What is Servant Leadership?

servant leadership

What Is Servant Leadership?

Servant leadership takes an inverted approach to leadership. It prioritizes employees, with the leader at the bottom.

The goal of the servant leader is to assist the employees or team members in their personal development. They think that by assisting individuals in achieving their full potential, the organisation will achieve its productivity and profitability goals.

The servant-leader is concerned not only about the employees’ workplace inputs but also about their career development, physical health and mental wellbeing.

Key Takeaways

  •  The servant leadership style prioritizes the needs of the people over those of the organisation. It focuses on assisting people in reaching their full potential.
  • A servant leader understands the importance of teamwork in driving an organization’s growth and success.
  • The servant leadership strategy focuses on creating influence and authority, rather than using control and destructive leadership approaches.
  • Research has shown that it is a practice that has a major impact on employees’ happiness and engagement, and, as a result, increases productivity in the organisation.


After being used in an essay by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970 titled “The Servant As Leader,” the phrase “servant leadership” began to acquire prominence. Greenleaf was inspired by Hermann Hesse’s book “Journey to the East” to coin the phrase. Leo, the book’s protagonist, was a servant who worked with other servants until he vanished one day. Other servants discovered they couldn’t do their jobs well without Leo’s help. That forced them to admit that Leo had always been their leader.

Servant leadership proponents agree that servant leadership motivates individuals to do better at their jobs. As a result, the company’s productivity and profitability increase. In recent years, top-performing multinational organizations have embraced this leadership approach.

Herb Khelleher the co-founder of Southwest Airlines, is acknowledged as a role model for servant leadership. This is demonstrated by Kelleher’s ability to consistently use this leadership approach to help employees grow and succeed. The impact was the company’s profitability for 35 years in a row, which is extremely rare in the volatile aviation sector.

Also, Google is one of the most well-known companies to have adopted this leadership style.

11 Ways To Build Servant Leadership Skills

1. Listening

The art of listening is at the core of servant leadership. Servant leaders are concerned about how people feel so they pay attention to what people have to say before speaking in order to provide feedback. They listen with complete concentration noting tone and body language. Practicing the art of listening makes people feel valued. It helps you serve people better. People leave the conversations with servant leaders feeling empowered.

2. Empathy

Because servant leaders are concerned about their followers’ well-being, they take the time to assist them in resolving their issues. They don’t act as if they don’t know the problem exists, but instead collaborate with others to find solutions. They develop empathy by putting their feelings aside and placing themselves in the shoes of others in order to be of assistance in the situation.

3. Healing

A servant leader can help people thrive in their emotional health by fostering an environment that supports emotional wellbeing and incites personal growth.

4. Self-Awareness

While empathy is about understanding other people’s strengths and weaknesses, self-awareness is about yourself. It entails having a deep knowledge about your feelings and emotions, strength and weaknesses and how that affects people around you. Knowledge about your strengths and weaknesses will help you figure out how you can leverage the strengths of your team in areas where you are not competent enough.

Want to start achieving your goals today? Take our free Personal Annual Plan course!

5. Persuasion

Servant leaders employ the use of persuasion to build consensus and buy-in from their team rather than the use of forceful authority. They achieve it through a variety of ways which include the use of motivation, inspiration and expert power. People are more likely to listen and follow someone they perceive as an expert.

6. Conceptualisation

A servant leader is able to create a vision for his team to show them where they are going. Again, they have the ability to translate their vision and objectives into strategies and objects that benefit the organization and its members.

7. Foresight

A servant leader is able to make educated predictions about the future by analysing past trends and experiences. Forecasting is a learned skill and some business tools that can be employed to predict the future are SWOT analysis and PEST analysis, says Brian Tait a Forbes Councils member.

8. Humility

Servant leaders do not promote themselves; instead, they prioritize the needs of others. Servant leaders understand that it isn’t about them but that goals are achieved through people. They don’t put up an act of humility but genuinely care about helping people succeed in their roles. When team members make mistakes, they don’t adopt an attitude of “I am better than you”. They work with the affected team members to understand the problem in order to solve it.

9. Stewardship

Simply said, stewardship is leading by example. So, it wouldn’t be a good idea to ask others to do things you wouldn’t do yourself. Because it’s your responsibility to set the course for your team. In addition, a servant leader takes responsibility for anything that goes wrong with the work process or team.

10. Commitment

A servant leader’s focus is on the people. As such, he commits to understanding their needs and investing in them in those areas where they need to grow and advance.

