The concept of servant leadership has been around for a while but has received growing consideration over the last decade because of its positive individual and organizational outcomes.
According to a 2021 NCBI study, Servant Leadership: A Systematic Literature Review and Network Analysis, “the moral nature of leaders has started to be considered not only necessary for the good of society but also essential for sustainable organizational success.”
Service before self is becoming the mantra of our time. And servant leadership has become a defining characteristic of organizations that are attractive to employees, successful in their industry, and impactful on society at large.
What is servant leadership?
Coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in his essay, The Servant as Leader, the term “servant leader” means one who focuses primarily on the well-being of their employees and the communities they’re part of. They are a servant first and foremost, always putting the needs of their team above their own. In contrast to traditional forms of top-down leadership, servant leadership is a philosophical approach, a set of behaviors and practices, that emphasizes the growth and humanity of the employees being served.
What sets the servant leader apart is that they put the well-being, growth, and success of those they lead and manage before their own personal ambitions. They see their success as measured by their employees’ successes, and thus have a greater incentive to lead by example and invest in the growth of their team. They weigh their responsibility to their team as greater than their responsibility to the company’s bottom line.
A servant leader is someone who others genuinely want to follow.
A servant leader is someone who others genuinely want to follow.
Why is servant leadership important?
In today’s workforce climate, it’s imperative to adopt the practice of servant leadership if you want to be a successful leader or manager. Putting a strong emphasis on workplace culture, pay equity, and fair employment practices, employees today are done putting up with managers and leaders who don’t live out the values of their organization.
According to the Pew Research Center, more than 40% of the workforce is already made up of Millenials and Gen Z — and this percentage will only continue to rise.
These generations have made it clear that their top priority when choosing an employer is that the company cares about the overall well-being and development of its employees. According to Gallup, the primary characteristic that Millennial and Gen Z job candidates are looking for in an employer is that they “care about their employees’ well-being.” This differs from previous generations, whose primary concern is to work for an ethical organization, and instead demonstrates the importance of caring leadership in the future of our workforce.
Advance your career and purpose.
Start a graduate degree at PLNU.
Servant leadership traits and skills
Arguably displaying the most intentional form of leadership, the servant leader sees their own long-term success defined by the success of those they lead. To lead this way requires humility and the ability to acknowledge when you’re wrong, and for most of modern history, admitting fault was unheard of among executive-level managers. That practice, however, has not aged well as more and more of those engaged in and entering the labor force want leadership that demonstrates humility.
There are traits and skills to being a servant leader that must be learned and practiced continuously — even the most renowned leaders are not perfect. Despite your best intentions, you may sometimes fall short of these criteria.
Let’s use a common scenario in any work environment:
What would happen if your boss was unsatisfied with your team’s output?
- How would you respond?
- By taking full responsibility and protecting your team and co-workers, or throwing someone under the bus to your boss in order to avoid the blame?
You’ve probably been there before and know that these situations can arise quickly or without warning. Often, you don’t have much time to consider how you should act, and it’s easy to protect yourself without considering what would happen to others. That’s why it’s crucial to cultivate your beliefs into practice so that when the moment counts, you’ll be there for the people you work with, those you care about, and those who depend on you.
How to become a servant leader
Servant leadership is a practice. It’s a daily process of learning and unlearning fundamental habits you may have as a leader that contribute to your employees’ experience and your company’s growth. Becoming a servant leader often means going against any base instincts of self-protection and self-promotion, and instead, choosing to rise above those instincts in order to help those below you. It means lowering yourself so you can raise up the people who you are responsible for and ensure their success, growth, and positive well-being.
With intentional time and effort, servant leadership is something that can be learned.
Though this is not a one-size-fits-all journey, there are three important qualities that all servant leaders must possess:
To become a leader who truly makes a difference, you must devote time to growing your emotional intelligence, the ability to acknowledge how you feel and respond instead of react. As millions of new graduates enter the workforce, it’s important for leaders to model this vital characteristic to their employees and future leaders.
Awareness of self and others is crucial to being a servant leader. In “How to Become a Better Leader,” published by the MIT Sloan Management Review, self-awareness was found to be the most important capability for leaders. When you’re self-aware, you can adjust your behavior to change how you’re perceived by your employees and how you make them feel. The bottom line: understanding yourself is key to cultivating who you will become.
This is where the leader part of servant leadership comes into play. Larry C. Spears, CEO of the Larry C. Spears Center for Servant Leadership, argues that “the servant leader seeks to convince others, rather than coerce compliance. This particular element offers one of the clearest distinctions between the traditional authoritarian model and that of servant leadership.”
The servant leader seeks to convince others, rather than coerce compliance.
Take the next step at PLNU
Invest in the success of your employees and business by becoming a servant leader. In PLNU’s M.A. in Organizational Leadership program, you’ll have the opportunity to discover your management and leadership styles and learn how to apply your strengths through the lens of servant leadership. Through personal leadership assessments and rigorous academic work, gain crucial tools that can be applied immediately in your career and life.