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The Servant Leader

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  1. 0:10 Philanthropy
  2. 1:03 Servant Leadership
  3. 2:20 Bosses as Servant Leaders
  4. 3:46 Lesson Summary
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Taught by

Sherri Hartzell

Sherri has taught college business and communication courses. She also holds three degrees including communications, business, educational leadership/technology.

If you've ever had a boss who has taken the blame for one of your errors, he or she may have been a servant leader. Find out in this lesson all the other characteristics of a servant leader.

Philanthropy Isn't Dead

Serving others takes a significant amount of self-sacrifice. Not only does it require one to consider the needs of others, but it oftentimes requires putting one's own needs on hold. The idea of philanthropy, or having a genuine concern for the advancement of others, is something that most of us have considered at some point in our lives. Anytime you thought it would be a good idea to serve food at a homeless shelter, sign up to build a house with Habitat for Humanity, donate blood, or drop off used clothes or can goods, you have the intentions of a true philanthropist. For some of us, helping the less fortunate is a way of being grateful for the gifts we have received in this life. For others, it is simply the desire to do something nice for other people. There are even some of us that do it because they believe putting the needs of others before your own is a true testament of character and a requirement of being a true leader.

To Serve is to Lead

The concept of servant leadership was first coined by Robert Greenleaf in 1970.

Robert Greenleaf
Robert Greenleaf Photo

Greenleaf believed that before anyone can lead, they first need to be a servant. To be a true leader, one must ensure people's highest priority needs are being served. For Greenleaf, effective leaders do not lead by power, coercion, or control - rather they lead through service to those whom they influence by embracing a high level of moral responsibility.

The servant leader continually strives to help subordinates reach their personal best by supporting, inspiring, and celebrating their development. However, subordinates are not the only people the servant leader is concerned with; in fact, the needs of customers, peer employees, and the community are also considered.

While any smart businessperson knows the importance of taking care of customers, providing employees with the tools they need to do their jobs, and having a high level of social responsibility, a servant leader has a genuine concern for those with whom they work and provides products or services above the status quo. The focus of the servant leader is on the growth, development, and advancement of others, not personal gain, power, money, or status.

The servant leader is like having all of the resources, knowledge, and authority you need to be successful.

Show Me the Servant

To many of us, the idea of having a servant leader probably sounds a lot like winning the lottery. Besides, who would'nt want a boss who cares more about you than themselves?

Just imagine for a second what it would be like to be lead by someone who:

  • Spends more time listening than talking
  • Puts your accomplishments in the spotlight, instead of jockeying for attention and boasting about how great they are.
  • Takes the blame when things turn out differently than expected instead of pointing fingers at the first available person
  • Willingly shares credit when things do turn out good
  • Takes the time to get to know your goals
  • Works to inspire you to achieve them by giving you all the resources you need to be successful
  • Makes decisions for the better good instead of their own selfish motivations.

Servant leaders make sure everyone gets a fair shake in life and is open with their communication, decisions, ideas, and problems - no matter how challenging that may be for them. They work hard and push others to do the same. While your boss might have some of these characteristics, a true servant leader is all of these things at all times. Just imagine how nice that would be to have someone like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Mother Theresa, or Cesar Chavez as your leader, and you can begin to see what a true servant leader is all about.

Lesson Summary

Let's review. Robert Greenleaf created the concept of servant leadership in 1970. Greenleaf believed that before anyone can lead, they first need to be a servant. According to Greenleaf, to be a true leader one must ensure the highest priority needs of employees, customers, and the community are being served. As a true philanthropist, the servant leader is focused on the growth, development, and advancement of others and not personal gain, power, money, or status.

The servant leader takes the time to listen to others, takes blame for failure, shares credit for successes, gets to know personal goals of others, works to inspire the personal best in others, is open and translucent in their communication, and makes decisions for the better good instead of their own selfish motivations making sure everyone gets a fair shake in life. Famous examples of servant leaders include: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Cesar Chavez.

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