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What Is Servant Leadership? - Definition, Characteristics & Examples

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Shawn Grimsley

Servant leadership is a style of leadership studied by contemporary management theorists. In this lesson, you will learn what servant leadership is, its characteristics, and be provided some examples. You will have an opportunity to reinforce your knowledge with a short quiz after the lesson.

We also recommend watching The Servant Leader and Leadership: Leaders & Their Role in Organizations

Definition

A servant leader leads by serving others. In other words, servant leaders place the interests and needs of their followers ahead of their own self-interests and needs. Generally, they value the development of their followers, building their communities, acting authentically, and sharing power.

Characteristics

Several scholars have compiled characteristics of a servant leader, including:

  • Active listening. Servant leaders actively listen to their followers. Active listening is a communication method where the listener listens and provides feedback to the speaker to ensure that the listener understands what is being communicated.
  • Empathy. They have the ability to empathize. Empathy is the ability to detect and understand emotions being felt by others.
  • Healer. Servant leaders have the ability to 'heal' themselves and their followers through creating a sense of well-being.
  • Awareness. They are generally aware of the environment and issues affecting their organization and its members.
  • Persuasion. Servant leaders influence others through persuasion rather than through exercise of authority or coercion.
  • Foresight. Servant leaders have the ability to foresee consequences of events or actions involving their organization and its members.
  • Conceptualization. They can conceptualize their vision and goals into strategies and objects that serve the organization and its members.
  • Stewardship. They are stewards, which means they view their position as having a caretaking responsibility over their organization and members as opposed to dominion over them.
  • Commitment to Growth and Emancipation. Servant leaders are personally committed to the personal and professional growth of their followers.
  • Community Building. They are committed to building a sense of community and mutual commitment between themselves, the organization and its members.

Examples

The best way to understand the concept of servant leaders is probably to examine some famous historical leaders that fit the model. Perhaps the easiest example is Jesus Christ as described in the four gospels of the Christian religion. A more contemporary figure that matches the prototype is the Dalai Lama.

Some historical political figures fit the model as well. A good example of a political leader that demonstrated servant leadership was Mahatma Gandhi. Martin Luther King, Jr. also displayed many of the characteristics of a servant leader.

Servant-leadership style is probably best suited for governmental, religious and non-profit organizations where service to others without an overriding profit motive is prevalent. Nevertheless, the concepts and characteristics of servant leadership can certainly be applied to all types of organizations.

Summary

Servant leadership style is a relatively new style of leadership being studied by management theorists, but examples of servant leaders can be found over the past two thousand years. A servant leader leads by serving others. They place the needs and interests of their followers and organization over their own self-interest and needs. Servant leaders focus on the development of their followers, building their communities, acting authentically, and sharing power. Examples of servant leadership can best be found in certain religious and political leaders.

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