#147: Is Being a Servant Leader Really a Good Thing?

There’s been a lot of talk of talk the past few years about the importance of being a servant leader in business. In my experience most of the time it’s just talk. It sounds good to be called a servant leader. It strokes our frail little egos if we can convince ourselves that we are servant leaders.

Jesus Servant Leader

But the cold-hard truth is being a real servant leader is hard, and it requires more dedication, trust, and work than most people are willing to put forth.

The Servant Leader

The priority of the servant leader is to equip, enable, and encourage their subordinates to live up to their full potential.

Servant leaders combine a desire to serve others with a steadfast commitment to lead. They are often described as being visionaries, empowering, relational, trustworthy, and humble.

Examples of Servant Leaders

There are many servant leaders in the Bible. I’ve selected just four examples to share today:

  • Abram (Abraham) led his men to victory in battle. He refused to take any spoils for himself, but allowed the men who joined him in the battle to take their share of the spoils. Abram cared more about the men who risked their lives in battle than he cared about enriching himself. (Genesis 14:21-24)
  • David cared for Mephibosheth. King David, out of loyalty to his friend Jonathan, son of Saul, took in Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth. David restored Mephibosheth all the property and possessions that had belonged to Saul. David served Mephibosheth out of love and loyalty to Jonathan. (2 Samuel 9:1-13)
  • Mordecai worked to save the entire Jewish population. Not concerned for his own safety and security, Mordecai enabled Esther to confront King Ahasuerus with Haman’s evil plan to annihilate the Jews. The plan was foiled and Mordecai, along with Esther, ended up saving the entire Jewish people. (Esther 9:1-10:3)
  • Jesus washed the disciple’s feet. Foot washing was the job of a household servant, but Jesus washed the disciple’s feet as an example of what it meant to be a true servant leader. Jesus turned the world’s values upside down: The Son of God, lived and died serving others. (John 13:14-15)

Disadvantage of Servant Leadership

The primary disadvantage of adopting a servant leadership philosophy is it is a long-term strategy. It takes time to establish the levels of trust, employee engagement, loyalty, etc. that positively impact results.

Leaders who naturally operate out of an autocratic style of leadership often do not have the courage to release authority and trust subordinates. They don’t have the patience for a long-term leadership style like servant leadership. They want results now and they want it done their way!

Advantages of Being a Servant Leader

There are many advantages to being a servant leader, but here are five that I think are most important:

  • Servant leadership maximizes the career development of employees.
  • Servant leadership leads to high levels of employee loyalty. Turnover is reduced.
  • Servant leadership builds trust within an organization which leads to high levels of employee engagement.
  • Servant leadership leads to high levels of customer service and customer loyalty.
  • Servant leadership has the power to impact society in a positive way.

Of all the advantages of servant leadership it is this last one; the potential to impact society in a positive way, that makes servant leadership worth all the effort, and counters all the potential disadvantages.

Join the Conversation

Have you worked for servant leaders in the past? How does that compare to non-servant leaders you know? Do you think being a servant leader can be an effective leadership philosophy in today’s business world?

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Category: Relationships | Servant Leadership

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I’ve worked for both, and strived to be a servant leader. You’re right, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul. And hopefully, faithful investment in good people will lead to a better society,may you noted. Thanks, Ron!

    • Ron says:

      John,
      I’ve worked for both as well and I think that experience is one thing that made me want to be a better servant leader. I found I respond better to servant leadership over the long haul, and I think those kinds of leaders got better work from me as a result.

  • Tom says:

    Thank you for sharing this unique perspective. For any parent, we know instinctively what it means to be a servant leader. It’s a basic requirement to both serve and guide our children and encourage their development, let them explore their talents and gifts…the list goes on. What parent cannot be proud of a child who surpasses them in some skill or masters a talent or knowledge the parent never did? Where there are possible challenges is that while there is a natural bond and inherent trust within a family, there is a far broader span of responses we will get from our employees. And while some will abuse that service and others will embrace and respond to this approach, on balance, it is worth the risk and would venture to say that on the whole, the benefits far outweigh the potential negatives. But like swimming in water over your head for the first time, you simply must commit, jump in and trust your skills. We cannot be half hearted in this endeavor.

    • Ron says:

      Tom,

      Love your family analogy, because I used to say managing an organization was much like raising children. And yes, so true….one must commit fully to servant leadership for the long haul!