictatorship won’t cut it – they will quit.
    Can’t wait to read the book.

  2. Raj,
    This is a great article. Traditionally, the managers having above (Slave leadership) characteristics are considered not tough enough leaders/managers. However, it is encouraging to see an endorsement for these (basic value) characteristics. These characteristics are NOT a sign of weakness but they encompass mature and humane behavior.

  3. Hi Murthy,
    Thanks for your comment. Ironically, the concept of Servant Leadership is 40+ years old now. It is amazing it has taken so long for it to “catch on” in industry. It takes enormous strength of character to operate as a Servant Leader. So indeed, a Servant Leader is anything but weak!

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  6. Hi Raj,

    Great article – it speaks to how I strive to lead. I once had a new manager take over our team. He was a fellow designer and a friend of mine who was promoted to manage our team. I was concerned about his leadership style because I had never seen him lead anything. I knew things would be ok when he held the first team meeting and said “You are never to say you work for me; we are are all on the same team and I just have a different role.” It was clear he was interested in the success of the team – I enjoyed working with him over the next two years. That was twenty years ago and I never forget what he said.

    For myself I honed my natural ability as a servant leader by coaching youth sports teams and founding and running Toastmaster clubs. For both you have no option if you want to be successful other than serving – neither are being paid to perform and because they are all trying to develop new skills they need leadership to “show them the way.” However since both are prone to repeated failure they need leaders who can listen, be patient, empathize, motivate, and work hard to find ways to lead them to success. It is rewarding when you help someone develop and reach their goals. In two special cases they were my children in sports and public speaking.

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