The Servant Leader

by buildingpharmabrands

Robert K. Greenleaf (1904 - 1990)

Robert K. Greenleaf (1904 – 1990)

It was Herman Hesse’s great fictional work, Journey to the East, that influenced and inspired Robert K. Greenleaf (1904-1990), an executive with AT&T (American Telephone and Telegraph Company) in thinking about the Servant Leadership.

Greenleaf, who was captivated by the idea of a servant actually being the leader, contemplated on this idea for over eleven years and wrote in 1970 an essay, entitled, Essentials of Servant Leadership and introduced the term servant leadership. Further elaborating on his philosophy, Greenleaf wrote in his essay:

The servant-leader is servant first…Becoming a servant-leader begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from the one who is leader first…The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and the most difficult to administer, is this: Do those, who are served grow as persons? Do they, while being served grow as persons? Do they, while being served become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves become servants?

Larry Spears distills and explains clearly Greenleaf’s philosophy and instrumental means, which help in developing the ten characteristics of a servant leader: Listening, Empathy, Healing, Awareness, Persuasion, Conceptualization, Foresight, Stewardship, Commitment to the Growth of People, and Building a community. It is important to remember that these characteristics are not simply traits or skills possessed by the leader. They rather prove an ethical perspective that identifies key moral behaviors that leaders must continuously demonstrate to make progress and building successful winning teams and leaders for posterity.

Chanakya wrote in the 4th century BC, in his famous work Arthashastra: the kind (leader) shall consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects (followers). The Kind (leader) is a paid servant and enjoys the resources of the state together with the people.

When you think of it, is there any other way to lead and build successful and winning teams other than by serving them?

Greenleaf served as a consultant later to highly respected and successful institutions such as MIT, American Foundation for Management Research, and Lilly Endowment Inc. He continued writing focusing his ideas on several different areas of leadership such as: The Institution as Servant, The Leadership Crisis: A Message for College and University Faculty, and Teacher as Servant, etc.,

Greenleaf influenced a whole generation. In 1985, The Center for Applied Ethics was renamed the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. The Center continues to work, and you can access the posthumous essay collections at What is more, today, there are scores of colleges and universities that include Servant Leadership in their teachings and hundreds of companies that embrace Greenleaf’s philosophy.

Larry Spears, CEO of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, describes servant-leadership as a way of being in relationship with others. Servant-leadership seeks to involve others in decision making, is strongly based in ethical and caring behavior, and enhances the personal growth of workers while improving the caring and quality of organizational life.

When you serve your team members and help them achieve their goals, realize their potential and grow, you are building a winning team that can take on any challenge. Preparing a personal developmental plan for each one of your team members based on a clear, objective SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis is a means to serve their interests, which inturn will help achieve the objectives of the individual team members as well as the total team.

Servant leadership, essentially, is a journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness.