10 Characteristics of Servant Leaders

Portrait of Alec Ortega

Alec Ortega

August 7, 2021

10 Characteristics of Servant Leaders

Servant leadership is a powerful and transformative management approach to organizational leadership. Servant leadership does not replace traditional methods of leadership but rather complements them. In servant leadership, the traditionally dominant, controlling approach to leadership, in which executives make decisions and assign tasks for lower teams to carry out, is replaced with one where leaders find ways to empower people on the front lines of an organization--those closest to customers--to lead their own teams.

Servant leadership is a leadership style whose primary duty is to serve those lower than them. Servant leaders are not concerned with just their own success-- they place a higher priority on ensuring that all of their employees succeed. The servant leadership model is just as much about the professional development and well-being of others as it is about the bottom line. 

Servant leadership is a term coined by Robert Greenleaf in 1970 that emphasizes leading with empathy and not power. With servant leadership, the role of executives becomes empowering ground-level teams to make data-driven decisions for their verticals while also aligning teams towards common goals. So, what are some of the characteristics of servant leadership and a servant leader?

10 characteristics of a servant leader

Empowers ground-level teams to make data-driven decisions

Successful servant leaders encourage data-driven decisions. They want their people to think critically and decide based on what they believe is right, not what will please those above them. Data allows a form of communication that is based on truth rather than emotional or gut reactions. Teams can utilize data to communicate the success of initiatives or opportunities for future improvement. Commonality allows you to democratize your business' data and allows teams to measure their impact against KPIs.

Aligns teams towards common goals

The traditional leader is consumed by the need to achieve short-term operational goals. While servant leaders may not deliver direct value to customers, they align teams' efforts below them towards higher-level business objectives. Successful servant leaders are good at envisioning possible and motivating their teams to work towards long-term common goals.

Provides clear guidance

Servant leadership is all about providing clear guidance based on data and historical information--not just because it's how they would do things but because the other methods have succeeded or failed. To be an effective leader, servant leaders must give employees autonomy to make decisions while also setting specific goals that need to be reached. This way of making decisions doesn't allow a single person at the top dictating orders for everyone below them; instead, teams are empowered with freedom and responsibility to lead themselves towards common objectives.

Acts as a partner, not just a boss

The power of servant leadership is in focusing on the needs of others, especially team members before you consider your own. Servant leaders provide clear guidance in an emotionally supportive manner. They act as partners to their employees, not just bosses telling them what to do and then assigning tasks for teams below them.

This can be displayed by acknowledging other people's perspectives, giving them the support they need to meet their work and personal goals, involving them in decisions where appropriate, and building a sense of community within your team.

A successful organization fosters inclusion by building a community that cares for co-workers and customers alike. This environment drives positive changes because it builds empathy--an important aspect of servant leadership.

Builds community

Building community starts with understanding who your employees are as individuals. Servant leaders recognize their own weaknesses and delegate projects where they will excel to those on their team. It also means acknowledging when somebody has done something well or struggled in a particular circumstance. Building community does not just happen--it takes time, dedication, empathy, openness about mistakes made by both leader and follower alike, vulnerability from both parties (i.e., being open with feelings), and trust among all involved in order

Demonstrates strong emotional intelligence

Servant leaders often demonstrate self-awareness. This allows them to navigate a diverse pool of communication styles on the teams below them. Teams may work and communicate in different ways based on various factors like location or cultural background. Servant leaders can make decisions and communicate with these differences in mind.

Fosters openness in conversations - even uncomfortable ones

Servant leaders are not afraid of difficult conversations. In fact, they welcome them because it helps create a culture where employees feel comfortable about discussing any issue or concern with their boss without fear that something will be done to retaliate against them for speaking up in the first place. A true servant leader understands that critical feedback is an opportunity for positive change and professional growth.

Listens with empathy

Servant leaders are not just the boss. They actively listen to those they serve to understand what drives them and how best to provide guidance that will help solve problems for their followers.

Encourages creativity

Servant leaders are committed to the growth and development of all those around them. They understand that innovation is dependent on collaboration, so they encourage their employees--the people closest to customers--to think creatively about issues to come up with solutions for customers. Creativity comes from encouragement and focusing on what's best for others rather than just oneself or one person who has an idea. Servant leadership theory promotes thinking outside the box as well as being innovative while keeping safety at the forefront of decision-making processes

Embraces change rather than resisting disruption to workflows and traditions

A traditional operating model has executives determining what's best for the business then assigning tasks to lower teams. With servant leadership, this role is focused on the empowerment of ground-level teams. Disruptions are embraced as opportunities rather than feared inconveniences. Servant leaders see disruptions as opportunities for growth and learning.

Understands and utilizes the skills of their employees

The servant leadership role also extends to personal growth, where those in charge can assign additional responsibilities to anyone looking to further improve their skills and achieve their personal goals. A servant leader will seek out other abilities to better serve a team's needs. These skills may come in many forms including hard skills, emotional intelligence, creativity, or organizational know-how.

Implementing servant leadership with Commonality

Whether you're working in a servant-led organization team or a small team, servant leadership is an overarching leadership philosophy that can help make teams more successful. It's about empowering those in the trenches and providing them with clear guidance--ensuring they have what they need to succeed while also aligning their goals with those of the organization. Servant leaders lead by example, demonstrating strong emotional intelligence and listening carefully before taking action.

First published Aug 7, 2021, 10:56 PM, updated August 14, 2021

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