“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character,
give him power.”
– Abraham Lincoln

A servant leader, as the name might otherwise suggest, is far from being someone who follows along blindly. In fact, some of the greatest leaders of our time embody the true definition of leaders that serve first. From Herb Kelleher at Southwest Airlines to Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook, a servant leader is an incredibly strong figurehead who focuses on serving and empowering others and leads with their team in mind. Although the phrase ‘servant leader’ is nothing new (coined in the 1970s) it is still hyper-relevant in today’s modern business world.

Let’s break down the individual traits of a servant leader, so you have a better foundation of what it takes to lead and serve your people.

Listen to other’s opinions.

A servant leader is one who values the views and contributions of others. They actively solicit feedback and weigh any possible decisions carefully before reaching a conclusion. They have remarkable observation skills and are very perceptive to what is occurring around them. Servant leaders understand the fact that people feel respected when they are listened to.

Value trust above all.

A servant leader believes that everyone is valuable and is deserving of trust and respect. They live by the “Golden Rule”- treat others as they would wish to be treated and lead with trust. Trust is the very cornerstone of all they do, and they perceive the need to be empathetic towards others. They treat everyone in the organization the same – from the administrator to the general manager.

Encourage others.

As a leader people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. A servant leader cares about the well-being of others and finds ways to lift their team mates up, not bring them down. They look for opportunities for team growth and are not afraid of competition or sharing the limelight. They want everyone to be successful and encourage everyone to work together on projects which are bigger than themselves. Servant leadership means encouraging others often and making people feel like they are part of the greater mission of the organization.

Act as a mentor.

Servant leaders are willing to share wisdom freely and understand that their knowledge can help others improve both personally and professionally. They are passionate about growing other leaders others and like to think of their team or organization as a community, rather than a workplace. They are committed wholeheartedly to every person in the organization or team and believe that the growth of the “group” both individually and as a whole, firmly rests on their shoulders. Rather than seek to control others, the focus shifts to coaching and on teaching others.

Reflect on the long-term.

A servant leader can focus on more than tomorrow’s goals. They care about the future success of the organization and will adopt choices representative of that fact. They check in regularly to see that their team is thriving and meeting their set benchmarks without issue. Servant leaders constantly look at the big picture. They understand that today’s decisions will have far-reaching consequences in the future and choose to focus on productivity and results.

Demonstrate tenacity.

Persistence is a necessary trait in the world of business today. Although servant leaders are encouragers by design that doesn’t mean they aren’t determined. They don’t give up easily and believe that the mission of the organization is too big to let go of. Servant leaders lead with a sense of purpose that drives them to make everyone around them better.

Be accountable for mistakes.

Servant leaders are humble. They are not afraid to hold themselves or others accountable. If they make a mistake, they own it. Humility is a daily practice, and they learn from failures quickly. Their standards are high, and ideals such as truth and transparency are fundamental to them. Servant leaders tend to focus on the positive and appreciate everyone’s worth, regardless of what roadblocks they face.

Does this sound like you?

If you would like to develop your skills to be a better servant leader then it is worthwhile to focus on these skills:

  • Empathy
  • Listening
  • Persuasion
  • Humility
  • Commitment
  • Foresight
  • Awareness

The strongest and most successful companies are built on the backs of servant leaders. Encouraging others, establishing trust and being accountable are paramount in becoming an effective and respected leader. Robert Greenleaf says it best: “The first and most important choice a leader makes is the choice to serve, without which one’s capacity to lead is severely limited.”