How old is the concept of servant leadership?

Servant leadership is a classic concept, but the term was coined in 1970, when Robert K. Greenleaf published his essay, The Servant as Leader. Greenleaf argued that the servant leader is first a servant. Greenleaf believed that organisations, and not just individuals, could also be servant leaders.

There have been several critiques of servant leadership. In one such critique, Sendjaya and Sarros used the same biblical account as Akuchie, and claimed that it was Jesus Christ, not Greenleaf, who introduced the notion of servant leadership into everyday human affairs. They argued that this leadership principle was so important to Christianity that it was picked up by all four Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). The researchers argued that servant leaders have a particular view of themselves as stewards who are tasked with developing and empowering followers to reach their full potential.

However, Sendjaya and Sarros' research work did not propose a testable framework or distinguish between this and other leadership styles. Servant leadership is a leadership style and philosophy whereby an individual interacts with others, either in a managerial or co-worker capacity, to achieve authority rather than power. The system embodies a decentralised organisational structure. Leaders who follow this style include customer-oriented employees in the company's decision-making.

These employees have a close relationship with the customer and can make better decisions to retain those customers and acquire new ones. Unless you have lived on a remote island disconnected from civilisation for the past few decades, you have no doubt heard the term "servant leadership". It is certainly used liberally in business conversations today, particularly in reference to the roles of scrum master and agile coach. It contrasts sharply with leadership styles derived from Kantian theory, according to which the leader has ultimate authority and power over subordinates.

But have you ever wondered what this seemingly paradoxical term means? Where did it originate and is it real? And most importantly for me, how does it apply to the role of agilists? We will explore the origins in this blog and the applicability of the principle in a second part. There are more examples of servant leadership in the ancient scriptures. Buddhism is founded on values of virtue that align closely with those of servant leadership. For example, instead of promoting how we should act, it emphasises the kind of person we should be.

Thus, "being" precedes "doing". There is also compatibility between the values of servant leadership and a biblical worldview that affirms that by being kind to others, we become compassionate towards them. However, it was not until the 1970s that servant leadership became associated with leadership roles in business. Greenleaf, a management expert, described how he conceptualised the idea when reading Journey to the East by German writer Hermann Hesse.

The novel portrays the story of a group of knowledge seekers in search of the ultimate truth. Among them was Leo, a humble servant who performed menial tasks and kept his spirits high with his positive attitude and songs. One day, when Leo disappeared, the group descended into chaos. When an individual from the group encountered Leo some years later, he learned that Leo was actually the titular head of the Order that sponsored their quest, although he had also been their servant and a noble leader.

Greenleaf thus asserts that servant leaders are not motivated by power or the desire to succeed for their own sake. In practice, I have found this to be largely true. However, his consequentialist reasoning about traditionalist leaders aspiring to grow as servant leaders is not evident in abundance in the field. By now you may be asking, how does this background on servant leadership affect me? Hopefully understanding the background has helped to spark your curiosity about this style of leadership.

To help teach others how to become servant leaders, here are 10 principles of servant leadership that focus on personal decisions and how you interact with others. Polleys' views aligned with transformational leadership but, again, he made no distinction between charismatic, transformational and servant leadership. However, as he was a servant at heart and by nature, that was something that could not be taken away. This is often one of the 10 characteristics of servant leadership that people have the most difficulty with because it seems to be a bit vague.

For example, a servant leader might ask how his or her efforts uplift those who are underrepresented or of a lower economic position before trying to reach a position of control. The leader must first be a servant, leading from a desire to better serve others and not to achieve more power. In this essay, Greenleaf explains how and why he came up with the idea of servant leadership, as well as the definition of a servant leader. The role of a servant leader is to be the steward of a group's resources and to teach other leaders how to serve others while still achieving the goals set by the company.

Servant leadership goes against the belief that leadership is defined as hierarchical, patriarchal and related to wealth or status. The philosophy and practices of servant leadership have been expressed in many ways and applied in many contexts. However, the application of servant leadership helps to provide that connection, empower employees and show what an organisation stands for. When servants realise that things are not the same without Leo, they realise that Leo was much more than a servant: he was actually their leader.

Although the idea of servant leadership goes back at least two thousand years, the modern servant leadership movement was launched by Robert K. It has been concluded that employees' perception of servant leadership practices and the support of employers and co-workers have a positive effect on the employee's family life.

Jason Klingler
Jason Klingler

Passionate beer expert. Professional musicaholic. Incurable communicator. Evil food specialist. Passionate food junkie. Devoted music fan.