What is Servant Leadership? Principles, Characteristics, and Examples (2023)

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What is Servant Leadership? Principles, Characteristics, and Examples (1)

Servant leadership is quite different from the traditional authoritarian leadership style. It involves placing the needs of employees and customers before the leader’s needs. It is a form of leadership that promotes engagement and motivation, allowing people to find a greater sense of worth in their work. So, if you aspire to become a successful leader and cultivate a culture of motivation, trust, and healthy work-life balance in your organization, learning what servant leadership is, its different aspects, importance, and benefits are crucial to you. This blog covers everything you need to know!

What is Servant Leadership?

Robert K. Greenleaf, the founder of the modern servant leadership movement, first discussed the idea of servant leadership in an essay called The Servant as Leader, published in 1970. Greenleaf explained that servant leaders support their employees, allowing them to learn and grow through inclusive leadership. They focus on creating an environment where the team can do their job well, thus positively impacting business growth.

Servant leadership enables employees to put an optimal effort into achieving the organization’s objectives as they feel included and valued by leaders. He chose the term “servant leadership” because the concept overturns conventional leadership theories.

Examples of Servant Leadership


Starbucks is a prime example of a company that has successfully adopted the servant leadership model. The company’s leadership has implemented various mentorship programs, including the Starbucks College Achievement Plan and Pathway to Admission program. In addition, Starbucks has created a Leadership Lab program that offers employees a chance to develop their leadership skills through hands-on training and coaching. Starbucks provides extensive guidance to its employees for job training and personal development. For example, the company’s “Coffee Master” program trains baristas to become experts in coffee tasting and brewing techniques while also encouraging them to develop their unique coffee blends. All of these programs and initiatives are available to every employee at Starbucks, from baristas to executives, highlighting the company’s commitment to serving the needs of its employees and fostering a culture of continuous learning and development.

Mahatma Gandhi

Another excellent example of servant leadership is Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian independence leader. His approach to leadership was based on serving the needs of others and empowering them to take charge of their own lives. Gandhi focused on building relationships with his followers, understanding their needs and motivations, and helping them to achieve their goals. His servant leadership approach inspired millions of people to join the Indian independence movement, and his legacy continues to influence leaders worldwide today.

The Importance of Servant Leadership

Servant leadership is crucial in today’s rapidly changing and complex world as it prioritizes the needs of employees and customers. It fosters a culture of trust, collaboration, and innovation. As employees today prefer managers who focus on workplace culture, pay equity, and fair employment practices, servant leadership is imperative to meet these requirements. Servant leaders focus on empowering and developing their employees rather than simply directing them, which leads to higher job satisfaction, increased motivation, and better performance. Servant leadership also benefits organizations. It can help organizations build strong customer relationships, improve their reputation, and ultimately increase their bottom line.

Characteristics of Servant Leadership

Let’s understand the concept of what is servant leadership better through its characteristics.

1. Empathy

Leaders often strive to create a safe and supportive environment for their employees. Using a servant leadership approach, leaders can create a positive work environment and work together to build a stronger and more collaborative culture at work. It also helps create a healthy work-life balance and fosters employee trust.

2. Accountability

Taking responsibility for what has been entrusted to you is an important feature of servant leadership. Servant leaders take responsibility for their organization’s and its stakeholders’ well-being, ensuring that resources are being used wisely and ethically. They hold themselves and others accountable for their actions and decisions.

3. Building a Community

Servant leaders strive to foster relationships between team members, improving trust, productivity, and a sense of community. The web of connections encourages empathy among people, apart from flowing between the leader and the rest of the team.

4. Commitment to People’s Growth

Servant leaders remain committed to the growth of their respective team members, whether it is professional or personal. When an individual prioritizes serving others, the team receives the resources and support they need to succeed.

