Servant leadership posits the leader in a wholly different role and emphasizes that leadership is a group phenomenon. There are no leaders without followers, and leadership always involves interpersonal influence or persuasion. Another critical distinction between servant leadership and other management theories is the leader’s motivation. Under servant leadership, a leader’s motivation derives from a core belief that they are no better than those whom they lead. Shifting practices suggest this is a better way to lead and manage organizations. With NGOs, servant leadership fits well, as it values and embraces grassroots input.


Servant leaders do not stir conflict to their benefit. They do not take action to entrench authoritarianism. They are persuasive, convincing others to work together toward a common good. They reaffirm others, nurturing the gifts and abilities they see in those they lead. They recognize their own limits and harness the strength that comes from many different people and many different skill sets.


First of all, because it works. You get results. There’s a group of companies called the “Firms of Endearment” that practice servant leadership. Maybe they don’t call it servant leadership, but they really do practice it.

And it is those companies that out perform their peers and it is so much more fulfilling.

But it’s not easy. Servant leadership takes time. Servant leadership takes effort. And servant leadership forces us to really question our values about others. And because of the hard work, people sometimes don’t want to put it in. But for those that do, they see it’s worth it. They see the results.

So many people say, “Yes, I am committed to others, I am a servant leader,” and what they mean by that is “I volunteer and do good things in the community.” And you can volunteer and do good things in the community and not be a servant leader.

There are skills and capabilities of a servant leader that you can work on: listening, empathy, self-awareness are three of the big ones that people can work on.

An effective servant leader is conscious of whether those being served grow as persons, are becoming healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous and more likely to become servants. In this sense, servant leadership is therefore not about being servile or submissive. It is about making a difference by identifying and meeting the needs of others. Servant leaders can address historical oppressive treatment of diverse people. By rejecting elitism, it offers women, sexual minorities, and other marginalized groups a voice.

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