Servant Leadership: The Power of Putting Others First

Servant leadership might sound like a contradiction. How can you lead by serving? But in today’s world, where employees crave purpose, connection, and leaders who genuinely care, traditional top-down management styles are becoming obsolete. 

If you’re tired of feeling like a cog in the machine, frustrated by bosses who seem more interested in power than progress, or simply yearn to make a real difference through your leadership, this article is for you. Discover how servant leadership unlocks a more fulfilling, effective, and human-centered way to lead?

what is servant leadership style?

Servant leaders prioritize the growth, development, and well-being of their teams, followers, and the broader organization. Instead of leaders holding all the power and expecting followers to comply. They prioritize their team or organization’s success before their personal goals.

The servant leadership philosophy introduced by Robert Greenleaf, offers a different approach. It shifts away from traditional leader-centric models (Autocratic leadership) and emphasizes support and development for the team. 

In a servant leadership environment, the leader’s role transforms into that of a guide, mentor, and facilitator, empowering individuals to become the best versions of themselves.

The main focus of Servant Leaders are

  • The servant leader collaborates with their team to develop a clear, inspiring vision for the future and effectively communicate with the team.
  • They empower their team members to take initiative and make decisions. They extend trust, understanding that occasional mistakes are part of the learning process.
  • These leaders provide resourceful support to secures necessary budgets, training, and mentorship to ensure the team’s success.

Principles of servant leadership

Robert Greenleaf, the founder of this particular leadership style, developed 10 Principles of Servant Leadership, as follows

1. Listening: Servant leaders actively and attentively listen to their followers, ensuring everyone’s voice is heard and valued.

2. Empathy: They strive to genuinely understand the perspectives, needs, and feelings of others, creating a sense of connection and care.

3. Healing: Servant leaders recognize the importance of emotional well-being and foster an environment where people feel supported and can overcome challenges.

4. Awareness: They are self-aware, understanding their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as how their actions impact others. They are also aware of the broader social and organizational context.

5. Persuasion: Servant leaders guide and influence through collaboration and building consensus, rather than relying solely on their position of authority.

6. Conceptualization: They think beyond the day-to-day, envisioning long-term goals and helping their team see the bigger picture.

7. Foresight: Servant leaders possess the ability to anticipate future trends, needs, and potential obstacles, guiding their team proactively.

8. Stewardship: They take responsibility for the organization and those they lead, always acting with the greater good in mind.

9. Commitment to the Growth of People: Servant leaders prioritize the professional and personal development of their team, providing mentorship and opportunities.

10. Building Community: They cultivate a sense of belonging, fostering teamwork, collaboration, and a shared sense of purpose.

Servant Leadership Characteristics

Greenleaf defined servant leaders by their focus on serving others over personal power. They prioritize employee needs and development rather than simply commanding for profit. 

Inspired by his work, James Sipe and Don Frick outlined seven pillars of servant leadership that embody Greenleaf’s philosophy.

  • Person of Character: A servant leader embodies integrity, makes ethical decisions, demonstrates humility, and acts with a higher purpose in mind.
  • Puts People First: A servant leader shows genuine care for their team, helping them achieve their goals and develop professionally.
  • Skilled Communicator: Excellent communication is essential. Servant leaders actively listen, engage in open dialogue, and welcome feedback.
  • Compassionate Collaborator: Strong servant leaders foster collaboration, value diversity, equity, and inclusion, and navigate workplace conflict effectively.
  • Has Foresight: Servant leaders anticipate challenges and opportunities, guiding the organization with a clear long-term vision.
  • Systems Thinker: They understand complexities, embrace change, think strategically, and skillfully implement organizational shifts.
  • Leads with Moral Authority: Servant leaders build trust by establishing standards, delegating responsibility, and cultivating a culture of accountability.

Servant leader’s core qualities are humility, active listening, and a mentorship mindset

  • Humility: Servant leaders put the needs of others before their own ego, recognizing that everyone has something valuable to contribute.
  • Active Listening: They prioritize understanding team members’ perspectives, needs, and ideas, fostering open communication.
  • Mentorship Mindset: Servant leaders invest in the growth of their team, sharing knowledge, providing guidance, and empowering others to succeed

Impact of servant leadership?

Servant leadership style has a profound positive impact on individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole. Individuals feel empowered and supported, leading to enhanced growth and well-being. Teams benefit from stronger collaboration, trust, and boosted morale

On an organizational level, servant leadership fosters improved performance, greater innovation, a strong ethical culture, and increased employee retention. While these benefits may take time to fully manifest, the investment in servant leadership yields significant and lasting returns.

Well, Forbes discussed some statistics on how employee engagement and wellness are correlated: 

  • 96% of employees believe that empathy leads to employee retention.
  • 4.6% of employees perform better if they feel heard.
  • Highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability

Pros and Cons of servant leadership

Servant leadership offers significant benefits but also presents important considerations. Before implementing this philosophy, it’s crucial to weigh the following pros and cons:


  • Employee Empowerment: Leaders foster trust, autonomy, and confidence in their team members, resulting in increased motivation and a sense of ownership.
  • Stronger Teams: Emphasis on community and collaboration leads to greater teamwork, shared purpose, and a supportive environment.
  • Innovation and Creativity: When people feel valued and safe to take risks, new ideas flourish.
  • Ethical Culture: Servant leaders champion doing what’s right over simply turning a profit. This promotes ethical decision-making and integrity throughout the organization.
  • Employee Satisfaction and Retention: Feeling supported, seen, and part of something meaningful contributes to higher job satisfaction and lowers turnover rates.


