Understanding Servant Leadership

servant leadership

“The simplest and shortest ethical precept is to be served as little as possible . . . and to serve others as much as possible.”

Leo Tolstoy

Understanding “Service”

The servant leadership model holds that a leader’s primary role is to serve employees. Service orientation, peer level service orientation, and leader servant orientation are all variations on a theme. Foundational elements of this theme are as follows:

  1. Doing more than required or “Service Mindedness”
  2. Belief that you make a difference or Self-efficacy
  3. Striving to improve the team and not the leader – “winning for we not me”
  4. Empathy

Customer service orientation is going the extra mile to make things right for the customer or “receiver”. This may be challenging to define, but you know when you are receiving it, and when you are not. Keep in mind that the receiver need not be an actual customer in the traditional sense. The “customer” can be another department at work, another part of the office, another division of your company, or any downstream stake holder in the value stream.

Peer level service orientation differs only in the relationship to the receiver. When a peer steps outside their normal bonds and helps in a way not normally expected within traditional boundaries. Having this “orientation” means that you live this all the time. It is not a onetime event; it is a mindset, or a paradigm. Those that live this have a sense that their influence and responsibility to their community is much broader and vitally important.

They manage, lead, and direct in every traditional sense. Beyond this, they enable their subordinates because their orientation is to provide – not to control. Servant leaders share power. Servant leaders do make hard decisions, manage, enforce, and when required they make the unpopular choices. Nevertheless, this is done from a position of service, support, and love.

Providing service to your subordinates, peers, leaders and society goes beyond doing the minimum. It pushes one past doing for me – it is doing for we.

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

-Lao Tzu

globServant Leadership

“Servant Leadership” is a management philosophy and a set of leadership practices. It sits in stark contrast to traditional management paradigms. Traditional leadership involves the accumulation of power, the ladder to climb, the top of the food chain. You progress upwards to reach the most power. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform. This is their core, not a sideline; they are all about the development and mentoring of others. Leadership is providing tools, environment, and “serving”.

They emphasize collaboration, trust, empathy, and relationships. They lead in order to better serve those around them. Dialogue over dictate. Empathy over enterprise.

A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. They provide an enabling environment, their natural orientation is to provide, not to control. Servant leaders share power (or empower) their subordinates and peers. They put the needs of others first.

They encourage, support, and enable subordinates to blossom into their full potential. This leads to delegation of responsibility and participative decision-making. They help others develop even if they are outside of the team or even the organization. Below are some servant leader behaviors we should all become self-aware of and work to enhance in ourselves.

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

–Winston Churchill

Nine Servant Leader Characteristics

  1. Listening – seek to identify and clarify the thoughts of a group, listen receptively to hear the inner voice of the speaker, grasp what the spirit and mind are communicating.
  2. Empathy – strive to understand and empathize with others. Everyone needs to be accepted, assume good intentions of coworkers and not reject them even when forced to reject their behavior or performance. This does not mean, “I am okay, you’re okay”. Nor does it mean adopting other people’s emotions as your own. It is not pleasing everyone. Rather empathy means thoughtfully considering the teams feelings in the process of making intelligent decisions. It is one of the stronger factors – but not dictating your choice.
  3. Healing – Greenleaf the father of modern servant leadership said, “There is something subtle communicated to one who is being served and led if, implicit in the compact between the servant-leader and led is the understanding that the search for wholeness is something that they have.” I cannot say it better than that.
  4. Awareness – emotional general awareness, and especially self-awareness, are strengthens of the servant-leader. The elements of emotional intelligence are exercised and developed in servant leaders.
  5. Persuasion – rely on persuasion, rather than positional authority in making decisions. Seek to convince others. This is the clearest distinctions between the traditional authoritarian leadership and that of servant-leadership. The servant-leader is effective at building consensus within groups. It does not need to be my way – but a way we can all live with that works.
  6. Conceptualization – understanding, sharing, and developing mental models of issues being faced. Sharing and building the shared vision across the teams and community.
  7. Foresight – this enables leaders to understand lessons from the past, the realities of the right now, and the consequence of a decision in the future. It is a kind of wisdom; it is connected to mental models and shared vision.
  8. Stewardship – leaders play significance roles in holding their institutions in trust for the greater good of society. Treat it like your own – but know you are only taking care of it for a time.
  9. Building Community – seek to identify a means for building community among those who work within a given institution as well as the community. This is something they do every day – not a once a year gift to united way. It is a lifestyle.

Screen Shot 4(1)Locus of Control & Self Efficacy

Locus of control refers to the extent to which individuals believe they can control events affecting them. The concept was coined and developed by Julian Rotter in the 50’s and has since become an aspect of personality studies. There are two types of locus of control – internal and external. Internal locus of control is the belief that you are “in charge of the events that occur”. External locus of control is the belief that “chance, fate, or other forces determine events”.

