Servant leadership

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

Leadership styles are plentiful. There are classic directive leaders and collaborative types, and some seem to thrive on a constant power struggle. But what if there was a leadership approach that flipped the script entirely? Enter servant leadership. This isn’t about barking orders and expecting unquestioning obedience. It’s a radical shift in perspective, where the leader prioritizes the well-being and growth of their team.
Intrigued? If you’re looking to foster a culture of trust, collaboration, and high performance, servant leadership might be the key you’ve been searching for. In this blog, we’ll delve into servant leadership’s core principles and explore how you can apply them to empower your team and achieve remarkable things together. So, buckle up and get ready to rewrite the leadership rulebook!

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?

Servant leadership – the name itself might conjure up images of you waiting on your team hand and foot. But hold on! Servant leadership is far more than servitude; it’s about redefining leadership from the ground up. Here’s the thing: effective servant leaders put their teams first, but that doesn’t mean becoming a pushover. Let’s debunk some common myths:

Myth #1: Servant Leaders = Doormats

Imagine a team captain who prioritizes only their glory, leaving teammates feeling unsupported. Not exactly a recipe for success, right? A servant leader flips the script. They prioritize their team’s growth, creating an environment where everyone feels valued and empowered to thrive. This doesn’t mean blind agreement but fostering open communication and healthy debate to reach the best solutions.

Myth #2: Respect Isn’t Earned, It’s Given

Respect isn’t something handed out like party favors. A true servant leader earns respect through their actions. They invest time and energy in their team’s development, becoming a trusted guide who helps navigate challenges and celebrate victories. This dedication fosters a strong sense of camaraderie and mutual respect.

Myth #3: Servant Leadership is Soft

Don’t confuse servant leadership with weakness. It requires immense strength and courage to break away from traditional leadership models. Effective servant leaders are decisive, hold their teams accountable, and set a clear vision for the future. But they do it all with a focus on collaboration and shared success.

So, ditch the misconceptions! Servant leadership is about creating a powerful working environment built on trust, growth, and a shared purpose. Are you ready to rewrite the leadership rulebook? Embrace the servant leader within you, and watch your team reach its full potential!


Servant leadership isn’t a badge of honor you wear; it’s a philosophy you embody. By prioritizing your team’s growth and well-being, you foster a culture of trust, collaboration, and innovation. Imagine a workplace where people feel valued, supported, and empowered to reach their full potential. That’s the magic of servant leadership.

So, ditch the outdated “top-down” approach and embrace the power of service. Remember, the best leaders aren’t those who stand above their teams; they’re the ones who walk alongside them, guiding them towards a brighter future. Start implementing these principles today, and watch your team transform into a force to be reckoned with. Lead by serving, and together, achieve remarkable things! Now go forth and inspire your team to greatness!

Master the servant leadership style through active listening.

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