Servant Leadership


  1. Values diverse opinions

  2. Cultivates a culture of trust

  3. Develops other leaders

  4. Helps people with life issues

  5. Encourages

  6. Sells instead of tells

  7. Thinks you, not me

  8. Thinks long-term

  9. Acts with humility


  1. Values diverse opinions

    • A servant leader values everyone’s contributions and regularly seeks out opinions.  If you must parrot back the leader’s opinion, you are not in a servant-led organization.

      • Encourage dissent.

      • Develop a culture of safety. If it’s not safe to disagree, no one will. We can all cite stories where the leader says they accept arguments, but then cuts the person off or fires someone for doing it.

      • Make the rules clear. When a team gets together, I believe in open, honest communication. A good debate brings out the best arguments. It helps clarify a decision. But, once the decision is made, everyone should be in lock-step. You don’t want to take arguments all around the organization. It creates confusion and increases fear.

      • Compromise. Actions speak louder than words. If the leader accepts arguments, but never changes their mind, that’s not going to encourage dissent. Don’t encourage the parrot by praising and giving huge rewards for agreement.

  2. Cultivates a culture of trust

    • People don’t meet at the water cooler to gossip. They meet to initiate pocket vetoes.

      • Explain what a pocket veto is.  Have you ever been in a meeting when everyone is nodding and agreeing with a decision?  As the meeting ends, it looks like the course is set, but it isn’t.  The minute the meeting is over, someone whispers, “That’s never going to happen.”  Outside the meeting room, the participants cluster secretly saying that was a ridiculous meeting.  “We’d never support that.”  Instead of taking action, they do nothing.

      • Ask some questions at the end of the meeting:

        Did you have the opportunity to express all of your concerns?

        Did you agree to the decision?

        If not, why didn’t you speak up?

        How can we create a culture of trust so you feel comfortable voicing concerns?

      • At the next meeting, bring it up.  I’m not talking about embarrassing people.  That’s counterproductive.  Try something like this, “In our last meeting, we had a discussion about X and we agreed to do Y.  We all agreed, but I’m not so sure we really had the robust conversation we needed to have.  I don’t like to re-open decisions, but in this case, I feel we need to do just that.  Would someone summarize the problem and the two solutions we were choosing between?”  As a leader, you need to recognize the issue and face it head on.

      • Pocket vetoes are dangerous.  You want to give everyone an opportunity to present competing points of view and then move to the decision.  If someone consistently pocket vetoes leadership decisions, then ultimately that person will not make it in the organization.  He or she will be too miserable and the organization will not function at its best.  I’ve found that most leaders come around when given a fair opportunity.   Eliminate pocket vetoes for the success of your organization and team.

  3. Develops other leaders

    • The replication factor is so important.  It means teaching others to lead, providing opportunities for growth, and demonstrating by example.  That means the leader is not always leading, but instead giving up power and deputizing others to lead.

  4. Helps people with life issues

    • It’s important to offer opportunities for personal development beyond the job.  Let’s say you run an organizational program to lose weight, lower personal debt, or a teach a class on etiquette.  None of these may help an immediate organizational need, but each may be important.

  5. Encourages

    • The hallmark of a servant leader is encouragement.  And a true servant leader says, “Let’s go do it,” not, “You go do it.”

      • Write down the names of three people who you want to encourage.

      • Think of something specific.  What is it that you admire about that person or was there something admirable that he or she did?  Always be absolutely genuine.  If it isn’t admirable, find something else.

      • Communicate it—now.  It can be an email, a handwritten note, or even a quick phone call.  Don’t delay.  Otherwise, it will just be something you imagine you should do someday.

        I’m sure that if you do this every week, you will find it a positive experience.  Here are a few things I bet you will find:

        • You will start looking for the good in people and situations, making you more positive.

        • You will be more motivated.

        • You will find that the encouragement comes back to you too.  It may be years later and you may find it return in different ways.

  6. Sells instead of tells

    • A servant leader is the opposite of a dictator. It’s a style all about persuading, not commanding.

  7. Thinks you, not me

    • There’s a selfless quality about a servant leader. Someone who is thinking only, “How does this benefit me?” is disqualified.

  8. Thinks long-term

    • A servant leader is thinking about the next generation, the next leader, and the next opportunity. That means a tradeoff between what’s important today versus tomorrow and making choices to benefit the future.

  9. Acts with humility

    • The leader doesn’t wear a title as a way to show who’s in charge, doesn’t think they’re better than everyone else, and acts in a way to care for others. They may, in fact, pick up the trash or clean up a table.  Setting an example of service, the servant leader understands that it is not about the leader, but about others.