What is Servant Leadership? (Servant Leadership #1)

Before we talk about Servant Leadership, let’s talk about Leadership.

What is Leadership? For some, he is a leader because he got the job, the title. He was hired as a team leader or a manager, therefore he assumes that he is a leader. However, in reality, leadership is not defined by position but influence. Some people can influence others, with or without a title, they are the real leaders. So, if we want to develop our leadership, we need to think of expanding our influence.

How do we expand our influence? In leadership development, we usually focus on skills. We train our team leaders in communication skills, organizational skills, productivity skills, conflict resolution, etc.

Imagine a leader who got all these skills and work very hard to build a team, but his problem is, whenever things do not go his way, he would burst out into anger and he would lash out at his team! No matter how good his organizational skill is, it is not likely that he will be able to keep a stable and high performing team.

So, it’s not just skills that we need in leadership, but attitudes toward the people that we lead is also as important. And this is where servant leadership comes in.

What is Servant leadership? It is actually a very ancient concept. We can trace back to as early as 6th century BC with the ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi.

The greatest leader is one of whose existence the people are barely aware. Next comes one whom they love and praise. Next comes one whom they fear. Next comes one whom they despise and defy.

When the greatest leader accomplished the task, all the people say, ‘We did it!”


In Islam, it was recorded in the Hadith, which is the words and deeds of the Islamic prophets.

The leader of the people is their servant. (sayyid al qawm khadimuhum)


Of course, when people talk about Servant leadership, the most often quoted person is Jesus Christ. He did not just teach servant leadership, it is relatively easy to say something beautiful or impressive or even revolutionary, but more importantly, He lived out servant leadership in his life.

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be servant of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many


But the modern day movement of Servant Leadership can be traced back to 1970, when Robert Greenleaf published his essay The Servant as Leader.

The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.

...to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?

Robert Greenleaf

You see a servant leader lead in quite a different way than a traditional leader. Imagine two types of leaders.

Leader A leads by authority and position, "you do what I said or else..." He communicates most of the time through the chain of command, there is little personal touch or informal interaction. He focuses on performance and results of his team members, personal or family issues of his teammates are not his concern. He asks for obedience and flexibility from his people, and whatever he says go.

Leader B leads by influence, you want to do things his way because you know that’s a good way. He communicates with the team through discussion, everyone can contribute and everyone is heard. He focuses on the growth of his teammates, everyone become a better team member, a better employee and a better person under his leadership. He asks for opinions and creativity from his team, he wants people to have different opinions and be creative in problem solving.

Which leader do you want to follow? Leader A or Leader B? Well, I suppose most of you will want Leader B. That’s the power of Servant Leadership.

There are other advantages of Servant Leadership too. You’ll get, to name a few...

Greater speed in innovation and change

Higher level of employee engagement

Higher identification with the company

Lower turnover rate

Better customer service

I know, you must have lots of questions about the practical side. In the next article, we will talk about the characteristics of a servant leader, and we will touch on the more practical side of Servant Leadership.

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