The Ten Tenets of a Servant Leader

written by Aleem Khan on May 8, 2017 in Agile and PM Skills with no comments

Servant leadership is a term that was coined by Robert Greenleaf in 1970. He was an AT&T executive. This term has now made waves and is used by people all over the world. Many people have also written on the subject in order to expand the concept and make its implementations practical. In recent years, Agile communities also pick on this leadership and put a lot of emphasis on being a servant leader vs. any other type of leadership that require more command or control. The terms servant and leader are considered opposites of each other. While one leads, the other follows. The term servant leadership is, therefore, an oxymoron. However, the magnitude of its meaning is revolutionary. It brings about a new angle of looking at leadership. In order to be a servant leader, you must first have a desire to serve others. This desire then pushes you to want to lead others.

In order to become a good servant leader, there are ten tenets that are integral. You must have these habits deeply rooted in you first. They include:


In order to be a good servant leader, you must know how to listen. Leaders such as people in management have been tasked with making and implementing decisions for a long time. They give orders, and the workers listen. However, servant leaders are the opposite. They first listen to concerns and suggestions. They allow everyone to be involved. After people have contributed to the issue at hand, these leaders take time out to reflect on everything they have heard. This is a way to include everyone. It helps people feel that their input is worth something.


A servant leader must be empathetic. You must know how to connect with the people you are leading. You need to be able to understand what they are feeling or going through and relate to them. A leader who is detached is unable to effectively lead a people that he does not understand. It is also important to note that sympathy differs from empathy although both have a role to play in the situation.


Healing is the quality of being able to resolve issues and conflict. Servant leadership requires you to have healing qualities. This must first be applied to yourself before it can be applied to your followers. You must be able to reconcile and mend your relationship with yourself then with others before you can facilitate the mending of other people’s relationships. You must be able to play a role in helping people solve their problems and issues as this helps people to become better.


As a leader, you have to be aware of yourself. You must also know the values and ethics that you hold and how they are applicable in a situation. You must also know that you have power and decide on how you would want to wield it. With this information, you are able to view matters through a holistic sense. If it is a problem, you are able to view the different aspects before tackling it or attempting to solve it.


Every servant leader must be able to conceptualize. As a leader, you must know how to dream. You must be able to see the potential in a situation or an individual. This can then be passed on to the people that you are leading. Having an open mind and the ability to conceive will also help you perceive what your followers can see as a better possibility in the future.


Closely related to conceptualization is foresight. Foresight is the characteristic that allows the leader to see beyond the present and look into the future. With this futuristic view, a servant leader is able to assess different outcomes from various actions that can be taken. This helps in making informed and carefully analyzed decisions about different moves.


A servant leader does not coerce, he or she convinces. For a long time, leadership approaches have included barking orders at the followers. With servant leadership, the leader aims at persuading and convincing the people to go in a certain direction. He or she does not hold authority and power over people’s heads so that they can do what he or she wants.


Stewardship is an overwhelming commitment to catering to the needs of others first. Before you think about how you are going to achieve your goals and push the organization, think about the workers and their needs. In serving others first, you create a suitable environment for them to be able to respond to the organization’s needs as there are no other distractions.

Commitment to People’s Growth

A servant leader is committed to the people’s growth. The main thing is not whether or not the goal has been achieved. Rather, it is first about the people. The first question a servant leader asks is, “Have the people become better from it.” Has the personal and professional development of the people been witnessed through the process?

Building Community

Servant leadership aims to create community within organizations. It is easy to feel detached and focused on your own goals and your own dreams. A servant leader helps you to look beyond this and look to the goals of others as well as the organization’s. In so doing, community is created and longer lasting genuine bonds are forged.

For a long time, leadership has followed hierarchical structures that have worked in one way or another. Today, the environment is always growing increasingly complex. While these hierarchical structures still work in terms of organization, they are not as effective in the long run. Servant leadership has shown that there is an integral role that leaders play when they lead by example. The organization grows holistically when the leader is a servant first. There is, therefore, a gap that needs to be filled by servant leaders. Additionally, we must recognize that in order for servant leadership to work, the leader must have the ten characteristics that have been outlined above. Without those, you will not be able to fully serve the people or inspire them to greatness. The good thing about these qualities is that they can be nurtured. With conscious effort and continued application, you can become the servant leader who will make a difference in the lives of others and of the organization.

Reference: Character and Servant Leadership: Ten Characteristics of Effective, Caring Leaders, Larry C. Spears. The Spears Center

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