So many leaders today bemoan the difficulty of finding and keeping good people. Those same leaders rarely consider doing something about their leadership style as a remedy.

It’s time for them to revisit servant leadership. Servant leadership, a concept first introduced by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970, is grounded in the belief that the most effective leaders serve the needs of their followers.

Being of service to your followers means understanding each as a human being with a brain, an ego, and emotions. From that understanding, servant leaders support their needs and development.

The result is deeper and stronger engagement and higher productivity. And, less turnover!

Servant leaders own the wisdom of developing engaged and fulfilled followers to produce strong and sustainable results. This contrasts with leaders who focus solely on financial and production metrics and/or personal ambition.


Here are five core values of servant leaders that results from understanding that people are important in and of themselves.


Servant leaders have a genuine understanding and concern for the feelings and perspectives of those they lead. This promotes a deep and personal compassion, which fosters an environment where everyone feels valued.


Servant leaders understand their own fallibility. They are open to feedback, admit their mistakes, and appreciate the contributions of others. They know they can succeed only by actively and openly supporting the success of their followers.


Servant leaders view themselves as stewards. They prioritize long-term sustainability and make decisions with the best interests of their people and their organizations in mind.


Servant leaders understand we are all flawed. That we all need healing to some degree from time to time. This promotes a culture of understanding, forgiveness, and personal growth. This encourages people to let go of past mistakes, to take risks, and to learn from whatever results accrue.


Servant leaders understand that firm accountability is a core part of empowering their people. Followers who consistently do not live up to performance and culture expectations are not allowed to hang around and damage an otherwise healthy and productive culture.


Powerful Listening

Servant leaders listen closely to the thoughts and ideas of their followers. They make a point of picking up on their concerns and emotions. The latter goes beyond active listening. They insist on open communication and foster an environment where everyone feels safe enough to share even their most radical thoughts.

Servant leaders support team members to be clear about and pursue their own goals. They encourage their followers to be conscious of how their behavior impacts their colleagues and the goals of the organization.

Servant leaders understand the importance of collaboration. They assure everyone contributes their unique strengths and perspectives. They facilitate as well as lead, encouraging shared decision-making.

Servant leaders provide guidance and coaching to help their followers develop new skills, overcome challenges, and achieve their goals. They invest themselves in the personal and professional growth of their people.

The values and behaviors listed significantly support follower retention. When I ask leaders and their followers to list the characteristics of leaders they would most want to follow, they consistently mentioned characteristics of servant leaders.


While servant leadership is still well respected, it has not become widespread for several reasons:

Outdated Models
Servant leadership stands in stark contrast to traditional leadership models that emphasize authority, hierarchy, and control. These conventional approaches are automatic for many leaders, making it difficult for them to embrace the more collaborative and empathetic mindset required of servant leaders.

Some people misunderstand servant leadership as weak or passive. They mistakenly believe it involves giving up control and authority. Servant leaders share power, a force multiplier. They don’t give it up; they increase it for themselves and their people.

They are strong facilitators who get the most from their people and teams. Poor performers quickly improve or move on.

Short-term Focus
Servant leadership seek long-term growth and sustainability, in contrast to the short-term mindset prevalent of many leaders that too often harm longer term results.

Lack of Awareness or Skill
Many leaders are simply not aware of servant leadership or do not understand the benefits it can bring. Those may know about it may not have the personal insight and strength without which this leadership style can be challenging to adopt.

Despite these challenges, servant leadership is slowly growing in popularity as more organizations recognize the benefits of fostering a culture that prioritizes empathy, collaboration, and personal growth. It is costly not to do so.

Servant leadership offers a transformative approach to leadership that emphasizes the importance of serving others and nurturing a sense of unity and purpose. The spiritual foundations of this leadership style underscore the values and behaviors that promote empathy, humility, and stewardship.

Overall, the principles and practices of servant leaders contribute to a work environment that promotes employee satisfaction, engagement, and well-being. In doing so, they create a workplace where individuals want to stay, grow, thrive, and produce sustainable high levels of productivity and success.


Michael F. Broom, Pd.D., CEO, Center for Human
Michael Broom is an organization psychologist of 45 years of experience with all kinds of people and organizations.
He is the author of The Infinite Organization, and Power, The Infinite Game.

Michael Broom smiling

Formerly of Johns Hopkins University, he is a Lifetime Achievement Award honoree of the OD Network.

Contact Dr. Broom for a free hour consultation at
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