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Servant Leadership: What makes it Different?

Andrew Lipovsky
October 14, 2021

“Servant leadership” is often glamourized and, some might say, overused in leadership circles. Whereas what it truly means might vary, the true meaning of servant leadership is based on the concept of prioritizing the greater good rather than personal objectives.

It is a style of leadership that goes against the grain of conventional leadership styles where the leader is typically the focus of all attention, and the team works to support the leader’s vision.

While leadership coaching, mentoring, and executive coaching imparts several leadership skills, servant leadership's role in fostering a harmonious working environment is often overlooked.

The servant-leader is the servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first." - Robert K. Greenleaf.
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What Makes a Servant Leader?

The modern world is increasingly becoming attracted to Rock-star/celebrity CEOs. What has become of interest to many people is not how well they manage or how well they mentor, but how much they make, what property they own, or whom they are dating. Inadvertently, this has led to a misguided notion of what successful management entails.

A quote by Bill Gates.

In his 1970 essay, The Servant as Leader, Robert K. Greenleaf, the father of servant leadership, defines a servant leader as one who is a servant first and is entirely different from a leader, who is a leader first.

One good reference for such a leader in the modern world is Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity Payments. Dan set a minimum of $70,000 as the minimum salary for every company employee in an unprecedented move. To achieve this, he had to cut his salary from more than $1,000,000 to just $70,000. Before this move grabbed headlines; the average pay at Gravity was $48,000—this perfectly illustrates servant leadership.

Although Dan Price’s actions might not always be practical for every organization, other ways that define servant leadership include:

1. Showing Commitment to Teamwork

Servant leadership is critical for effective teamwork. Creating and managing teams of talented professionals is a hallmark of excellent servant leadership.

Creating a team might sound trivial to a casual observer; however, it involves proven methods of creating shared goals, defining roles and responsibilities for each team member, and leading by example.

Once the team is created, managing the team through servant leadership yields significant results. Servant leadership lets a team leader effectively mediate the inevitable conflicts within a team and keep the team focused on the big picture.

2. Prioritizing Employee Satisfaction

Prioritizing employee satisfaction is vital. Satisfied employees perform at higher levels. This extra productivity far outweighs the costs of ensuring employee satisfaction.

A servant leader needs insight and skills to figure out what motivates employees and thus implement as required.

3.    Flexibility

The needs of an organization vary, and the requirements of employees or subordinates are rarely static. Servant leadership lets a leader adapt to different settings and maintain a high level of performance.

For instance, in the dynamic world of tech, a servant leader should have the flexibility to switch methodologies from research and development to sales and marketing seamlessly.

4. Effective Communication

Communication is crucial for servant leadership to work effectively as it builds rapport. Communicating effectively will not only enable you to understand yourself better but also your team. Besides, focusing on non-verbal communication, asking questions, and listening completes the loop.

5. Accountability

Accountability is a crucial pillar of servant leadership. It means owning up to mistakes and deviations from set goals and objectives. Accountability builds trust and makes team members feel invested in the process rather than acting as drones for top leadership. 

6. Trust

Trust-building is a crucial pillar of building one's servant leadership credentials. A leader should genuinely care about the team by looking out for each member's needs and creating supportive environments where concerns can be shared.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Servant Leadership

Servant leadership, by nature, involves giving up control to employees and taking in a lot of feedback. Knowing this, there are several pros and cons of servant leadership. Here are some of them:


●     A servant leader can build deeper relationships based on trust

●     This leadership method encourages responsibility and ownership

●     Servant leadership can boost innovation, inquiry and improve creativity

●     It helps create a people-centric culture

●     Servant leadership delivers better company-wide performance through positive leadership.

●     Decisions are made in the best interest of a company

●     Servant leadership helps boost internal staff growth

●     It fosters mentoring of future leaders

●     Boosts morale within the company

●     Servant leaders are more respected by team members

●     This style of leadership builds employee’s sense of value and appreciation within the workplace


●     The concept of servant leadership can be challenging to communicate

●     It’s more time-consuming for everyone involved

●     Servant leadership skills can be challenging to attain

●     A leader can come off as inauthentic

●     Retraining existing leaders as servant leaders could be difficult

●     This leadership style can make a leader appear weak and ineffective

●     The authority of a servant leader can be diminished

●     The unconventional nature of servant leadership can cause confusion

●     Decision-making can be slowed down due to a high level of team involvement

●     There is potential for misalignments among team members

●     Servant leadership can decrease motivation and resourcefulness if not done well

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How to Become a Servant Leader

1. Keep Your Organization’s Goal in Mind

Servant leadership is about prioritizing a team's needs, but the organization's goals should remain central to a leader's mindset.

A servant leader should not let the needs of team members curtail the pursuit of organizational goals.

To become an effective servant leader, one must tread the line between meeting the organization’s goals and keeping the team engaged and motivated.

Executive and leadership coaching can help impart some of the goal-balancing skills needed to become a servant leader while still meeting the goals of an organization or company.

2. Develop Your Communication Skills

To get the most out of a team, a leader needs to communicate effectively with his/her team. Communication skills are critical for a leader to share across big picture organizational objectives and ensure that team members fully understand their roles.

Good communication skills also go beyond the scope of verbal communication skills. Non-verbal communication skills such as gestures, facial expressions, and posture play a huge role in effective communication.

These skills are easily transferable, so leadership coaching and executive coaching can go a long way in honing one’s communication skills.

3. Be Selfless

Selflessness is perhaps the most evident personality trait of a servant leader. Conventional autocratic leaders primarily work for themselves and often take credit for other people's work.

Servant leaders consider the goals and welfare of others before thinking of themselves.

Selflessness also improves employee engagement by making your leadership feel more relatable to employees.

You can become more selfless by learning to embrace other people’s ideas and thoughts while at the same time putting your thoughts across in an open and approachable manner.

4. Be Empathetic

Empathy lets a leader put themselves in the shoes of others. Having another person’s perspective is critical to developing one’s credentials as a servant leader.

Besides having another person's perspective, acknowledging one's biases will go a long way in making you a servant leader.  

5. Be Self-Aware

A servant leader could come across as aloof and out of touch if the leader does not acknowledge boundaries.

Self-awareness is vital in knowing where boundaries lay and how not to cross them.

With this essential skill, a leader knows how to act and the impact his/her words and actions have on others.  

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Our team at Highrise is experienced in leadership and tailor-made executive coaching to understand leadership and apply it. If you aim to be a better servant leader, there is no better place to learn.