What is Servant Leadership?

Leadership is the art of inspiring others to work toward the achievement of a common goal and Servant Leadership is its highest expression.

The leader who recognizes the value of every team member and prioritizes co-workers on par with the investor constituencies that traditionally take precedence, is more likely to create a culture of excellence and sustainable success.

After you have worked for a company that cares about its employees, organizations where people are considered replaceable cogs in a larger machine stand in dark relief, career stops to be avoided at all costs.

Corporate culture should be a key consideration in any job search. Alignment with your values will make the time you invest there more meaningful and your ability to effectively contribute more likely.

I first encountered the concept of Servant Leadership when a mentor shared Robert K. Greenleaf‘s seminal 1970 essay, “The Servant as Leader.” The AT&T executive was inspired by  Herman Hesse‘s 1932 book, Journey to the East , the story of a League of powerful men, in search of the ultimate truth. Their journey is uneventful, until Leo, a servant to the expedition disappears. The group falls into argument and disarray. It is only later that the story’s narrator discovers that Leo is in fact the president of the League, revealing that the essence of true leadership is the desire to serve.

Jim Collins‘ book, Good to Great, defines Level 5 Leadership, a common trait in companies that sustain excellence over the long term,  in parallel to the ideals of Servant Leadership.

Some feminists and African American scholars caution that the concept can be interpreted by some to associate with toxic masculinity and a time in our nation’s history where the term servant was associated with subjugation.

Yet, the concept of selfless service as the essence of purpose and a spiritual practice has been proven to be a competitive advantage both for companies that subscribe to its principles and to individual who manifest them.

Other essays about Servant Leadership by Scott Westerman:
The true secret of sustainable success
How power is earned
Servant leadership lessons worth remembering