Individuals with an internal locus of control believe their behaviors are directed by their personal decisions and efforts. They have control over those things they can change, they live in the “I” space. Having an internal locus of control is linked to self-efficacy, the belief you have in your ability to do be successful at a task or in life.

People with an external locus of control see their behaviors and lives as being controlled or driven by fate. They are stuck and their belief makes it true. They live in the “victim” space. They view themselves as victims of bad luck, fate, or circumstance. They may believe they are prohibited from success.

Individuals with a strong internal locus of control believe events in their life emerge and develop primarily from their own actions: for example, when receiving test results, people with an internal locus of control tend to praise or blame themselves and their abilities. People with a strong external locus of control tend to praise or blame external factors such as the teacher or the test.

Self-efficacy is a person’s belief that he or she can accomplish a particular activity. It differs from locus of control by relating to competence in situations and activities. Self-efficacy plays an important role in one’s career because when people feel that they have self-efficacy over their work conditions, this environment becomes less stressful. This allows them to focus on the work and not “run scared”. Training in coping skills, team dynamics, and the change grief process can increase self-efficacy and internalize locus of control.

“The miracle is this–the more we share, the more we have.”

–Leonard Nimoy

Screen Shot 3Being Service Minded and “The Extra Mile”

Being “service minded” is having the paradigm that you are accountable for your work and personal life. Instead of asking who is to blame for a situation, a service minded individual asks “What can I do to improve the situation? They say this because they believe they can change it – and they want to. For this paradigm to work a number of skill are important. Namely they are; patience, attentiveness, focus, communication, optimism, calmness, emotional intelligence, high personal accountability, willingness to learn, risk taking, accept change, and most importantly they know THEY CAN.

When someone does more than the minimum required, performs well beyond par, in a way that requires them to step outside of their normal duty, to provide greater support, with an attitude of generosity – this is going the extra mile. This might be something that actually is not easy for them and may even expose them to risk or criticism where performing their normal function would not expose them to this liability. They give of themselves in a way to lift up the “other” – not for reward or personal gain. They demonstrate this service without expecting anything in return.

Screen Shot 2Working for the “We”

This paradigm is punctuated by a leader that empowers, lets them identify change, and leads through inspiration, and operates through influence. They do this by empowering their team and organization to do this for themselves rather than being dragged along. The transformational leaders rely very little on authority. Their sphere of influence is much wider than their organizational reporting structure. They do provide a higher level of organizational vison than the traditional leader.

This is in contrast to the more traditional “transactional” model based on a “give and take” relationship. You perform work and receive reward, reach a stretch goal –receive a bigger reward. In the transactional model, all influence is within the normal reporting umbrella, rules and structure are taken as absolute, and the worldview is rather is static.

Mutual Empathy

Because of this, they work harder than expected and grow beyond normal expectations. This occurs because the leader offers something more. More than working for pay, they provide followers with an inspiring mission. They share the vision and allow them to co-create their own unique identity.

Servant leaders support the Individual – leaders demonstrate genuine concern for the needs and feelings of followers. This personal attention to each follower is a key element in bringing out his or her best. The team wins by striving to help every team member along. The leader does not build them up but instead diminishes himself while at the same time promoting the accomplishments and needs of the individual. Does each little step right with each individual; and the greater picture will be painted properly. Servant leaders offer intellectual stimulation – the leader challenges followers to be innovative and creative. Forces them all to bend out of their comfort zones and become engaged on the next deeper level. They move the groups to greater abstract understanding while at the same time challenge them on what is achievable if you discard the “status quo” model.

Some Great Books

Servant Leadership: A Journey Into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness, by Robert K. Greenleaf
Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, by Liz Wiseman
QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life,
by John G. Miller
Developing the Leaders Around You: How to Help Others Reach Their Full Potential, by John C. Maxwell


Tim Crocker
Tim Crocker
TIM is engaged with the Sasol Ethylene Project in Westlake Louisiana as the Utilities and Infrastructure Manager. During his 25-year career, he has worked on infrastructure systems optimization at BASF, Biofuels process development with British Petroleum, and Utilities Management at Georgia Pacific and Domtar. His areas of expertise are Process Improvement, Steam and Power Generation, Water Treatment, Chemical Recovery, Energy Management, Waste Treatment, and Performance Management. Tim has facilitated over 100 Kaizen workshops and been a contributor in three major process improvement roll outs. He received a BS in Chemistry from the University of Portland (Portland, Oregon) along with a second Major in Philosophy, where he also worked as a teaching assistant. Later earned his MS in Paper Science Technology from the Institute of Paper Science in Atlanta, GA. Currently. He is available for speaking engagements in both Process Improvement and Leadership areas. Tim lives in the Moss Bluff community with his wife Cathy and daughter Yuri. They enjoy gardening, amateur astronomy, cooking, and model rocketry.

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