Unlike a traditional leader, a servant leader’s goal is to serve rather than lead.

Robert K. Greenleaf, the founder of the modern servant leadership movement, coined the term  “Servant Leadership”, in his 1970 essay ‘The Servant as Leader’.

In this essay, Greenleaf explored the servant leadership theory and said, “The servant-leader is the servant first. The model 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 one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions. The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them, there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”

This excerpt reveals the meaning of servant leadership.

Meaning Of Servant Leadership

The meaning of servant leadership can be explained in different ways, but at the heart of the servant leadership theory is the principle that the leader is a servant first. The servant leadership style has been developed over the ages to create sympathetic and highly motivated leaders with a humble leadership style.

The servant leadership works towards a higher goal and usually has a ‘serve first’ attitude. Servant leaders lead their teams through their actions. Rather than hiding behind ranks and accolades, they lead through the principle of ‘acting first’.

The meaning of servant leadership can be explained in one word, encouragement. One cannot be encouraged without motivation, and one cannot gain any motivation without a purpose. The servant leadership comprises passionate and motivated individuals whose response to every task at hand is ‘we can do it’. One of the best servant leadership examples are leaders who say, “Do as I do, not as I say.”

Servant Leadership Example

Exponents of servant leadership understand the value of honesty, humility and trust. For them, these attributes define the true meaning of servant leadership. They believe in putting in their time, working till the job is done, and focus on the holistic development of the team.

Valuing humility, they readily accept their mistakes and are willing to work on them. The servant leadership style demands that the leaders let go of themselves and get involved in their work and the people they work with.

Servant Leadership Characteristics

The main servant leadership characteristic involves putting the team ahead of yourself. While formulating the modern servant leadership theory, Greenfield consciously accounted for individuals whose work supersedes their desire for fame, recognition, and rewards.

Some of the best servant leadership examples are the leaders who instill a sense of community in their teams. They see their teams as a family that they can nurture.  The servant leaders ensure that they alone handle pain and do not let the employees or their ‘family’ members feel the brunt of it.

Leaders in servant leadership are not limited by their own conscious choices to ‘shine’ or ‘play lead.’ They come to work with a ‘work first’ mindset. They do not expect people to just listen to them and follow orders. Instead, they seek to help their teams understand the work in hand by demonstrating how it can be done efficiently.

In short, the servant leadership characteristics are that of a leader who does not mind getting their hands dirty. They work alongside their subordinates, make mistakes, learn from them, and improve themselves along the journey.

Harappa Education’s Leading Self course teaches you how to understand yourself so you can use the servant leadership theory and to analyze situations and people to see if the servant leadership style can be applied.

Apart from helping you understand servant leadership examples the course also teaches you about the ladder of learning and the growth mindset from leading educators and trainers. Sign up for the course and begin your leadership journey.


Explore topics such as What is Leadership, Types of Leadership, Transactional Leadership, Leadership Development & Transactional and Transformational leadership from our Harappa Diaries section and lead on a path of self-development.

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