top of page

How to be a Servant Leader (and Why You Should Be)

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” - William Henry Gates III

One of the greatest minds of this century, Bill Gates, is a business magnate, software developer, investor, and philanthropist. We can safely assume that his advice is golden; leaders must learn to empower their employees. And not only that, but serve them.

Servant leadership is the key you need to unlock your employee's potential and keep them engaged in their work. In this article, I talk about strategies to get the most out of your employees--it's all part of leaving command leadership in the past and adopting the mindset of a caring servant leader.

You may be thinking... "but I'm the boss, doesn't that mean employees are supposed to do my bidding?"

Not nowadays.

The History

Robert Greenleaf published his first essay on leadership in 1970, in which he coined the term, "servant leader" and introduced a revolutionary way of leading one's team; by serving first.

"The servant-leader is servant first... Becoming a servant-leader begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first." -Robert Greenleaf

Anyone who has worked in an office under the thumb of a CEO knows the importance of a leader who is caring and empowers their team.

Luckily, in the last couple of decades, there has been a rapid shift from command leadership to servant leadership--in which the leader is at the bottom of an inverted pyramid.

How do the two compare?

Command Leader vs. Servant Leader

While a command leader takes a managerial approach, a servant leader acts as a guide or mentor to their employees. A servant leader actively seeks the potential in their team, and nurtures their personal and professional growth by aligning them with what they are most passionate about or interested in doing and provides training.

According to DOMO, 37% of employees indicated they were satisfied with their jobs, and 25% of employees state that they seek more opportunities to do what they do best.

It is the leader's job to note the talents and passions of their employees and help them hone those skills.

When a servant leader sees the potential for leadership in an employee, the leader will provide knowledge, guidance, and training.

Considering that 40% of employees who receive poor training leave within the first year of their position, serving first by way of resources and knowledge matters most. This is what separates the command leader who wants to keep power and cut expenses from the servant leader.

5 Ways You Can Be a Servant Leader

  1. Show Gratitude: A study done by Glassdoor reports that appreciation for a job well done motivates employees more than fear, and that 81% of employees will work harder when shown gratitude for their efforts. Additionally, 53% of employees would stay at the company longer if they were shown more appreciation, which means there's always room for more!

  2. Ask What You Can Do: It's about more than having an open-door policy, a leader needs to check-in with their team and often-times be the first one to initiate a conversation with the employee. Sometimes employees are intimidated by their employer, which means you have to take the first step. Ask the following questions: What are you most passionate about? What do you like most about your job? Does the work culture motivate you to succeed? How can I improve your environment and tailor your job to best suit your needs? Are there any opportunities you wish you had?

  3. Listen to Your Team: You've asked the questions, now listen. Don't talk over your employees, even if you disagree. Take their opinions into account and listen to their ideas. You'll be surprised by how making them feel heard and respected can translate into buy-in to your vision.

  4. Provide opportunities: Based on their answers to the questions above, try to find opportunities within the company that would help advance their skills or allow them to try something new. A good leader will always try to find a way to maximize their team's capability and capacity.

  5. Relinquish power: When you recognize potential for leadership in someone it is your duty to help them grow into that potential. Usually, that requires letting go of power and placing it in your employees' hands.

Before you go off and implement the five tips above, it may be helpful to brush up on some of the characteristics of effective and caring leaders mentioned by Larry Spears.

Remember: servant leadership is above all else about serving first and being a leader second.


In his essay, "Essentials" Greenleaf, the founder of this leadership movement, refers to the best test. To take the test, truthfully answer the questions below.

Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?

How does your leadership style compare?

53 views0 comments


bottom of page