Robert Greenleaf
The theory of servant leadership was developed by Robert Greenleaf while he working as an executive at AT&T during the 1970s. The model first became public in Greenleaf’s essay “The Servant as Leader” in 1970 and was later expanded on in his 1977 book Servant Leadership. Greenleaf has since gone on to lecture at various universities and many authors have since contributed unique and great ideas to his original theory.

The main premise behind servant leadership is that a person has a “natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then the conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead” (Greenleaf, 23). By placing service first, it allows for the needs of those in a group to be met before the needs of the person in control. On the other hand, placing the leader first can result in this person's getting caught up in their power and placing service second, if it is recognized at all. The servant-leader still demonstrates power and authority as a leader, but does so in such a way that the power established is “less coercive and more creatively supportive” (Greenleaf, 22). Greenleaf believes "that the best leadership involves a dynamic commitment to serve others rather than the need to serve oneself" (Peete, 8).

Another premise behind servant leadership is how the servant-leader listens first to those who are following; followers’ needs are to be served first since “few will follow a leader who doesn’t serve their best interests” (Zandy , 24). In other words, servant-leaders tend to “put their people and organizations before themselves,” which again reaffirms that the servant-leader’s main focus is on those who are following them (Buchman, 33). The servant leader demonstrates his/her desire to serve followers by constantly asking “what more can I do to help [you] succeed?” (Zandy, 25). Servant-leaders need to guide their followers by starting an action and then asking the followers to join. This builds a sense of trust and confidence between servant-leaders and their followers since it allows the followers to see what the servant-leader is doing, as well as the passion the servant-leader has. Hopefully, the passion of the servant leader can cause his/her followers to become intrigued and want to participate (Zandy, 25).

4-06a.jpgPrinciples of Servant Leadership (Peete, 8-9)

  1. Listens intently and receptively
  2. Exercises empathy
  3. Nurtures healing and wholeness
  4. Unflinchingly and consistently applies ethics and values
  5. Builds cooperation within the team through persuasion
  6. "Dreams big dreams" - Conceptualization
  7. Exercises foresight
  8. Understands service and stewardship as the first and foremost priority
  9. Nurtures the growth of employees
  10. Builds community within the organization


  • Followers are treated well and are put first
  • Brings about more of a group-dynamic atmosphere rather than a hierarchical system
  • Builds strong trust and confidence between the servant-leader and his/her followers
  • Results in collaboration between the servant-leader and his/her follower

Limitations/ Weaknesses

  • Servant-leader must have passion for the project at hand
  • Servant-leader must desire to create opportunities for others
  • People may try to take advantage of the leader (Buchanan, 35)
  • Servant-leader must be willing to mentor and train future leaders

Servant-Leadership in the Workplace

Although the work place has changed over the years, Greenleaf's leadership perspective is still valid today. "Unlike during the Industrial Age, we can no longer afford to see staff as eminently replaceable 'tools' or 'cogs in the machine.' To deliver exceptional service, our focus as leaders must be on developing leadership at each level of the organization - from the front line to the corporate offices" (Peete, 8).

"Serving others - including employees, customers, and community - as the number one priority" (Spears, 12)
  • Southwest Airlines
  • The Toro Company
  • TDIndustries
    • "voted among the top ten of Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For"
    • adopted model of servant leadership in early 1970's and still gives Greenleaf's book to new employees; company also requires supervisors to go through servant-leadership training (Peete, 8)

Teams created by these companies which are committed to servant leadership have, when compared to their competitors, higher employee (Hamilton, 5)
  • Retention
  • Involvement
  • Morale

Servant Leadership Blog ::

Works Cited
Buchanan, Leigh. Inc Magazine. "In Praise of Selflessness, Why the Best Leaders are Servants." Vol. 29, Issue 5, p33-35. May 2007.
Greenleaf, Robert K. The Crisis of Leadership. "Servant Leadership." p.19-23.
Hamilton, Frank. PA Times. "Servant Leadership: Organizing Communities to Solve a Challenge." Vol. 30, Issue 5, p.5. May 2007.
Peete, David. Nursing Homes: Longterm Management. "Needed: Servant-leaders." Vol. 54, Issue 7, p.8-9. July, 2005.
Spears, Larry C. Practicing Servant Leadership: Succeeding Through Trust, Bravery, and Forgiveness. "The Understanding and Practice of Servant-Leadership." p. 9-24.
Jossey-Bass, 2004.
Zandy, Amy. Debt Cubed. "If you want to lead... learn to serve." Vol. 22, Issue 4, p.24-25.