11. Building Community

A servant leader recognizes that in order for the team to operate effectively together, healthy interpersonal relationships must be fostered. As a result, the servant leader collaborates with the team to build a sense of belonging.

Research reveals that servant leadership has been successful since its implementation. Its practice has had a significant impact on employee happiness, engagement, which in turn drives productivity in organisations.

Many say it’s because servant leaders are acutely aware of their surroundings. They are concerned about the well-being of their co-workers, committed to building relationships, and actively encourage others to improve.

Therefore, you’ll be well on your way to being a capable and effective servant leader if you follow the steps of developing your communication skills, empathy, and self-awareness, and focusing on holistically developing the people you work with.

Also, in recent times, it’s often emphasized that leadership is not positional. Therefore, it is not necessary to hold a position of power in your organisation to begin using the servant leadership style.

Recommended Resources:

Uncover your strengths and weaknesses with our complimentary assessment. Boost your effectiveness at work and with your team.

Free Resource Library: Access our extensive collection of valuable resources for instant support in your personal and professional growth.

Explore Our Course Library:

Enhance your leadership skills with our diverse selection of courses. Take your abilities to the next level and become a more effective leader and team player.


Our Clients Love the Professional Leadership Institute

Your team will, too! Check out some reviews from our students.
The PLI program was invaluable to our network.
The range of topics delivered, the open dialogue, experience, and examples that PLI brought to each session were outstanding and provided a path for our Franchisees and Managers to look at leadership, coaching, and connecting with their teams in a new light. Many have implemented these strategies in their bakeries and have seen immediate results.
Michelle C.
COBS Bread
Highly recommend to help your team move forward
We have locations around BC and Alberta, so getting people on the same page can be very difficult... Until now. Our entire management team and location managers take the same great courses and then meet monthly online with our coach to apply it to our situation. People are engaged, the courses are excellent, we love our coach, and we are all learning together!
Jason Fawcett
President, Kelson Group
The result has been a transformation of our culture. 
We decided to implement PLI's strategies across the country in over 150 locations and over 3500 employees.  The result has been a transformation of our culture.  People's lives have been positively impacted - professionally and personally.  Morale is high and sales and profits are up as a result.
Daryl Verbeek
Daryl Verbeek
We’ve learned how to fix ongoing personnel issues once and for all
The roadmap laid out set our business up to quintuple in sales.  We've learned how to fix ongoing personnel issues once and for all, attract top talent, and spend our time focused on results, not internal staffing problems.  I highly recommend PLI to you - it's worked for us!
John DeJong
Satisfied Client
I had no idea that running a business could be this fun!
In less than 18 months of working with Trevor, he has transformed my business from being average to exceptional, where mediocrity is not acceptable, where being great is standard.  Working with PLI has allowed me to realize my dream of not simply owning a job, but owning a business.
Justin Bontkes
Principal, Caliber Projects
Our culture has taken major steps forward this year
Our culture has taken major steps forward this year with Trevor’s help.  He is funny, relatable, and his tools are very very practical and have helped us focus and upgrade our teams throughout our retail network. Trevor recently spoke to an employee group, and one person remarked, “I could listen to Trevor all day.”   We would highly recommend Trevor.
Stan Pridham
Founder, KMS Tools
The results have been remarkable
At first, we resisted, “This just won’t work with a law firm.” But we persisted and the results have been remarkable: our client base and profits have steadily improved, and staff engagement and morale is the healthiest its ever been.
Doug Lester
Partner, RDM Lawyers
Helped our fast-growing business become what it is today
I've experienced PLI's approach first hand and it's been crucial to sustaining our growth.  I can't imagine a business that wouldn't benefit greatly from his help.
Brian Antenbring
Founder, TEEMA
Provided practical ways to make positive changes
Trevor was incredibly well-received by the entire organization. He was able to articulate people issues that many of our franchisees were experiencing and provided them with practical ways to make positive changes. We have implemented the Star Chart tool across the organization and see it as vital to building happy, effective teams.
Aaron Gillespie
President, COBS Bread
Scroll to Top

Start Learning Today

For Individuals

Unlock your potential and accelerate your career with sought-after management and leadership skills.


Transform Your Organization

For Teams

Book a consultation to discuss your challenges and discover how we can help you build a winning team.


Sign Up For Weekly Tips!

Get Weekly Coaching Tips Straight To Your Inbox Every Monday.