Servant leadership emphasizes the leader's role as steward of the resources (human, financial, technological, etc.) provided by the organisation. It encourages leaders to serve others while staying focused on achieving results in line with the organisation's vision, mission and values.
The concept of servant leadership goes back millennia. In the 4th century B.C., we find the following passage written by Chanakaya, an adviser in to the leader of the Maurya Dynasty of India:
The king [leader] shall consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects [followers] ... the king [leader] is a paid servant and enjoys the resources of the state together with the people.
The modern concept of servant leadership owes its existence to Robert K. Greenleaf. He felt that the power-centred authoritarian leadership style, so prominent in the United States, was not working. The following statement by Greenleaf in 1970 summarizes his thinking:
The servant-leader is servant first... Becoming a servant-leader begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first... The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant, first to make sure that other people's highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and the most difficult to administer, is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?
One of the most significant ways leaders can commit themselves to the growth and development of others is by coaching and/or mentoring their direct reports. Viewed through the lens of servant leadership, every manager or leader should also be a coach to those subordinates with whom they share a close working relationship.
Larry Spears, who served for 17 years as the head of the Greenleaf Centre of Servant Leadership, identified ten characteristics of servant leaders: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of others, and building community.
Dr. Kent Keith who is the current CEO of the Greenleaf Center, identifies seven key characteristics of servant leaders: self-awareness, listening, changing the pyramid (management structure), developing your colleagues, coaching not controlling, unleashing the energy and intelligence of others, and foresight.
James Sipe and Don Frick regard servant leaders as people of character, put people first, are skilled communicators, compassionate collaborators, use foresight, are systems thinkers, and exercise moral authority.
In the Tao Te Ching, attributed to Lao-Tzu, who is believed to have lived in China sometime between 570 B.C. and 490 B.C. we find the following passage:
The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware. Next comes one whom they love and praise. Next comes one whom they fear. Next comes one whom they despise and defy.
What all these commentators on servant leadership agree on is that key attribute of a servant leader is humility—having a modest opinion or estimate of your own importance.
One of the most valued and rewarding attributes of a servant leader is the ability to coach others. However, before you can become efficacious coach to your team, you will first need to earn their respect. Your ability to earn their respect is dependent on your character—how successful you have become in developing your self-leadership skills, and your competence—how knowledgeable and experienced you are in your line of work, and your ability to generate results. It is not a question of being liked; it is about being respected as a human being and a professional.
Respect is an end value that depends on several means values. We earn the respect of others when we display the character and competency qualities shown in the following table. (Click table to enlarge)
Chapter 16: External Cohesion in Teams (Servant Leadership)