Are You a Servant Leader?

The late Robert Greenleaf once described a leader as being one who first serves.

The servant-leader is servant first… That person is sharply different from one who is leader first.

 Do you see yourself as first leading or first serving? Servant Leadership is to first have a focus on others — not oneself. It goes against many of our notions about leaders and leadership. It is that focus on others that makes a true leader.

The preeminent leadership test, Greenleaf noted, is for leaders to be able to challenge themselves with these three questions:

  • Do those under my leadership grow as persons?
  • Do they become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servant leaders?
  • What is the overall effect of my leadership on those who are under- privileged, and will they benefit by my leadership or not?

  1. How would you answer each of these questions?
  2. Do those under your leadership have an opportunity for personal growth? Give examples.
  3. Are they “healthier, freer, wiser, more autonomous, more likely to become servant leaders” under your leadership?
  4. How does your leadership improve the lives of those in your community who are underprivileged?

These questions can, of course, be used to evaluate our leaders—but first they must be used to evaluate our own leadership style. Most all of us will, at one time or another, be put into a leadership position where others will be dependent upon our direction. This may be in our home, at work, or in a volunteer community group.

In many ways, Greenleaf was an early prophet. He foresaw the chief institutional problem today — too high a priority on telling and too low a priority on doing.

Since Greenleaf, many of today’s management consultants, like Stephen Covey, have built on his work which describes the characteristics of effective leaders:

  • Leaders inspire trust by building relationships.
  • Leaders clarify purpose by creating goals to be achieved.
  • Leaders align systems so that there is no conflict between what they say is important and what results they measure.
  • Leaders unleash talent in other people.

The world is vastly different today and ever-changing. If we can develop leaders who can withstand and embrace the changing times by deeply rooting themselves in these principles of great leadership, then we can develop great people, great teams, and great results.

For more see: The Quality Leadership Workbook, Couper and Lobitz (2017).