Servant leadership--though long heard in sacred circles, Robert Greenleaf brought the term to business in 1970, stating:

A servant leader is one that wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions. The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.

This servant model of leadership gives the focus to building people as the means to successfully accomplishing objectives. The servant leader understands that a strategy or tactic, no matter how well planned, will never outpace the people charged with accomplishing it.  Servant leaders give their lives to equipping others to succeed, placing their own success in the background.

Typically those who are effective servant leaders possess two things. First, they display a strong aptitude in the EMPOWERMENT score on the Keller Influence Indicator®. Second, a servant leader possesses a conscious will to serve others rather than seek power or rewards for themself. They understand their true reward comes from seeing others succeed.

Here are some ways to improve your servant leadership qualities:

Know Your Prime Purpose is to Grow People

Servant leaders see people as people, not pawns to help the leader accomplish his or her personal goals.  As humans, we all come pre-equipped with emotions, freewill, and our own goals. This isn’t an available-option-package a hirer or leader can exclude. This unique human wiring is essential to success and our possession of these attributes is why robots cannot fulfill a majority of organizational roles. We need all that it means to be human brought to the challenges and needs at hand.

When you take on the title leader, it is people you lead. Tasks and actions don’t happen by themselves. A task doesn’t respond to leadership. People create AND accomplish them. Therefore, building people is the means to better tactics and actions and ultimately organizational success. If you don’t like people, don’t get into leadership!

See Yourself as the "First Among Equals"

This is a shift from leading from above. The traditional pyramid model of leadership says power and benefits start at the top and flow downward. One wants to accede to the top of the pyramid so that you get first dibs. Servant leaders, in contrast, have an inverted pyramid model, where they are the foundational piece on which others may rest as means to their success. This means a servant leader isn’t the first to receive credit, accolades, and benefits. In fact, they are the last.

To accomplish this, we need to change our mental picture. Instead of imagining yourself as a leader away from the front lines in the General’s tent, barking orders, instead imagine you are on a battlefield where you are first over the hill-of-the-unknown. You are willing to risk taking a bullet for a team member and endangering yourself to carry a wounded team member back to safety. The personal care exhibited ensures a high degree of commitment from the team towards the leader, often including willingness to lay down their own lives for the cause or leader.

Embrace the Fear and Grow Yourself Out of a Job

If your team doesn’t have members on it who challenge you because their competence, talents and abilities exceed yours, then you have the wrong people on the bus. Great servant leaders want to see others surpass them. They aren’t afraid to bring highly talented onto the team. Many dictatorial leaders fear anyone that has the potential to rise above them, and thus, they fail to develop any people who are perceived threats, even quashing other potential because of perceived rivalry and their own insecurities. Dictatorial leaders desire to hire only minions who do their bidding. Servant leaders realize that growing a person to the point where they surpass the leader IS the measure of success. And this rarely leads to less influence for the servant leader. People that grow others tend to be cherished by the organization, because everyone perceives the value a more effective team. If you lose your role or position because you equipped someone to succeed, you probably need to be out of that organizational structure, as it is toxic.

Stretch Others Courageously

Servant leaders are often perceived as timid by the power hungry. Dictatorial leaders think the universe revolves around him or her. They measure power and influence by the degree of command and control they possess. In contrast, a servant leader understands they are simply a planet in vast universe and measures influence by how many people they have equipped to empower others.

Any perception that servant leaders are weak is far from the truth. In fact, more strength is required to reign in selfishness ambitions and to risk empowering others. Servant leaders are very willing to challenge and push people toward their full potential even before the recipient of the challenge is often a willing participant. It has been said, “A servant leader believes in us before we believe in ourselves.” This requires in the servant leader a level of risk that those being equipped might never believe in ourselves or rise to expectations.

The servant leader probes to assess the individual’s potential. Once assessed, they then serve as catalyst for change, increasing the individual’s strengths, pointing out blind spots, and diminishing weaknesses. NO element of this process is a comfortable task, as we all tend to fear being assessed and often dislike challenge, being very comfortable with the status quo. The building people process requires strength and courage from the servant leader as must speak uncomfortable truths into the lives of others to see growth.

Additionally, the best servant leaders fail to give up on others after the others have become frustrated and given up on themselves. There is a reason the failure to give up on others is the storyline of many of the best films and novels. The courage to do so is ennobling.

Ask and Listen

Good servant leaders know they have two ears and one mouth. They listen carefully, assess, and then speak.  Servant leaders posses a catalog of profound questions they are willing to ask of others. Here are a few questions with which to start.

Ask individual team members:

  • What obstacles are in your way that I can help remove?
  • What tools do you need that you are lacking?
  • What are you personal goals and how can I help you accomplish them?

Listen carefully to their answers! Note them and begin to establish an action plan to help them acquire what they need.

Reflect on your team and ask:

  • Who can I ask to be a part of this decision that isn’t typically involved?
  • What are each of my team members strong and weak traits? (Hint, the Keller Influence Indicator® and SOCr ® report are great tools in this regard.)
  • Who is succeeding and how can I better equip them? Who is falling behind and are they recoverable?

By effectively asking questions, the leader gains real insight into the energy neeed to truly develop each team member as an individual.

The world needs more servant leaders! You have the potential to be a world changer as you exhibit the qualities of a servant leader. Take the initiative to shift your focus to equipping others. Start today!

Stay tuned for the second part of our Servant Leadership series coming next week. 


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From regional manager to international executive with quadruple the pay, Karen Keller’s unique blueprint carefully outlined the step-by-step process for creating high-impact influence and let me know when I was being influenced in a way that didn’t serve me.
Lloyd Moore
Global Director Supplier Quality & Development - Lear Corporation – South Carolina