How Does Servant Leadership Work in Practice

Here is how you can put this style of leadership into practice. Showing why the work is essential, including awareness and purpose, team members tend to prioritize their work and respective goals when they understand how it impacts the larger organizational goals. So, helping the team members understand that their work matters is a crucial responsibility of a servant leader. The leader can do their part by acknowledging more minor achievements and reminding the team of the bigger picture they will contribute to over time.

Encouraging Collaboration—Community-Building and Commitment

Servant leaders know that teams are stronger when they work together. They encourage team collaboration by giving each member space to grow. They help create a sense of community that benefits individuals and the organization.

Caring for Team Members—Empathy and Compassion

What is Servant Leadership? Principles, Characteristics, and Examples (3)

Servant leadership is based on emphasizing the importance of empathy and compassion toward team members. Doing so helps establish a trust culture where employees feel valued and supported. Servant leaders can demonstrate empathy and compassion in various ways:

  • By being approachable to their team members
  • Acknowledging and addressing their team members’ concerns and needs
  • Providing emotional support and encouragement
  • Celebrating successes and milestones together as a team

Supporting the Team’s Growth and Development—Foresight and Resourcefulness

A servant leader can help the team grow and develop by creating learning opportunities to support the team members in reaching their goals. Servant leaders contribute to their team’s professional growth by giving the members plenty of opportunities to take on leadership roles during group projects, education or development programs, and expand their existing skills,

Asking for Feedback—Listening Skills

Servant leaders prioritize active listening. They try to improve their leadership skills by asking for feedback from their team members. Communication and decision-making skills remain significant aspects of servant leaders. However, one of the most important characteristics of servant leadership is to actively listen to their team members and ensure effective and open communication.

Be an Example—Humility, Authenticity, and Trust

Humility must be the foundation of servant leadership. If leaders speak out of superiority and power, their subordinates will do what they say out of fear. Instead, their actions and words should be a credible and genuine model to follow. A servant leader always collaborates with team members and leads by example.

ALSO READ: Top Leadership Styles and Skills You Need to Become a Future-Proof Leader

Principles of Servant Leadership

In his essay on servant leadership, Greenleaf established different principles of servant leadership, as mentioned below.

  1. Listening: Listen to your team without interrupting.
  2. Empathy: Understand and care about the needs of others and create a supportive work environment.
  3. Healing: Create a healthy work-life balance that promotes well-being and the growth of your team members and the organization.
  4. Self-awareness: This involves understanding one’s strengths, weaknesses, values, and emotions to serve others better.
  5. Persuasion: Use persuasion instead of just the position of authority to get team members to listen.
  6. Conceptualization: Think with the bigger picture to conceptualize team and organization plans.
  7. Foresight: Use the learnings of today to improve in the future.
  8. Stewardship: Lead by example so your team can do what the leaders do, not just what they say.

How to Become a “Servant First” Leader?

Here is how you can take the first step to implementing this leadership style.

1. Start Putting Others First

It is important to develop selflessness to be an effective leader, which means a servant leader must look out for the goals and well-being of others before thinking about their own goals.

2. Work on Self-Awareness

Observe yourself when you interact with your team members. Pay attention to what you say and its impact on your employees and those around you. Part of this is also recognizing where your actions do not align with your ideal vision of yourselves and determining a clear path to rectify it.

3. Learn to Use Influence for Good

Persuasion is one of the most convenient characteristics of a good leader. If the team is divided over a topic or an issue, they may need to bring their persuasion skills and influence the members to reach a unanimous decision.

4. Develop Empathy

Empathy is the ability of a leader to put themselves in another person’s shoes and see things from others’ perspectives. This is a vital skill to practice if a person wants to become a transformational leader.

5. Build Strong Communication Skills

An individual must be able to communicate organizational objectives and missions clearly to get the most out of the team. It enables them to be properly equipped to make wise decisions. Working on communication skills will help leaders achieve this goal.

6. Improve Listening Skills

Servant leadership is all about hearing the team members’ points of view. Leaders must practice active listening skills to understand their decision-making process.

