Servant leadership

Servant Leadership Style made easy: Top 5 Examples and Pros & Cons

Leadership styles vary a lot among a variety of people and managers. We can find many unique and interesting takes on leadership. The teams and their composition are also a factor, along with the purpose. Servant leadership is one such unique leadership style that seeks to draw emphasis away from the most popular facet of leadership, i.e., power. Often people associate a leader with a powerful person who gets their whims satisfied by the team.

This leadership style puts a turnaround on this observation. Servant leadership strives to work for the team and serve them to enable the best outcome possible. In this blog, we will understand the principles guiding the method of servant leadership. If you believe this might be the right fit for your team, we will also review how you can practice it effectively as a manager or leader. Keep reading to find out more!

What is servant leadership?

Servant leadership is a leadership style that focuses on shifting management from a uni-directional process to a multi-directional one. Instead of emphasizing exercising authority, the manager focuses on enabling synergy across the team. Servant leader works to help others thrive at their jobs so that they can develop leadership qualities in every team member. Effectively, every team member is empowered to indulge their creativity in achieving their goals. The priorities of the team leaders and managers are given equal importance in this paradigm; therefore, it is also known as “even-power leadership.”

Robert Greenleaf introduced the concept of servant leadership as a counter to the conventional leadership styles that fixate on authoritarianism. In contemporary times, the same concern has been raised by numerous people. Resultantly, the servant leadership style is gaining more popularity. It is based on a few fundamental principles, which are as follows:

Principles of servant leadership

  • Empathy
  • Listening
  • Awareness
  • Healing
  • Conceptualization
  • Persuasion
  • Stewardship
  • Foresight
  • Community building
  • Commitment to the growth of others
Servant leadership appears helpful for the team and the members for sure, but the question arises – what does it hold for the managers? Because, at the end of the day, if a manager is working to encourage their team, they must also benefit from it. But worry not! Servant leadership brings a host of benefits for the managers too. We will look at a few of them here:

Servant Leadership Examples

Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy in which the leader focuses on serving others, including employees, customers, and the community, rather than the leader’s self-interest. This approach to leadership emphasizes empathy, humility, and a commitment to helping others grow and succeed. Here are some examples of servant leadership in action:

  • Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines): Herb Kelleher, the co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines, was known for his people-first approach to leadership. He believed in taking care of his employees and built a company culture that valued their well-being and happiness, contributing to the airline’s success.
  • Howard Schultz (Starbucks): Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, is known for his emphasis on providing fair wages, healthcare, and stock options to Starbucks employees, even part-time workers. He also initiated various social responsibility programs, showing a commitment to both employees and the community.
  • Bob Chapman (Barry-Wehmiller): Bob Chapman, the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, is known for his philosophy of “truly human leadership.” He emphasizes the importance of caring for employees as whole individuals, not just as workers, and has implemented programs focused on personal development and well-being.
  • Mary Barra (General Motors): Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, has shown servant leadership by prioritizing safety and quality, both for customers and employees. She has implemented company culture changes to foster openness and collaboration.
  • Teachers and Educators: Many teachers and educators exemplify servant leadership every day by dedicating themselves to the growth and development of their students, often going above and beyond to ensure their success.
Servant leadership can take many forms, such as:

  • A leader who empowers their employees to take ownership of their work and encourages them to make decisions and take risks, providing support and guidance along the way.
  • A manager who actively listens to their team members and helps them develop their skills and abilities through coaching and mentoring.
  • A CEO who prioritizes the well-being and growth of their employees, providing opportunities for personal and professional development, and creating a positive and inclusive workplace culture.
  • A supervisor who leads by example, modeling the behavior and values they expect from their team, and working alongside them to achieve common goals.
  • A leader who puts the needs of their team before their own, showing empathy and compassion, and taking action to address any challenges or issues they may be facing.

Pros and cons of practicing servant leadership

Servant leadership is a leadership style that emphasizes serving and supporting the needs of others first, with the belief that this approach ultimately leads to better organizational outcomes. However, like any leadership style, it comes with its own set of pros and cons:

Pros of Servant Leadership:

  • Enhanced Employee Engagement: Servant leaders focus on their employees’ well-being and personal development. This often leads to higher job satisfaction, motivation, and engagement among team members.
  • Improved Organizational Culture: Servant leadership can foster a positive and inclusive organizational culture where open communication, collaboration, and empathy are valued. This can result in a more harmonious work environment. Leaders who practice servant leadership understand that their organization’s success lies in their team members’ hands and work diligently to develop a strong relationship of trust and respect with them.
  • Higher Employee Retention: Employees who feel valued and supported are likelier to stay with an organization. Servant leaders tend to have lower turnover rates, saving the organization time and resources in recruiting and training new employees.
  • Increased Innovation: Servant leaders encourage creativity and innovation by creating a safe space for employees to express their ideas and take calculated risks. a servant manager focuses on the role of the facilitator instead of an in-charge. Effectively, the employees find ample space to lead objectives and develop innovative ways of doing things. The manager remains by their side as a guide and keeps them from going astray.
  • Stronger Customer Satisfaction: By prioritizing the needs of employees and fostering a customer-centric mindset, servant leaders often contribute to improved customer satisfaction. Happy and engaged employees are more likely to deliver better service to customers.

Cons of Servant Leadership:

  • Time-Consuming: Servant leadership can be time-consuming, involving actively listening to employees, providing support, and engaging in coaching and mentoring. This can be challenging for leaders with limited time and resources.
  • Risk of Exploitation: In some cases, employees may take advantage of a servant leader’s support and kindness, which can lead to a lack of accountability and productivity within the team.
  • Difficulty in Decision-Making: Servant leaders may struggle with making tough decisions that could be perceived as against employees’ best interests. Balancing the needs of individuals with the organization’s needs can be challenging.
  • Resistance to Change: Some employees may resist change initiatives or performance improvements if they feel that a servant leader is too accommodating and not assertive in driving necessary changes.
  • Potential for Ineffectiveness: While servant leadership can be highly effective in some contexts, it may not suit all situations. For example, a more directive leadership style might be required in fast-paced, highly competitive industries to make quick decisions and drive results.
It’s important to note that the effectiveness of servant leadership can vary depending on the organizational culture, industry, and specific leadership challenges. Many successful leaders blend elements of servant leadership with other leadership styles to adapt to different circumstances and achieve the best outcomes.

How can you practice Servant Leadership?

The key to practicing servant leadership is cultivating an attitude of service toward others. Leaders must put the needs of their team first and strive to understand their concerns. There are several steps to follow if you aim to practice servant leadership which includes:

Develop the mindset

The first step to establishing servant leadership in your team is to develop the mindset of a servant leader. Often, managers struggle to see themselves as equal to or below their team members. Accepting your role as a facilitator to the jobs of others is essential to adopting the philosophy of servant leadership. It is about putting their goals first. A manager’s personal goals have to take the backseat while the team’s goals take charge.

As a servant-leader, you should be willing to put in the extra effort to help your team succeed, even sacrificing your agenda at times. You need to be able to put your ego aside and think about the best interests of everyone involved.

Listen attentively

Listening attentively is central to effective servant leadership. You will be able to serve the interests of your team best if you listen to their concerns attentively. By understanding their issues in detail, you can provide accurate interventions accordingly. Further, you should ask questions and seek feedback to learn how you can help them better.

All in all, you will be able to develop a personal relationship with your team members and fulfill your role effectively. Moreover, it will help you clear out miscommunication and misunderstanding within the team that might create friction.

Head out to our active listening toolkit to learn more about this!

Influence and guide

Being a servant leader is all about taking your team members’ hands as they progress towards their goals. As a servant leader, you should inculcate a habit of guiding others regarding the best pathway to achieving their objectives. You can give them crucial insights that convert into practical steps in their journey.

You can spread your influence in several ways, depending upon the team’s needs. You can use a coaching leadership style or mentorship leadership style. You can also become a role model for your members by displaying the behaviors you want your team members to have daily.

The next step after providing guidance is providing the essentials for getting things done. Your team members may need more resources or workforce to get results. Here, as a servant leader, you can guide them to find these things.

Foster a spirit of collaboration

Collaboration is one of the critical pillars of servant leadership. You must encourage your team members to work together as a collective unit. It doesn’t mean that everyone has to agree with everything. In fact, it often takes disagreement to come up with viable solutions. But, at the very least, everyone needs to be aware of what the others are doing and be willing to help where possible. By doing this, the team will operate far more efficiently because everyone will pull in the same direction. While at it, you should also ensure a good work-life balance for your team members.

Appreciate and value diversity of thought

When it comes to servant leadership, one of the essential virtues is an appreciation for the diversity of thought within your team. Leaders who practice servant leadership can see beyond their point of view and instead focus on the individual needs of their team members.

To practice servant leadership, you must be able to accept different points of view without judgment or criticism. It means that you should also be open-minded when implementing change and be prepared to listen to feedback from those who may face a negative impact. It would help if you also took the time to understand their concerns and be willing to do whatever it takes to solve the problem. 

Let others shine!

Not every contribution needs to be a front-and-center effort. Sometimes it’s important to let others take the spotlight – even if their contributions may not be at par with your standards. It doesn’t mean that you should neglect your strengths and abilities, but rather that you should aim to support those around you in whatever way possible.

Do not take over or control the situation, but rather help facilitate smooth collaboration and create environments that allow others to shine. The results are typically far more impressive when everyone pulls together than when individuals try to do it alone.

As a servant leader, you might miss out on the spotlight often. Your efforts in keeping the team together and committed happen behind the curtains. Remembering the importance of these backstage efforts is the key to keeping yourself motivated as a servant leader. Your final impact on the team would be a prize more significant than any other.

What Servant Leadership is not?

It would be easy to attach a pejorative connotation to the concept of servant leadership from the name itself. However, it is crucial to understand that servant leadership is not merely about serving others. You are taking care of your team as a manager with a dedicated vision and making efforts accordingly.

It is not about agreeing to the whims and fancies of the team, as some might interpret. An able servant leader commands respect among their team based on the efforts they make for it. Their role as an effective guide, which keeps the team together and moving, is recognized and appreciated.

The nomenclature of the term can serve as an inhibiter in adopting this leadership style. But servant leadership is all about breaking the conventional boundaries in which the roles of leaders and managers have been framed.


To conclude, servant leadership is a powerful and effective leadership style that emphasizes the leadership of service to others. It is a way of thinking that puts the needs of others first, and it has several powerful benefits for leaders. By following the principles of servant leadership, you can positively impact your team and achieve tremendous success. You can find more valuable insights on leadership styles here!

Master the servant leadership style through active listening.

Get the free active listening toolkit for managers that helps you become an attentive listener.


What is servant leadership examples?

Servant leadership is a leadership approach that prioritizes the needs of others, empowers them to reach their full potential, and fosters a positive and inclusive workplace culture. Examples of servant leadership include active listening, empathy, empowerment, and leading by example.

Who are 5 servant leaders?

Five examples of servant leaders include Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Abraham Lincoln. These leaders put the needs of others first and worked tirelessly to create positive change in their communities and the world.

Is Mahatma Gandhi a servant leader?

Mahatma Gandhi is widely considered a servant leader, as he prioritized the needs of others, practiced non-violence, and worked towards the greater good of all people. His leadership style emphasized empathy, compassion, and selfless service.

What is the focus of servant leadership?

The focus of servant leadership is on serving others and creating a positive and inclusive workplace culture. This approach emphasizes empowerment, collaboration, and personal and professional development, with the goal of creating a supportive and high-performing team. Servant leaders prioritize the well-being of their employees, build strong relationships based on trust and respect, and work to create a sense of purpose and meaning for everyone involved.

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