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Robert Greenleaf published his essay “The Servant as Leader” in 1970, effectively coining the term “servant leader.” The essay details how there’s more to being a leader than decision-making skills—the people you lead have to trust you and believe you have their best interests at heart. The servant leadership theory puts an emphasis on facilitating the growth of people around you and serving the needs of others. It is one of many ways to make an effective leader.



Diane von Furstenberg Teaches Building a Fashion BrandDiane von Furstenberg Teaches Building a Fashion Brand

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What Is Servant Leadership?

The concept of servant leadership takes an altruistic approach to leading by focusing on the support and growth of others. A true servant leader is a servant first, serving others to not only help produce quality results but to improve their professional growth as well (whereas leader-first roles are usually more about power and acquisition of control).

A servant leader focuses more on involving team members in the day-to-day decision-making processes of the business than a more authoritative, traditional leader would. Servant leadership skills help connect coworkers at both the management and employee level, building an efficient, synergistic engine. Learn more about the different types of leadership here.

What Are the Characteristics of a Servant Leadership?

The idea of servant leadership encompasses many qualities beyond “the servant as leader.” Some of the key characteristics of servant leaders include:

  • Strong decision-making skills: The servant leadership philosophy emphasizes people’s needs. A good leader still has to use their knowledge and experience to make a conscious choice in order to benefit the business or company, and it may not always be an easy choice. However, a strong servant leader isn’t afraid to make an unpopular decision or offer critical feedback when necessary.
  • Emotional intelligence: Business leaders can still be empathetic leaders, and the servant leadership style pays attention to and understands the needs of others. A great leader listens well and takes the perspectives and experiences of others into account.
  • A sense of community: Building community is important for colleagues and coworkers, especially in a shared team environment. Providing breaks to discuss a non-work-related activity, organizing social events, and creating ways for workers to communicate with one another are all ways servant leaders can officiate a strong community within their business space, keeping their employees engaged and mentally stimulated.
  • Self-awareness: A rounded understanding of various servant leadership approaches requires self-awareness. Consciousness of how your own behavior affects those around you is essential. Managing your emotions and behavior, especially during critical moments, is key to establishing trust and openness among your team members.
  • Foresight: A servant leader uses their past experiences to inform the expectations about the future. They are able to think ahead and see the likely outcomes or consequences of potential actions. Servant leaders also know when to follow their instincts based on the knowledge they’ve gained over the years.
  • Commitment to others: The servant leadership model is just as much about the professional development and well-being of others as it is about the bottom line. The more efficient the workers are, the better the business does, so it behooves the leader to focus on how to improve their team members’ abilities. The servant leadership role also extends to personal growth, where those in charge can assign additional responsibilities to anyone looking to further improve their skills and achieve their personal goals.
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