Why I Was Dumb to Dislike Servant Leadership


Why this is an extremely popular leadership theory and practice.

Robert Greenleaf created the theory of servant leadership in 1970 at the age of 66. At the time, he was working at AT&T, where he had risen from lineman into organizational management.  “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.”

Larry Spears, longtime President and CEO of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center, came up with 10 characteristics or principles of servant leadership. This was his list of essential ingredients from moving from a hierarchical autocratic style to one in which is focused on relationships and trust.

10 Principles

  1. Listening An opportunity to be heard.   Insights. Trust.


  1. Empathy Care personally.


  1. Healing Fix problems. Resolve challenges. Mitigate and work through conflicts.


  1. Awareness Strengths and growth areas. Role model for learning and continuous improvement.




  1. Persuasion Take the time to influence the direction. Not compliance or use of power.  Use of strategies to change mindsets and behaviors.


  1. Conceptualization Keep the big picture in mind. Make connections.  Share purpose and importance.


  1. Foresight Learn from the past to create a more successful future.


  1. Stewardship Understand their roles, the importance of their responsibilities. Earn trust and confidence.



  1. Commitment to the growth of people Committed to growth.



  1. Building community Build coalitions, encourage dialogue, and collaboration. Stress engagement. Foster safety.



Servant leadership is definitely gaining traction in the past few years.  I would argue that it has become even more of a need or focus in the past year and a half.  In times of great stress, chaos and uncertainty employees want to be heard, understood and supported.  Not just professionally but personally as well.  Younger generations want and demand more from managers and organizations.

This can result in positive shifts in engagement and commitment. However, it is a challenge to those who are trying to evolve their leadership style or their culture.

This selfless mindset means a perceived loss of control, of power.  Are you strong enough?


Because if you are, if you can embrace this mindset shift, and understand the foundational characteristics, all of which are difficult to argue with…You too can act purposefully, lead transparently, authentically and serve successfully.

I love servant leadership.  I am a servant leader.