What are the 5 Principles of Servant Leadership?

Servant Leadership

There are numerous leadership styles, some good, some great, and some downright toxic. Among those is servant leadership, which definitely falls in the “between good and great” category. I don’t feel it’s best to classify any leadership style as “best” just as it’s not appropriate to say which car is “best.” Different cars provide different advantages in different situations. Do you want better gas mileage, higher performance, better handling, luxury and comfort? Like cars, depending on your organization’s need, which leadership style is “best” could be vastly different. That said, servant leadership would rank pretty close to high on each list.

At its core, servant leadership is about shifting the focus from self-interest to the interests of others. It’s a philosophy that recognizes the immense power and potential that comes from genuinely caring for and serving one’s team members, employees, and stakeholders. This leadership style flips the traditional pyramid upside down, placing the leader in a position of service and support. Instead of commanding from above, a servant leader empowers from within, fostering an environment of collaboration, empathy, and mutual growth.

Let’s take a closer look, along with some principles which define servant leadership.

Listening and Empathy

There is no good leadership style which does not list active listening, empathy, and emotional intelligence as one its core values and servant leadership is no different. Servant leaders actively listen to the needs, concerns, and aspirations of their team members. By showing genuine empathy, they forge meaningful connections and create an atmosphere of trust and understanding.

Putting Others First

This principle emphasizes the leader’s commitment to prioritize the growth, development, and well-being of their team members. By investing in their success, servant leaders cultivate a culture of loyalty and dedication. This looks like providing training opportunities, allowing others to lead meetings, come up with ideas, defer to their judgment thus giving them opportunities to lead.

Healing and Growth

Servant leaders recognize that personal and collective healing is essential for growth. They create spaces where individuals can learn from their experiences, recover from setbacks, and develop resilience. As a leader, I try my best to create an environment where people feel safe to make mistakes. Because mistakes and failures are where growth occurs when properly assessed and evaluated. Punitive environments where mistakes are treated harshly, only encourage people to hide their mistakes, not learn from them.

Self-Awareness and Self-Care

Before leading others, servant leaders lead themselves. They cultivate self-awareness and practice self-care to ensure they can effectively support others without burning out. As we often say, there’s a reason on airplanes you are instructed to place your mask on first before helping others. You cannot help, lead, coach, and empower others if you yourself are not taking steps to make you your best self.

Empowerment and Development

A hallmark of servant leadership is fostering the growth and autonomy of team members. By empowering them with responsibilities and opportunities, leaders create an environment where everyone can reach their potential.

Servant Leadership and Organizational Success

Servant leadership’s impact goes far beyond individual relationships; it extends to organizational success. By prioritizing the needs of employees, servant leaders create a positive work culture where individuals feel valued and motivated. Employees rate feeling valued far and away above salary in terms of job satisfaction.

Servant leadership fosters improved employee morale, higher employee engagement, and improved overall performance. Moreover, servant leaders create a cycle of inspiration — the act of being served encourages employees to reciprocate by putting their best efforts into their work. This leads to enhanced innovation, better problem-solving, and a stronger sense of ownership within the team.

Make the commitment as a leader to serve those in your orbit. Or, as Ghandi put it, be the change you want to see in the world. That can start in your own organization, by your own small actions!

Photo by Memento Media on Unsplash

Erik Murrah

Author, nerd, chess player, artist, business owner, runner, mediocre philosopher, outdoorsman. Creator of the Arise Tribe.

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