Servant Leadership Workplace-Essentials

2 Servant Leadership Essentials Often Overlooked

How can I tell if I’m a servant-leader?

I have a desire to serve, to serve first. Is that enough?

That’s a good start, but no, it’s not enough.

I’ve also made a conscious choice to lead. Now I got it, right?

That’s better, but you’re not quite there.

OK, OK, but in addition to the things above, I’m authentic, empathetic, caring, courageous, ethical, generous, foresightful, humble, self-aware and trustworthy. I listen, coach and develop people. I even have an autographed picture of Robert K. Greenleaf, the man who coined the term “servant leadership,” hanging in my living room.

Surely, I’m a servant-leader.


And yet, there’s more to servant leadership than all the good things you just mentioned.

It appears you’ve made the common mistake of missing 2 servant leadership essentials often overlooked: (1) a goal and (2) followers.

(1) A Goal

Servant-leaders always have a goal – a destination to which they are leading others. Greenleaf explains:

“A mark of leaders, an attribute that puts them in a position to show the way for others, is that they are better than most at pointing the direction. As long as one is leading, one always has a goal. It may be a goal arrived at by group consensus, or the leader, acting on inspiration, may simply have said, “Let’s go this way.” But the leader always knows what it is and can articulate it for any who are unsure. By clearly stating and restating the goal the leader gives certainty and purpose to others who may have difficulty in achieving it for themselves.”

(2) Followers

A person without followers is not a leader. By definition. Period.

I get your point and agree. But aren’t you being a little academic in this dialogue?

Maybe. But I believe it’s an important point to emphasize.

So much talking and writing about servant leadership focuses exclusively on nice ways servant-leaders behave. In my view, that kind of talking and writing provides a misleading view of servant leadership. Just behaving nicely doesn’t make one a servant-leader.

Indeed, as I see it, a person can have a desire to serve; a person can make a conscious choice to lead; a person can be authentic, empathetic, caring, courageous, ethical, generous, foresightful, humble, self-aware and trustworthy; a person can listen, coach and develop people – a person can do and be all these things and not be a servant-leader.

To determine whether you are a servant-leader, you must answer, “yes” to these two essential questions: “Do I have a goal?” And, “do I have followers coming with me towards that goal?”

What do you think? Am I being too academic here? What am I missing? Let us know.

As always, we appreciate your views. Thanks!

And don’t forget to download our latest ebook, Servant Leadership in the Workplace: A Brief Introduction. It’s free!