Develop Your Leadership Skills with Emeritus

Servant leadership focuses on serving others first. The philosophy emphasizes people, relationships, and teamwork over tasks, profits, and power. To be effective as a servant leader, you must learn the leadership style in detail to enhance your team’s performance, development, and experience. Explore Emeritus online leadership courses to learn more about the basics of leadership and be open to new ideas on organizational management.

By Aditi Sharma
Write to us at content@emeritus.org


What is Servant Leadership? Principles, Characteristics, and Examples? ›

A servant leader is dedicated to the growth of others as well as values-driven institutions that contribute to just, caring, and sustainable societies. Being a servant leader means valuing the power of teamwork as a necessary part of strengthening an organization's growth and success.

What is servant leadership and its characteristics? ›

A servant leader is dedicated to the growth of others as well as values-driven institutions that contribute to just, caring, and sustainable societies. Being a servant leader means valuing the power of teamwork as a necessary part of strengthening an organization's growth and success.

What is servant leadership and give an example? ›

Examples of servant leadership behavior might include empathetic discussion with employees about their performance and future progression; active listening to discover any hidden problems as well as make staff feel heard; an open attitude to discussion and collaboration; and being accountable not just to superiors but ...

What are the key principles of servant leadership? ›

The main principles of servant leadership are listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community.

Who is a good example of a servant leader? ›

Abraham Lincoln is one example of a servant leader. Lincoln's actions during the US Civil War are often cited as prime examples of servant leadership behavior (Hubbard, 2011). In particular, many scholars look to his preservation of the Union during this conflict and the freeing of the Southern slaves.

What is the first characteristic of the servant leadership approach? ›

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.

Who is an example of a servant leader alive today? ›

Fred Smith, CEO of FedEx

Smith is a true servant leader who believes that pleased employees lead to happy customers which in turn makes a profit for his company. The company's famous People-Service-Profit policy, which is the foundation of its growth and success, emerged from Smith's servant leadership principles.

What is the best thing about servant leadership? ›

Some of the advantages of servant leadership are that leaders earn respect from their employees; employees feel valued and that management is looking out for their interests; there is a shared vision; there is often greater trust among employees and leaders; leaders consider the opinions of staff, which is likely to ...

What is the servant leadership style? ›

The servant leadership style is based on the idea that leaders prioritize serving the greater good. Leaders with this style serve their team and organization first. They don't prioritize their own objectives. Employees in a servant leadership environment are more likely to feel that their voices are heard.

What is one example of a servant leader behavior pattern? ›

Listens and Empathises

Values and strives to understand others: their world view, strengths, feelings, and aspirations. Adapts his own communication style to meet the needs and expectations of the other person. A lifelong learner who strives to become a better leader and a better person.

What is the golden rule in servant leadership? ›

A servant leader believes that everyone is valuable and is deserving of trust and respect. They live by the “Golden Rule”- treat others as they would wish to be treated and lead with trust. Trust is the very cornerstone of all they do, and they perceive the need to be empathetic towards others.

What are the three most unique elements of servant leadership? ›

Three Key Elements To Be A Servant Leader
  1. Serve and add value for others. ...
  2. Create a healthy culture: Encourage respect, trust and value for one another. ...
  3. Empower others to grow and become leaders.
Dec 13, 2022

What is servant leader in simple words? ›

Servant leadership is a style based on the desire to serve and give to your community. By putting the needs of others first, you empower people to perform at their best. When members of the community see your passion and your commitment through your actions, they want to be connected to you.

What are the 7 attitudes of a servant? ›

Table of Contents
  • 1: Honor Others (Before Yourself)
  • 2: Inspire Vision (Before Setting The Course)
  • 3: Choose Ethics (Before Profit)
  • 4: Empower Others (Before Personal Gain)
  • 5: Privilege People (Before Tasks)
  • 6: Balance Focus With Flexibility (Before Making Decisions)
  • 7: Serve With Humility (Before All Else)

What is another name for servant leadership? ›

Conscious Leadership:

Of course, plenty of other people use the term servant leadership in the workplace context.

