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Servant Leadership

Servant leadership is a very popular leadership model. It was developed by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970.

According to Greenleaf, the servant leader serves the people he/she leads. Servant leadership is meant to replace command and control models of leadership, to be more focused on the needs of others. Servant leaders strive to be selfless or at least less ego-focused than leaders who are only in it for their own glory and personal rewards.

What do Servant Leaders Do?

Servant leaders devote themselves to serving the needs of organization members, focus on meeting the needs of those they lead, develop employees to bring out the best in them, coach others and encourage their self expression, facilitate personal growth in all who work with them and listen well to build a sense of community and joint ownership

Servant leaders are felt to be effective because the needs of followers are so looked after that they reach their full potential, hence perform at their best. A strength of this way of looking at leadership is that it forces us away from self-serving, domineering leadership and makes those in charge think harder about how to respect, value and motivate people reporting to them.

Commentators who write about servant leadership have sightly differing views about the values and priorities of servant leaders but here is a representative list:

  • Collaboration: To ensure that all stakeholders feel engaged and valued, servant leaders strive to avoid a command and control leadership style. Instead they foster joint ownership by including all concerned in the making of all key strategic decisions.
  • Communication: Not being overly egotistical, they have no hidden agenda, thus they tend to communicate openly and fully rather than leave people in the dark.
  • Community Service: Doing what's right is a high priority for servant leaders and they want to do all they can to improve the well-being of their communities instead of saying it's somebody else's problem.
  • Helping People: Servant leaders gain a great deal of satisfaction out of helping people. At work they enjoy developing people and seeing them grow, perhaps more than their own advancement.
  • Empathy: Servant leaders are sensitive to the needs and feelings of others, quick to pick up on signs of hurt or anger and to help people overcome negative feelings.
  • People's Needs: Servant leaders pay a lot of attention to the needs of others, often putting them ahead of their own. This is perhaps the essence of servant leadership.

Servant leadership, like any concept, should be examined critically rather than simply accepted. Taking a critical look at any idea is our best way of trying to evaluate it objectively and to come to an informed opinion about it. 

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