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Leadership: Powerful Benefits of Servant Leader Characteristics

Updated on October 6, 2011

What kind of leader do you want to become? What leadership characteristics do you want to known for? Perhaps a better question would be what type of leader would you rather follow? What steps are you taking towards your own leadership development?

Conventional leadership holds a commitment to the success of the leader himself regardless of the growth, status, or well-being of anyone else around him or under his leadership. This conventional me-first type of leader will sacrifice others to get ahead. Is this the type of leader we would want to follow? Is this the type of leader we want to become?

A Servant leader may not be what comes to mind when we think in terms of leadership development. The term servant leadership is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. How can one be a leader if he is a servant? How can one who serves really lead? The servant leader, however, is much more powerful than you think.

Robert K. Greenleaf
Robert K. Greenleaf

By coining this term nearly thirty years ago, Author Robert K. Greenleaf has had a profound impact on rethinking the concepts of leadership. With books such as Servant-Leadership, Insights on Leadership, Seeker and Servant, and The Power of Servant Leadership, Greenleaf has led the way towards reshaping how we view leadership today.

Servant leadership often coincides with Christian leadership as Jesus Christ is one of the greatest known examples of servant leadership. This concept, however, is gaining headway in the corporate world and secular circles. The benefits of servant leadership can be seen in churches, school systems, businesses, corporations, teams, and the military.

10 Characteristics of a Servant Leader

In writing the introduction for Greenleaf’s The Power of Servant Leadership, Larry Spears identified ten characteristics of the servant leader based on his study of Greenleaf’s writings. These characteristics are:

  1. Listening - Listening to others as well as listening to one’s own self. He writes that “Listening, coupled with regular periods of reflection, are essential to the growth of the servant leader.” (Greenleaf, 5) As a leader, how often do you take the time to listen to those who are under your leadership? Do you ask them questions, learn from their perspective, and consider their ideas? How often do you take the time to listen to yourself or follow your gut? Do you take the time to listen to God’s leading? Think about ways that you can improve your listening skills both in your personal life as well as your professional career.
  2. Empathy – Understanding and empathizing with others. “People need to be accepted and recognized for their special and unique spirits.” (Greenleaf, 5) We’ve all experienced leaders who have taken an interest in our well being. By having a leader who will listen to us and understand what we are going through we are more apt to follow where they lead. Do you understand the lives of those who follow you? Do you take an interest in their feelings and ambitions? Think about ways that you can make yourself more available to the people around you.
  3. Healing – Healing isn’t something that is usually associated with leadership. However, a great strength of a servant leader is the potential that they have to heal their relationships with other. A leader cannot underestimate their power to heal a broken spirit or emotional pain in others. Who do you have the power to heal? What relationships need reconciliation? Understanding how you can bring healing in your leadership will require both the listening and the empathy characteristics. Learn to weave the three together.
  4. Awareness – This includes being aware of what’s going on around them as well as what’s going within them. “Able leaders are usually sharply awake and reasonably disturbed.” (Greenleaf, 6) Awareness is often a missing ingredient among aspiring leaders today. How well do you know what’s going on around you? How well do you know your own strengths and weaknesses? How accurately are you perceived by those who work with you or for you? By taking some time to develop skills in awareness, you’ll be able to better understand your leadership and your position.
  5. Persuasion – A servant leader knows how to persuade others instead of relying on the authority of their position. This is a very distinct difference that sets servant leadership apart from a more traditional, authoritarian model. By using their abilities to persuade instead of coerce, the servant leader has both the results he’s looking for as well as the buy-in of the one he persuaded. Are you a leader who lays down the law or are you one who helps others see the purpose in your plan? It’s far better to have someone do what you want them to do because they want to do it. Work on your own skills in the art of persuasion.
  6. Conceptualization – The servant leader knows how to look at the big picture, not just the day-to-day tasks at hand. They know how to balance the two outlooks and develop both perspectives. By being able on conceptualize, the servant leader will be able to cast a vision and understand the steps it takes to accomplish. Be sure to take some time to step back and look at the big picture. Don’t get bogged down by the details.
  7. Foresight – This is closely related to conceptualization, but it focuses on the ability to foresee an outcome. In this the servant leader is able to “understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision for the future.” (Greenleaf, 7) I believe this helps the leader keep the big picture in mind and not focus on how the decision only affects them at that moment in time. Learn to ask “what if” questions and then imagine the results of your decision. Try to look at it from all angles.
  8. Stewardship – In servant leadership, good stewardship puts the commitment of serving the needs of others ahead of their own needs. They understand their role in using their leadership for the greater good. As a leader, you are the steward for the people, as well as the responsibilities, that are under your leadership. Are you being a good steward with what’s been given to you?
  9. Commitment to the growth of the people – A servant leader understands their responsibility in building up other around them and under their leadership. This leader “recognizes the tremendous responsibility to do everything within his or her power to nurture the personal, professional, and spiritual growth of employees.” (Greenleaf, 8) People will follow someone that they believe has their best interest at heart. Are you committed to their growth? Are you building up leaders to follow in your footsteps? Are you willing to delegate and release authority? By building up leaders and being committed to their growth, you’ll only increase your influence and expand your mission.
  10. Building community – The servant leader understands that true community can be created among people who are working toward a common purpose. By building community the servant leader knows that he will create a sense of personal involvement and relationships that will keep people on board. A sense of community inspires loyalty and buy-in. What are some ways that you can build community within your organization? How can you promote teamwork? Think of ways to help everyone find common ground in working toward a shared goal.

Are you a servant leader? Are you a leader that you would want to follow? Take a closer look at these servant leadership characteristics. Which ones do you need to develop and improve upon? Become the leader you want to be and discover the power of servant leadership.

Click "Leadership Development: Servant Leader Concepts" for more information on become a powerful servant leader!

I’d love to hear from you. Let me know your thoughts on servant leadership in the comment section below. If you enjoyed this Hub, please be sure to vote it up. Thanks for reading!


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