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Servant Leadership: Putting Others at the Forefront of Success


Introduction and History

The concept of servant leadership originated from an essay titled “The Servant as Leader,” written by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970. Greenleaf was inspired by Herman Hesse’s book “Journey to the East,” in which the servant character, Leo, becomes an indispensable leader for a group of travellers. This formed the basis of Greenleaf’s groundbreaking theory of leadership.


Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy where the main goal of the leader is to serve others. This differs from traditional leadership where the leader’s primary focus is the thriving of their company or employees. A servant leader shares power, puts the needs of the employees first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.

Practical Examples and Case Studies

One often-cited example of a servant leader is Mahatma Gandhi. His leadership style embodied the principles of servant leadership, prioritising the needs of his followers and leading by example rather than authority.

In the business world, Tony Hsieh, former CEO of Zappos, exemplified servant leadership. He prioritised employee happiness and customer service over profits, believing that a happy workforce would naturally result in a thriving company.

Academic Insights

In 2002, Larry C. Spears, then CEO of the Greenleaf Centre for Servant Leadership, outlined ten characteristics of a servant leader: empathy, listening, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualisation, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of others, and building community.

Critical Analysis

Servant leadership has been praised for promoting team collaboration, trust, and ethical use of power. However, it also has potential drawbacks, such as the risk of being overly accommodating, not focusing enough on business outcomes, or failing to establish clear authority, which could lead to leadership ambiguity.

Future Outlook

With the current focus on ethical practices, corporate responsibility, and employee satisfaction, the tenets of servant leadership seem increasingly relevant. As organisations continue to recognise the importance of employee engagement and well-being, the application of servant leadership principles is likely to increase.


Servant leadership, with its focus on service, collaboration, and the ethical use of power, offers a unique approach to leading. Although not without its challenges, it is a valuable leadership style for fostering an engaged, collaborative, and ethical workplace.

Further Reading and Resources

Book: “Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness” by Robert K. Greenleaf

Article: “Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve” by Jim Collins (Harvard Business Review)

Video: TED Talk: “Forget the Pecking Order at Work” by Margaret Heffernan

Podcast: WorkLife with Adam Grant – “The Power of Humble Leadership”

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