From Boss to Servant: The Surprising Benefits of Leadership that Puts Others First

From Boss to Servant: The Surprising Benefits of Leadership that Puts Others First

In today’s world, there are many different types of leadership styles. However, one leadership style that has gained increasing attention and recognition is servant leadership. This style of leadership is based on the idea of serving others first, rather than prioritising one’s own interests. In this article, we’ll explore what servant leadership is, its historical background, the advantages of this leadership style, how it can be implemented in practice, as well as the challenges and criticisms it faces.

Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy that prioritises the needs and well-being of the team, rather than the leader’s own interests. It involves listening to others, empowering them, and helping them to develop and grow. This leadership style is based on the idea that leaders should serve others, rather than the other way around.

Unlike other leadership styles, such as autocratic or transformational leadership, servant leadership places emphasis on the leader’s ability to connect with their team on a personal level. The leader’s role is not to dictate or direct their team, but rather to support and facilitate their development and success.

The concept of servant leadership has been around for centuries, but it was not until the 1970s that it gained widespread attention. This leadership style was first introduced by Robert K. Greenleaf, who was an executive at AT&T. Greenleaf believed that leaders should be servants first, and that leadership should be a means to serve others.

The idea of servant leadership was further developed by other influential figures, such as Max DePree, who was the CEO of Herman Miller, and Stephen Covey, who wrote the best-selling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Covey argued that servant leadership was the key to unlocking the full potential of an organisation, and that it was essential for building trust and creating a positive work culture.

One of the main advantages of servant leadership is that it promotes a culture of collaboration and teamwork. This leadership style values the input and ideas of all team members, and encourages them to take an active role in decision-making. This approach fosters a sense of ownership and accountability among team members, which can lead to higher levels of productivity and employee satisfaction.

Another advantage of servant leadership is that it creates a positive work environment. When leaders focus on serving others, rather than their own interests, they are more likely to create a workplace that is supportive, inclusive, and respectful. This type of work culture can lead to increased employee engagement and motivation, which can in turn lead to improved performance and organisational success.

Many successful companies have adopted servant leadership, and have seen significant benefits as a result. For example, Starbucks, one of the world’s largest coffee chains, is known for its commitment to servant leadership. The company’s CEO, Howard Schultz, has stated that he believes in treating employees with respect and dignity, and that this approach has been key to Starbucks’ success.

In practice, servant leadership can be implemented in many different ways. One approach is to create a culture of openness and transparency, where employees are encouraged to share their ideas and concerns with their leaders. This can be achieved through regular communication, such as team meetings or one-on-one discussions.

Another approach is to empower employees by giving them the tools and resources they need to succeed. This can include providing training and development opportunities, as well as giving employees the autonomy to make decisions and take ownership of their work.

However, servant leadership is not without its challenges and criticisms. One of the main criticisms of this leadership style is that it can be difficult to measure its impact on the bottom line. Some leaders may be hesitant to adopt this approach because they believe that their primary responsibility is to deliver results, rather than to serve others.

Another challenge or criticism of servant leadership is the potential for leaders to become so focused on serving their team that they neglect the organisation’s broader goals and objectives. Some critics argue that servant leaders may prioritise their team’s needs to the extent that they lose sight of the organisation’s bottom line. This could potentially harm the organisation’s performance and viability in the long run.

Additionally, some people may be skeptical about the concept of servant leadership, viewing it as overly idealistic and unrealistic in the fast-paced, competitive business world. They may argue that leaders need to be tough and assertive to make tough decisions and drive results, and that putting others first could hinder a leader’s ability to do so.

However, advocates of servant leadership believe that it is possible to balance serving others with achieving organisational goals. By empowering and supporting their team members, servant leaders can create a more engaged and motivated workforce that is better equipped to drive success for the organisation.

Ultimately, like any leadership approach, servant leadership has its challenges and limitations. However, by embracing this philosophy and focusing on the needs of others and development, leaders can create a more positive and fulfilling work environment that benefits both employees and the organisation as a whole.



Greenleaf, R. K. (1970). The servant as leader. Robert K. Greenleaf Center.

Spears, L. C. (1998). Reflections on leadership: How Robert K. Greenleaf’s theory of servant-leadership influenced today’s top management thinkers. John Wiley & Sons.

Sendjaya, S., Sarros, J. C., & Santora, J. C. (2008). Defining and measuring servant leadership behaviour in organizations. Journal of Management Studies, 45(2), 402-424.

Liden, R. C., Wayne, S. J., Zhao, H., & Henderson, D. (2008). Servant leadership: Development of a multidimensional measure and multi-level assessment. The Leadership Quarterly, 19(2), 161-177.

Van Dierendonck, D. (2011). Servant leadership: A review and synthesis. Journal of Management, 37(4), 1228-1261.

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