How do you practice servant leadership? ›

Tips for Practicing Servant Leadership in Organizations
  1. Empowering and developing people: Encourage your followers by providing them with the tools they need to be successful. ...
  2. Humility: Acknowledge other's contributions to projects. ...
  3. Authenticity: Be honest with yourself and with those whom you work.
Mar 9, 2023

What is the importance of servant leadership? ›

What sets the servant leader apart is that they put the well-being, growth, and success of those they lead and manage before their own personal ambitions. They see their success as measured by their employees' successes, and thus have a greater incentive to lead by example and invest in the growth of their team.

Which response is most characteristic of a servant leader? ›

Servant Leaders Are Empathetic

Empathy is key to helping a team grow. Servant leaders listen with empathy, understand with empathy, lead with empathy, and encourage empathetic behaviors in their employees. This characteristic is essential for building high-performance teams (without hurting team members' well-being).

What are 2 examples of servant leaders? ›

Servant Leadership Examples

You don't have to look very far to find examples of servant leadership throughout history—Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Jr. being some of the most well-known.

What is servant leadership in today's society? ›

Servant leadership is a powerful approach to leading others that can help individuals and organisations achieve great things. Leaders who put the needs of others first create more engaged and productive employees, build trust within the organisation and create a positive workplace culture.

What is servant leadership as core values? ›

Servant leadership encourages individuals to serve others while staying focused on achieving results in line with the organization's values. This core value demonstrates both internal and external character. In an athletic setting a team's chances for success are increased when its members become servant-leaders.

How can you tell when you are being a servant? ›

Servant-leaders use people's strengths, aspirations, and capabilities as guides for evaluation. Egotistical leaders compare people's performance with their own. Servant-leaders don't impose their strengths on others. Ego wants others to act like itself and pressures people to do things the way it would do them.

What are the 7 dimensions of servant leadership? ›

The 7 dimension are: emotional healing, Creating value for the community, conceptual skill, empowering, Helping subordinates grow and succeed, putting subordinates first, behaving ethically. The latest addition to the fast-growing number of servant leadership measures was developed by Van Dierendonck and Nuijten.

What are the 11 pillars of servant leadership? ›

The ultimate servant leader has developed all 11 characteristics and is continuously improving. These characteristics include having a calling, listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, concep tualization, foresight, stewardship, growth and building community.

What are the 12 core values of servant leadership? ›

The following is a list of 12 characteristics that Servant Leaders (and the organizations they serve) should possess.
  • Listening. Leaders have traditionally been valued for their communication and decision-making skills. ...
  • Empathy. ...
  • Awareness. ...
  • Healing. ...
  • Persuasion. ...
  • Conceptualization. ...
  • Foresight. ...
  • Stewardship.
Mar 13, 2019

What are the 10 characteristics of a true servant leader? ›

This article examines a set of ten characteristics of the servant leader that are of critical importance. They are: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community.

What are the 8 dimensions of servant leadership? ›

These eight dimensions, or characteristics, of servant leaders are empowerment, accountability, standing back, humility, authenticity, courage, interpersonal acceptance and stewardship.

What are the 6 dimensions of servant leadership? ›

Servant leadership is measured from six dimensions, namely: Voluntary Subordination, Authentic Self, Covenantal Relationship, Responsible Morality, Transcendental Spirituality and Transforming Influence by using SLBS (Servant Leadership Behavior Scale).

What are the first three C's of servant leadership culture? ›

This leadership style requires an individual to demonstrate characteristics such as empathy, listening, stewardship, and commitment to the personal growth of others.

What is the motto about servant leadership? ›

Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge. Servant leadership is all about making the goals clear and then rolling your sleeves up and doing whatever it takes to help people win. In that situation, they don't work for you; you work for them.”


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