Servant Leadership : A Modern Approach Towards Leadership

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Do we have the answer to all the unrest going on in different countries? Is there a new leadership style taking off? How can the concept of servant and leadership go hand in hand.

In the recent times we have seen so much unrest in the Middle East countries. Be it Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, the people of these countries are not happy with their leaders. Has the leadership in these countries have gone awry? Is the monarchy and autocratic ruling system is getting phased off? Is a new kind of leadership style is coming into existence?

Ken Blanchard, Stephen Covey, Ann McGee-Cooper, Duane Trammell, M.Scott Peck, Peter M.Senge and Margaret Wheatley. There is one thing in common between all these eminent writers. They all propagate a unique style of leadership not known to many. This leadership style is called “Servant Leadership”.

The concept of servant leadership began a long time ago. Chankya, a renowned scholar in his book Arthashastra in 4th century B.C. wrote:

“The king [leader] shall consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects [followers]” “the king [leader] is a paid servant and enjoys the resources of the state together with the people.”

But the major credit goes to Mr. Robert K. Greenleaf as he was instrumental in laying the foundation for modern servant leadership. In 1970 Greenleaf published his first essay, entitled "The Servant As Leader", which introduced the term "servant leadership." His essay was then magnified into a book which is considered to be as one of the most prominent management piece till today.

What is “Servant Leadership”

Servant leadership is all about serving the people first. In serving the people the leader is not only making them happier and prosperous but also motivating and transforming them to become servant leaders for the future. In return these leaders earn immense respect and satisfaction. Though servant and leader are two polar opposites but the power it generates on combining is very thought provoking and effective. As a good king always looks after its people’s well being similarly a good leader looks after its associates happiness and grievances. Gone are the days when the autocratic system ruled the roost. Now the institutions are beginning to realise that if they have to create a long lasting business then they have to look after their employees well. They have to create a sense of bonhomie amongst them and involve them as a stakeholder in the decision making system.

Characteristics of “Servant Leadership”

Other than the interpersonal skills generally associated to leaders below are some of the important characteristics of a “Servant Leader”:

Listening: A servant leader always listens to the problem of its peers and followers. Rather than forcing a particular decision on to them the leader always believe in persuasion and clarifying the concerns of the people involved.

Compassion: A servant leader tries to understand the feelings and emotions of the people and empathises with them.

Healing: There will be people who suffer from emotional breakdowns. A servant leader has this great ability to motivate themselves and others. They try to encourage and help them and celebrate their accomplishments.

Persuasion: An important characteristic of servant leadership is consensus based decision making system. This is totally opposite to the traditional authoritarian approach of leadership. A servant leader tries to convince others rather than forcing a decision on to somebody.

Foresight: A servant leader’s very important quality is to be able to foresee the future. The consequence of his/her decisions and its impact on the future is absolutely essential. It is like while others prepared for yesterday the leader prepared for tomorrow.

Enabling and Empowering: A servant leader is committed to the growth of each and every individual. The leader tries to build a family rather than a company and thus giving them independence and at the same time making them accountable also.

Famous people and companies following “Servant Leadership” concept


  • Mother Theresa
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Dalai Lama
  • Mahatma Gandhi
  • Martin Luther King Jr.


  • Southwest Airlines
  • TD Industries
  • Synovus
  • Herman Miller
  • Wegmans
  • The Toro Company

Flip side of “Servant Leadership”

Servant leadership has its demerits also. As it is based on caring, empathy etc. the concept is also perceived as a lenient one. Relying too much on the consensus based decision making system might lead to indecisiveness and thus falling away from the larger goal. There are times when the CEO of a company is supposed to work for the owners rather than serving the employees. The main objective is then to increase the profit and revenue. The concept of firing the employees during the times of performance issues might not be possible in this style of leadership.

However there are more benefits than demerits of following the “Servant Leadership” style. It is the best approach to create revenue through team building. It follows an approach where the success of an institution or company depends on the prosperity of the employees.




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