The score will take care of itself ~ Bill Walsh

11ish Innovation Updates

What’s a Servant Leader and Why You Should Strive to Be One

The History of Servant-Leadership

As perverse as it sounds, the idea of servant-leadership dates back to 1970 when it was coined by Robert Greenleaf in his essay The Servant as Leader. Other researchers followed in Greenleaf’s footsteps in the decades that followed and built on his research. The Greenleaf Center continues promoting and researching servant leadership to this day. One of the products of that research was the identification of five critical factors that all servant-leaders share–and where other leaders fall short.

So, if you want to find out if you match the criteria of a servant-leader, ask yourself if you match up with the following five criteria.

1.     Moral Love

What we mean is whether you have a deep caring for your employees. Do you feel their pain? Do you celebrate the same kind of joy with them? Do you love them the same way you might love a friend? The point is that servant-leaders care very deeply for their employees. This concept was promoted in Radical Candor by Kim Scott. It’s easy to contrast this vision with the stereotypical Hollywood CEO who cares only about profits over people.

2.     Humility

A humble person doesn’t need to act like a doormat. This is about someone who can keep their ego in check and not get in the way of using data and facts to make decisions. When the organization has success, it’s also not a credit solely to the leader–it’s about sharing the success with the entire team.  Humility is the key differentiator.

3.     Altruism

You are the type that’s considered a giver and you put the needs of others before your own needs. There’s a phrase from the military that says, “Leaders eat last.” You prioritize their people as well as the needs of the people in the communities in which they operate. They’re also willing to share the rewards–perhaps through generous donations inside the community or by sharing a generous portion of the company’s profits as a bonus with the employees. One firm I worked with had the employees donate 10% of company profits to charities they thought were important every year.

4.     Vision

A servant-leader has a clear vision of the future and where the organization is headed. They are also able to get everyone inside the organization aligned with that same direction. They communicate an exciting and powerful vision that makes people want to participate and make it happen. That’s how they can help ensure that everyone reaches the same destination–together.  

5.      Trust

You are undoubtedly trusted by others inside the organization. They have a strong moral and ethical compass. They will never violate ethical standards with the goal of simply increasing performance. People trust that when you say something, their word becomes their bond.


So what do you think about your role now? This is a powerful concept, but it’s not an approach that works for everyone. It’s hard to be consistent, for instance, on all five of these characteristics. But for those of you who can embrace these five aspects and remain comfortable in your own skin, you’ll find people will be ready to follow you into the future and find success along the way.



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