Servant leadership is a holistic leadership approach that engages followers in multiple dimensions (e.g., relational, ethical, emotional, spiritual), such that they are empowered to grow into what they are capable of becoming.
Servant leading seeks first and foremost to develop followers on the basis of leaders’ altruistic and ethical orientations. When followers’ well-being and growth are prioritized, they in turn are more engaged and effective in their work.
Servant leaders see themselves as stewards of the organizations, who seek to grow the resources, financial and otherwise, that have been entrusted to them. As such, they do not ignore performance expectations even though they focus on the personal development of their followers.
Unlike performance-oriented leadership, approaches that often “sacrifice people on the altar of profit and growth,” servant leaders focus on sustainable performance over the long run.
One scholar distilled ten characteristics of the servant-leader. These are:
- Listening, emphasizing the importance of communication and seeking to identify the will of the people.
- Empathy, understanding others and accepting how and what they are.
- Healing, the ability to help make whole.
- Awareness, being awake.
- Persuasion, seeking to influence others relying on arguments not on positional power.
- Conceptualization, thinking beyond the present-day need and stretching it into a possible future.
- Foresight, foreseeing outcomes of situations and working with intuition.
- Stewardship, holding something in trust and serving the needs of others.
- Commitment to the growth of people, nurturing the personal, professional, and spiritual growth of others, and
- Building community, emphasizing that local communities are essential in a person’s life.
Servant leadership is a pattern of leadership that places an emphasis on employees and the community rather than on the leader. A “servant leader” is someone, regardless of level, who leads simply by meeting the needs of the team. The term sometimes describes a person without formal recognition as a leader.
Servant leaders share their power and tend to “lead from behind,” ensuring the team (not the leader) receives recognition for hard work. It has been noted by several researchers that servant leaders are usually empathic, good listeners, perceptive, and committed to growth in the organization and community.
Servant leaders often lead by example. They have high integrity and lead with generosity. Their approach can create a positive corporate culture, and it can lead to high morale team members.
Supporters of the servant leadership model suggest that it is a good way to move ahead in a world where values are increasingly important, and where servant leaders can achieve power because of their values, ideals, and ethics. Servant leadership has been connected with high morale, loyalty, and ethics.
Others believe that people who practice servant leadership can find themselves “left behind” by other leaders, particularly in competitive situations. This style also takes time to apply correctly: It is ill-suited to situations where, for example, a leader has to make quick decisions or meet tight deadlines.