• Scott

So you think you know about Servant Leadership?

We have previously posted about the misuse and misunderstanding of "Transformational Leadership" (see blog post here: https://www.visionbridgegroup.com/post/the-5-i-s-of-your-team). Here we will address the same problem with "Servant Leadership."

Servant Leadership is another one of those terms that has been tossed around so much that no one really seems to know what it means anymore. It has become a catch phrase for so many organizations. "We want a servant leader." But, when you ask them to define Servant Leadership they usually respond with something like, "You know. A leader who is a servant." If there's anything I learned in Mrs. Kirby's sixth grade class it is that you can't define a word or phrase with that word or phrase. So, for all of you struggling to define exactly what a Servant Leader is, let me help.

Part of the trouble with Servant Leadership is the diversity of research and researchers involved in its academic study. Dozens of highly regarded professionals have studied Servant Leadership and defined it in slightly different ways. Robert Greenleaf began the study of Servant Leadership in the 1970s and gave us the basic framework for the theory. Greenleaf was followed by several other researchers in the 1990s and 2000s, each with their own slightly unique spin. However, when taken as a whole, there are six elements of Servant Leadership that distinguish in from other popular leadership theories. These are:







Spirituality is not religion. This is a belief that there is something greater than oneself. It includes behaviors such as self-sacrifice for the greater good and covenantal relationships.

Altruism is closely related to Spirituality as believing in something larger than oneself may prompt one to place other's needs ahead of oneself. Altruism involves traits and behaviors such as humility, standing back and letting others receive credit, and subordinating oneself to others.

Healing refers to not just allowing, but facilitating and assisting others in the organization to recover from harmful experiences, particularly those suffered at the hands of poor leaders or organizations.

Empowerment involves enabling others and ensuring they have the skills necessary to succeed, at their work and in other areas of life. As a leader, this involves giving others some degree of freedom in choosing their work.

Stewardship refers to holding something in a trust relationship for the future. This includes valuing the resources of the organization AND the resources of the individual. Further, these resources may not all be physical. Being a good steward includes holding in trust the respect and responsibility others have placed in you. Finally, don't forget to be a good steward of other's time.

Building Community is somewhat self-explanatory. A good Servant Leader consciously and intentionally creates value in the organization, or the larger community, and encourages others to take pride in that community.

You may choose to place different labels on these facets, but each is almost universally understood as a component of good Servant Leadership. The next time someone in your organization says they are looking to hire or develop a "Servant Leader," make sure they understand exactly what they are saying and help them understand the specific traits that make one a Servant Leader.

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