Neena Feb 13, 2024
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What is Servant Leadership? Characteristics, Examples, Pros & Cons

In today's world, leadership styles are vital in guiding organizations and teams. One such leadership approach is called "Servant Leadership." This concept is all about leaders putting the needs of their team members first and working to help them succeed. Servant leaders are known for their humility, empathy, and active listening skills. They focus on serving others rather than seeking power and authority. 

This blog will shed light on what Servant Leadership is and its significance in modern leadership practices. While aiming to explore the uniqueness of this leadership style and understand how it can positively impact how we lead and work together.

Also check out: What is Charismatic Leadership? 

Servant Leadership Characteristics

Servant Leadership is a unique outlook to leadership that emphasizes serving others rather than seeking power and control. It's about leaders striving to make a positive difference in the lives of their team members in order to help them succeed. 

Servant leaders possess a unique set of characteristics that distinguish them from traditional leaders. These traits are the building blocks of their leadership approach:

1. Serving Others as the Primary Goal

At the heart of Servant Leadership is the idea that leaders exist to serve their team members. Their primary purpose is to support, enable, and nurture the growth and success of those they lead.

2. Empathy and Active Listening

Servant leaders are known for their deep empathy and active listening skills. They take the time to understand their team's needs, concerns, and aspirations, creating an environment where everyone's voice is heard and valued.

3. Foresight and Stewardship

These leaders possess a keen understanding of their organization's long-term goals and the broader impact of their decisions. They act as stewards, making choices that benefit not only the present but also the future.

4. Building Community

These leaders foster a sense of community and collaboration within their teams. They encourage strong bonds among team members and a shared sense of purpose.

5. Commitment to the growth of individuals

Unwavering commitment to the personal and professional growth of their team members is one of the key principles of servant leaders. They help individuals reach their full potential, creating a motivated and high-achieving team.

These core principles guide Servant Leadership, creating an environment where leadership is a selfless act of service, benefiting both individuals and the organization as a whole.

Find more: Charismatic Leadership Vs Transformational Leadership

Four Notable Servant Leadership Examples

Servant leadership has left a lasting impact on various industries, with several exceptional leaders serving as prime examples of this approach. Here are four influential figures who have practiced servant leadership and made a significant difference within their organizations.

A. Herb Kelleher – Former CEO of Southwest Airlines

Herb Kelleher, the legendary former CEO of Southwest Airlines, is often celebrated for his unwavering commitment to servant leadership. He believed that by putting employees first, they would, in turn, provide exceptional service to customers. 

Under Kelleher's leadership, Southwest Airlines became one of the most successful and admired airlines in the world. His emphasis on employee welfare, egalitarian culture, and approachable leadership style contributed to the airline's remarkable success.

2. Cheryl Bachelder – Former CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

Cheryl Bachelder is another remarkable example of a servant leader. As the former CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, she transformed the brand by focusing on the people who had invested the most in the company—franchisees. 

Cheryl’s approach was centred on service, support, and collaboration with franchisees, resulting in substantial growth and increased profitability. Her servant leadership style brought about a resurgence in Popeyes' brand and fortunes.

3. Art Barter – CEO of Datron World Communications, Inc.

Art Barter, the CEO of Datron World Communications, Inc., advocates for the intentional practice of servant leadership. He has successfully applied servant leadership principles within his organization. 

Art Barter's approach involves leveraging the strengths of employees to drive performance, fostering a culture of collaboration, and putting the needs of the team first. His dedication to servant leadership has not only improved the company's performance but also created a workplace that values its employees.

4. Jack Welch – Former CEO of General Electric

While Jack Welch is not often associated with servant leadership, he underwent a significant transformation during his tenure as the CEO of General Electric. He famously stated, "Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others." 

Welch's shift in leadership philosophy reflects the principles of servant leadership, prioritizing the development and growth of his team members.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Servant Leadership

Servant leadership offers a unique approach to leadership, emphasizing the well-being of team members and selfless service. It comes with a set of benefits and challenges:

The Benefits of Servant Leadership

Servant leadership offers several advantages that make it an attractive leadership style in various contexts;

  • Servant leaders prioritize team needs, boosting job satisfaction and motivation.
  • Servant leadership builds community and enhances teamwork.
  • Servant leaders emphasize ethics, integrity, and open communication for a positive culture.
  • Servant leaders foster employee development for sustained growth and prosperity.

The Challenges and Criticisms of Servant Leadership:

Despite its many advantages, servant leadership also faces certain challenges and criticisms.’

  • Servant leadership can be exploited, with leaders taken advantage of.
  • Servant leaders may struggle with tough decisions, risking organizational success.
  • Not suitable for all industries or highly competitive, crisis-driven situations.
  • Effectiveness depends on organizational culture and can be challenging to implement in change-resistant organizations.

Servant leadership offers a compelling approach to leadership, but its success depends on the context, the leader's adaptability, and the willingness of team members to embrace the model.

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In conclusion, Servant Leadership stands as a compelling and ethical approach to leadership, emphasizing the well-being of team members and fostering a sense of community and collaboration. While it brings numerous benefits, including enhanced employee engagement and a positive workplace culture, it also involves challenges, such as potential exploitation and perceived weakness in decision-making. Ultimately, the success of Servant Leadership hinges on its alignment with the organization's culture and the leader's ability to adapt and apply its principles effectively.

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Life Skills Trainer

A seasoned professional with more than 18 years of experience from reputed organizations like ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank, Amway and Commercial Bank. Her experience encompasses project management, strategic planning, resource utilization, revenue growth, cost reduction & optimization. She has diversified & led operations both in India & Middle East Markets. Neena’s greatest strength is building a project from the primary level to guiding it to attain new performance levels. She creates unique solutions to yield profitable outcomes in a project. She is also competent and efficient in maintaining exclusive relationships in a key market segment, expanding the company's share in that market. She works closely with entrepreneurs, investors, CEOs across the globe to find practical ways of enhancing entrepreneurship. She is now working at Edoxi Training Institute.