Reigniting the Passion for Servant Leadership

servant leadershipWith all-time low employee engagement levels in sharp contrast to organizations’ critical need for improved productivity and innovation, we at Harmony Crew aren’t surprised at the renewed popularity of Servant Leadership. This leadership framework, originally coined and formally developed by Robert Greenleaf in the 1970s, is experiencing a resurgence as colleges, universities and businesses large and small across the globe recognize the value of following service-driven leadership principles. And, it’s understandable why – servant-led companies enjoy 20 – 40% higher profit margins than non-servant-led competitors.

The idea of Servant Leadership has been around for centuries. The framework, which is understood as the practice of leading by investing in and caring about the success of those individuals being led, rather than striving for command/control structures and more power, has gone by various names and labels, including conscious leadership and authentic leadership. Within Greenleaf’s deep body of work on the subject – which has been expanded upon by other servant-leaders since – he identified the following 10 principles and characteristics typical of modern servant-leaders:

  1. Listening
  2. Empathy
  3. Healing
  4. Awareness
  5. Persuasion
  6. Conceptualization
  7. Foresight
  8. Stewardship
  9. Commitment to the Growth of People
  10. Building Community

These principles identify not only how servant-leaders should strive to behave as individuals, but also bring light to values born from higher motivations, such as commitment to others and to the community that surrounds them, that are fundamental to the practice. In a recent blog we mentioned a few of the many companies that embrace servant-leader principles and practices.

And across the country, students are being taught servant-leader principles and behaviors as part of their business educations. Institutions such as Butler University, Indiana State University, the University of Dayton, Aurora University and many others offer students a curriculum focused specifically on learning, understanding and practicing servant leadership. The fact that institutions are teaching business students that it’s acceptable—even encouraged—to be appreciative of others, to trust and communicate with them and help them become better peers and colleagues – is a far cry from the competitive, power-hungry, more mechanistic messages we are used to hearing from Wall Street and others.

Although many professions and jobs contain elements of service—as in field services or customer service—Servant Leadership is not an aspect of a job or a daily task. Rather –it’s a consciously developed state of being – an inner journey focused on living and working with a commitment to understanding and helping others. It has proven over and over to enable cultures of belief, trust and unity – hence the higher performance outcomes.

Servant Leadership seems to be experiencing broader popularity – perhaps tied to a rapid uptick in businesses’ movement away from typical hierarchical leadership structures. Or perhaps because executives are gaining a deeper understanding of the connections between employee engagement and business results. We continue to be impressed by the undeniably positive metrics coming from leading organizations, including the Cleveland Clinic, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and the Veterans Administration, that have quietly implemented Servant Leadership over many years and continue to reap the financial and organizational benefits.

The revival of Servant Leadership is a beacon of light in the business world. And as more businesses begin to hire and develop servant-leaders among their workforce, it will be increasingly important to enable development programs and team environments that embrace Greenleaf’s tenets of Servant Leadership.


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