The organizations and leaders I most admire practice and promote servant leadership, so it’s no surprise that this concept is one I discuss regularly at speaking engagements. In fact, servant leadership is a frequently-used term around the organization where I work. It feels like second nature to bring up this discipline to other executives and entrepreneurs, but the more I travel and speak to diverse groups of people, the more I realize that servant leadership is a foreign concept to so many.
To me, leadership and servant leadership are synonymous. It’s how leaders should lead.
The term “servant leadership” was first coined by Robert Greenleaf in his 1970 essay “The Servant as Leader.” Although servant-leaders existed before this time, Greenleaf put language around the concept and outlined how the philosophy works. Greenleaf explains, “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.” He recognized that the best leaders are servants first, and he wanted to encourage other people to lead out of a desire to meet the needs of others. The Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership expands this concept with its definition for servant-leader:
A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.
Servant leadership is others-centered. It’s a commitment to working to see others grow. It’s a desire to meet their needs. It’s choosing to value other people above your time, your status, and your income. It’s certainly not glamorous or easy, but it’s significant.
Servant-leadership is others-centered. It’s certainly not glamorous or easy, but it’s significant. @KevinPaulScott
Consider the icons of servant leadership: Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa. Regardless of your religion or ideology, we can all agree that these people made a lasting impact on the world because they fought to meet the needs of others. However, when we look at the lives of these leaders, we should note that they weren’t always comfortable or easy. Three of their lives ended with them dying for their beliefs, and the other passed away in poverty!
Should that deter us from being servant leaders? Absolutely not.
Servant leadership, if pursued wholeheartedly, leaves a lasting impact, but comes at a cost. Serving another person means that you deny something of yourself—whether it be your time, money, or energy—to give to them. However, the reward of seeing people grow and thrive under your leadership is always worth it.
Be a servant leader in your workplace, in your home, in your church, and in all your spheres of influence. Your work will be challenging, but you’ll pursue the most fulfilling and effective form of leadership.