What does it mean to be a Servant Leader?

Servant leadership sounds great, but what does it mean?  Coined by Robert Greenleaf (1977),  Servant Leadership reflects the notion  that the best way to lead is through service to others.  Since then, leadership researchers have attempted to categorize the elements of what it means to be a servant leader. Dr. Robert Liden and his colleagues have developed a 9-dimension framework for Servant Leadership that includes the following:

  1. Emotional healing—the act of showing sensitivity to others’ personal concerns.
  2. Creating value for the community—a conscious, genuine concern for helping the community.
  3. Conceptual skills—possessing the knowledge of the organization and tasks at hand so as to be in a position to effectively support and assist others, especially immediate followers.
  4. Empowering—encouraging and facilitating others, especially immediate followers, in identifying and solving problems, as well as determining when and how to complete work tasks.
  5. Helping subordinates grow and succeed—demonstrating genuine concern for others’ career growth and development by providing support and mentoring.
  6. Putting subordinates first—using actions and words to make it clear to others (especially immediate followers) that satisfying their work needs is a priority (Supervisors who practice this principle will often break from their own work to assist subordinates with problems they are facing with their assigned duties).
  7. Behaving ethically—interacting openly, fairly, and honestly with others.
  8. Relationships—the act of making a genuine effort to know, understand, and support others in the organization, with an emphasis on building long-term relationships with immediate followers.
  9. Servanthood—a way of being marked by one’s self-categorization and desire to be characterized by others as someone who serves others first, even when self-sacrifice is required. (See Liden, Wayne, Zhou, & Henderson, 2008, p. 162).

This framework is useful because it gives leadership development experts tangible guidance on how to develop servant leadership skills in their employees.   Perhaps it is time for your organization to systematically build a culture of Servant Leadership!

Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. New York: Paulist Press

Liden, R. C., Wayne, S. J., Zhao, H., & Henderson, D. (2008).  Servant leadership: Development of a multidimensional measure and multi-level assessment.  Leadership Quarterly, 19, pp. 161-177.