Servant Leadership – How Meeting the Needs of Your Team Can Make You a More Effective Leader

A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better.– Jim Rohn, American entrepreneur.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

Why Servant Leadership?

Through servant leadership, your team learns to trust you,  knowing that you are  “there for them.”  Simply checking in often to see how they are, and by helping them develop the skills they need to advance their careers, even if this means that they may move on, are some of the most rewarding servant leadership aspects-it creates a win:win situation!

Make an effort to see situations from others’ perspectives and base your decisions with the team’s best interests in mind–ensure that everyone has the resources and knowledge they need to meet their objectives.

As a result , your team will be one of the most successful in the department, with low staff turnover and high engagement. People don’t leave their jobs…they leave their managers. By exercising some of these practices, chances are that your team will stay with you.

In this article, we explore what servant leadership is, and the advantages it can bring you as a leader. We’ll also look at situations where it isn’t appropriate.

What Is Servant Leadership?

Robert K. Greenleaf first coined the phrase “servant leadership” in his 1970 essay, “The Servant as a Leader.” However, it’s an approach that people have used for centuries.

As a servant leader, you’re a “servant first” – you focus on the needs of others, especially team members, before you consider your own. You acknowledge other people’s perspectives, give them the support they need to meet their work and personal goals, involve them in decisions where appropriate, and build a sense of community within your team. This leads to higher engagement, more trust, and stronger relationships with team members and other stakeholders. It can also lead to increased innovation.

Servant leadership is not a leadership style or technique as such. Rather it’s a way of behaving that you adopt over the longer term. It complements democratic leadership styles, and it has similarities with Transformational Leadership – which is often the most effective style to use in business situations – and Level 5 Leadership – which is where leaders demonstrate humility in the way they work.

However, servant leadership is problematic in hierarchical, autocratic cultures where managers and leaders are expected to make all the decisions. Here, servant leaders may struggle to earn respect.


Remember that servant leadership is about focusing on other people’s needs – not their feelings. Don’t avoid making unpopular decisions or giving team members negative feedback when this is needed.

Also, do not rely on it exclusively – use it alongside styles like Transformational Leadership, where you develop an inspiring vision of the future, motivate people to deliver this, manage its implementation, and build an ever-stronger team.

How to Become a Servant Leader

According to Larry C. Spears, former president of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, these are the 10 most important characteristics of servant leaders:

  1. Listening
  2. Empathy
  3. Healing
  4. Awareness
  5. Persuasion
  6. Conceptualization
  7. Foresight
  8. Stewardship
  9. Commitment to the growth of people
  10. Building community

From “Character and Servant Leadership: 10 Characteristics of Effective, Caring Leaders” by Larry C. Spears, published in “The Journal of Virtues and Leadership,” Vol. 1, Issue 1. Reproduced with permission.

Once you’ve decided to prioritize other people’s needs over your own in the long term, you can work on developing your skills in each area. Let’s look at how you can do this.

1. Listening

You’ll serve people better when you make a deep commitment to listening intently to them and understanding what they’re saying. To improve your listening skills, give people your full attention, take notice of their body language, avoid interrupting them before they’ve finished speaking, and give feedback on what they say.

2. Empathy

Servant leaders strive to understand other people’s intentions and perspectives. You can be more empathetic by putting aside your viewpoint temporarily, valuing others’ perspectives, and approaching situations with an open mind.

3. Healing

This characteristic relates to the emotional health and “wholeness” of people, and involves supporting them both physically and mentally.

First, make sure that your people have the knowledge, support and resources they need to do their jobs effectively, and that they have a healthy workplace. Then take steps to help them be happy and engaged in their roles.

You could also use a tool such as the Triple Bottom Line to think about how your organization can make a positive impact on the people you lead and the customers you serve.

4. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to look at yourself, think deeply about your emotions and behavior, and consider how they affect the people around you and align with your values.

You can become more self-aware by knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and asking for other people’s feedback on them. Also, learn to manage your emotions, so that you consider how your actions and behavior might affect others.

5. Persuasion

Servant leaders use persuasion – rather than their authority – to encourage people to take action. They also aim to build consensus in groups so that everyone supports decisions.

There are many tools and models that you can use to be more persuasive, without damaging relationships or taking advantage of others. You should also build your expert power – when people perceive you as an expert, they are more likely to listen to you when you want to persuade or inspire them.

6. Conceptualization

This characteristic relates to your ability to “dream great dreams,” so that you look beyond day-to-day realities to the bigger picture.

If you’re a senior leader in your company, work through and develop a robust organizational strategy. Then, whatever level you’re at, create mission and vision statements for your team, and make it clear how people’s roles tie in with your team’s and organization’s long-term objectives. Also, develop long-term focus so that you stay motivated to achieve your more distant goals, without getting distracted.


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