How to Practice Servant Leadership

“He who is greatest among you shall be a servant. That’s the new definition of greatness. …By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.”  – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Leadership is a unique skill. It requires confidence, poise, emotional intelligence, interpersonal communication, industry expertise, accountability, passion and drive to be a great leader. When all are combined, leaders are able to act as a resource others can rely on – both from professional and personal standpoints. 

There are various forms of leadership, some producing better results than others. An effective strategy I’ve experienced throughout my professional career is the concept of Servant Leadership.

Robert K. Greenleaf first developed the phrase in his essay titled, “The Servant is a Leader” published in 1970. As its name implies, a servant leader is one who desires to serve. The International Journal of Leadership Studies took a deep dive into servant leadership, analyzing common characteristics that servant leaders display in their daily lives. First and foremost, the study found that servant leadership, “begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then, conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.” 

Qualities of Servant Leaders

In essence, a servant leader is one who puts others before themselves. With a selfless mentality, servant leaders focus on developing their employees to foster a healthy work environment that promotes growth and acceptance. And, in turn, their actions inspire others to operate with a serve-first mindset, as well. 

Here are four ways you can act as a servant leader for your organization. 

Give More Than Orders

The work ethic of an organization starts from the top down. In any organization, a servant leader’s work ethic is equally strong as those who report to them. A servant leader isn’t a dictator who strictly delegates work onto other employees. They lead by example as a first in-last out type of worker; pacing the team toward meeting deadlines, accomplishing goals and developing future aspirations. 

Value Workplace Diversity 

A servant leader respects and values other perspectives. They want to be surrounded by diverse minds who think individually, offer unique insight and even challenge the opinions of their own. A well-rounded workplace is vital to executing business strategies and developing creativity. 

Show Compassion and Forgiveness 

Servant leaders are empathetic. They strive to remain cognizant of the emotions of their employees, and therefore display kindness and concern for others. They also understand that everyone makes mistakes – including themselves – and that, rather than negatively dwelling on them, mistakes can be utilized as positive learning lessons.

Listen Intently

Servant leaders actively listen to their people in order to understand ideas, offer feedback and solicit participation.  In valuing the opinions of others, they are willing to listen because they want to learn from those around them.

By demonstrating servant leadership, we can create a more inclusive workplace environment to foster growth and sustained success for our counterparts. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision explains,  when we decide to serve, we are deciding to be great – thus committing to making a positive impact on society as a whole. After all, a strong society is one that supports each other.