  • Time Investment: Servant leadership requires significant time and effort from leaders in mentoring, developing, and listening to their teams. This can be demanding.
  • Slow Decision-Making: The collaborative and consultative nature of this leadership can sometimes lead to a slower decision-making process compared to strictly hierarchical models.
  • Challenging in Crisis: Some urgent situations might require swift, authoritative actions
  • Situational Limitations: Servant leadership may be less effective in industries or scenarios where strict adherence to protocols, split-second decision-making, and a clear chain of command are essential for safety and optimal outcomes (e.g., emergency medicine, military operations).

Servant Leadership examples

Servant leadership might sound theoretical, but it’s embodied by extraordinary individuals and innovative companies. From historical figures who transformed societies to modern CEOs who revolutionized business, here are some inspiring examples of servant leadership in action:

Historic Figures

  • Nelson Mandela: Focused on reconciliation and nation-building, putting the needs of his people first after a history of oppression.
  • Martin Luther King Jr.: Led the Civil Rights Movement with a powerful vision, empowering others through collaboration and self-sacrifice.
  • Mother Teresa: Dedicated her life to serving the impoverished and underprivileged, embodying compassion and selfless action.

Modern Business Leaders

  • Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines): Famous for putting employees first, creating a fiercely loyal workforce, and a successful, customer-centric company.
  • Cheryl Bachelder (Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen): Turned around the struggling brand by investing in employees, focusing on service, and emphasizing a collaborative leadership style.
  • Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia): Built an ethical and sustainable company, known for environmental advocacy and prioritizing the well-being of employees and the planet.

Companies Embodying Servant Leadership

  • TDIndustries: A construction company with a strong focus on employee development and a “servant first” philosophy.
  • The Container Store: A US-based kitchen organizing store Known for its commitment to employees, offering competitive wages, extensive training, and a positive work environment.
  • New Belgium Brewing: A pioneer in employee-owned business models, fostering shared ownership and decision-making.

 Even within these examples, servant leadership is not always absolute. Leaders may need to balance collaborative approaches with decisive action when necessary.

How can leaders embody servant leadership?

Leaders can embody servant leadership by shifting their focus from authority to service. This involves actively listening to their team, understanding their needs and aspirations, and removing obstacles to their success.

Servant leaders prioritize mentorship, providing opportunities for growth and skill development. They foster trust by being transparent, and accountable, and empowering team members to make decisions. Instead of merely issuing directives, servant leaders collaborate with their team, building consensus and inspiring shared purpose.

Ultimately, they recognize their role as a facilitator, helping their team reach its full potential and creating a workplace where individuals and the organization collectively thrive.


Servant Leadership is not just a management style; it’s a mindset shift. It requires leaders to challenge traditional notions of power and embrace a more collaborative, human-centered approach. The potential rewards: happier employees, more resilient teams, ethical workplaces, and sustainable success, make the investment worthwhile. 

Organizations embracing this philosophy gain a competitive edge – attracting top talent, fostering loyalty, and driving innovation. Beyond simply responding to current workplace trends, servant leadership proactively addresses the evolving needs of the future workforce.

Leaders who invest in their people, create collaborative environments, and champion ethical practices will not only build successful organizations but will ultimately shape a more fulfilling and sustainable future of work.

Overall, effective leaders must not stick to one style. They should evaluate and understand the need of every style and when to implement which style. In Future, most effective leaders are those who are well aware of the situational leadership styles.


What is better than servant leadership?

According to research, Transformational Leaders or situational leadership are comparatively better than servant leadership.  

Effective leaders often blend elements of different styles. For example, a predominantly servant leader might employ more directive measures in the time of crisis. Flexibility and adaptability are key! For this situational leadership is effective. 

What's the opposite of servant leadership?

Autocratic Leadership: Autocratic leaders wield power with little input from their team. They focus on control, issuing directives, and expecting unquestioning obedience. This stands in direct contrast to servant leadership’s emphasis on collaboration and empowerment.

is servant leadership effective?

Servant leadership can be remarkably effective. By prioritizing the growth and well-being of their teams, servant leaders foster empowered, motivated employees who work collaboratively. This translates to greater innovation, ethical practices, and long-term organizational success.

However, it’s important to note that servant leadership requires commitment, and adaptability, and might not be the optimal approach in every situation.

which behavior exemplifies servant leadership?

Servant leaders stand out by actively listening to their team members. They go beyond simply hearing words: they focus on understanding perspectives, needs, and ideas. This involves asking thoughtful questions and creating a space where everyone feels genuinely heard and valued. This deep listening builds trust and paves the way for tailored support and effective collaboration.

what is servant leadership in the bible?

The Bible offers a strong foundation for servant leadership. Key figures like Jesus himself modeled this approach. He prioritized service to others, washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17) and emphasizing leadership as service, not power (Matthew 20:28).

The Bible teaches leaders to be humble shepherds of their flock (1 Peter 5:1-3), putting the needs of others before their own (Philippians 2:3-4). So, while the term “servant leadership” isn’t explicitly used, the core principles are woven throughout scripture.

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