Servant leadership is a type of leadership that is little known in Spain.

However, in Scandinavian cultures it has always existed, probably because there has always been a greater presence of women in business companies.

It is also called democratic leadership because it is based on listening skills and emotional intelligence.

And these skills have originally been attributed more to the female sex.

Nowadays, due to international connections and multiculturalism in companies, this type of profile is increasingly sought after among team leaders.

Assertiveness, empathy, confidence and understanding have more opportunities in the world of work and among new leaders today than they did a few years ago.

The servant leader’s attitude is more accessible, more flexible and more open than that of other types of leaders.

But, in order to become the best leader for your team, it is good to know the different leadership models that exist and to choose between them.

You must find a leadership style that is in line with your values, with the principles of your company and also that is effective for the members of your team and the work they do.

In this article we will talk about servant leadership.


What is servant leadership?

Servant leadership is a method that focuses on helping others. It is therefore a type of leadership based on service.

Servant leaders seek to strengthen the team through the development and growth of each individual. They achieve this by fostering communication and understanding in the group.

This model of leadership is opposed to other more authoritarian techniques that treat teams from a position of power, imposition or even domination.

The servant leader creates environments in which teams thrive and seek the growth of all team members.

seek growth for all team members,

through a culture of collaboration and connection.

A servant leader puts the well-being, development and growth of his teams before his own, prioritising the needs of his employees over his own.

Servant leadership is based on listening to team members, making them participants in every advance and protagonists of every project, promoting well-being at work and creating an atmosphere of trust and security within the group.

Servant leadership shares two beliefs:

  • Valuing each person for him or herself
  • Motivate the team with a purpose beyond themselves.


What is the origin of servant leadership?

There are numerous examples of servant leadership throughout history, but this leadership technique was first demonstrated by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970 in his essay “The servant as leader” to transform talent management.

In it he tells how the best leaders were servants first. He also explains that a good servant leader should include skills such as listening, persuasion, intuition and communication and foster a healthy environment for teamwork.

Robert K Greenleaf’s idea of servant leadership was inspired by the story of Hermann Hesse’s book “Journey to the East”.

In this allegorical book, a group of men start a journey accompanied by their servant Leo. A cheerful person, who with his presence and manner kept the group together and in harmony.

But, one day, Leo disappears. Then, the group falls apart and they abandon the journey.

In the end, it is discovered that Leo is the person who has financed the trip. He is the boss. And he is not only the servant on that journey, he is also their leader. He is the person who guides them and maintains the good atmosphere in the group.

It is in this story that Greenleaf found the similarities with the business world, which he later transferred to his book “The Servant as Leader”.

Robert K. Greenleaf distinguishes two different types of leader:

those who prioritise leadership itself,

and those that prioritise services.

The leader who prioritises leadership focuses more on being a manager and achieving personal goals, as in the traditional model.

On the other hand, the leader who prioritises service gives up some of his authority and puts his team first.

Subsequently, other theorists have developed this idea and have set out their analysis of this theory.

10 Characteristics of servant leadership

Larry Spears thoroughly researched Greenleaf’s work, and extracted 10 principles or characteristics of servant leadership from his books and essays.

With these principles you can learn and better understand what a servant leader looks like.

The 10 distinguishing characteristics, according to Spears, of this democratic leadership are:

1.- Active listening

If a service leader prioritises his team’s needs over his own, the first thing he must do is get to know them, and to do this he must listen.

The ability to listen, to be receptive, is fundamental in a good teamwork environment. Only if there is listening, all the people in a team will dare to freely share their ideas.

It is essential to listen to everyone in the group and to understand what they want to say.

This active participation of the team members makes them feel valued.

2.- Empathy

The servant leader empathises with others and strives to understand them.

Each person is different. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. And it is important to know them in order to help them and to be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

Keeping an open mind, trusting and believing that your team is working with the best intentions, encourages innovation and creativity individually and for the group.

3.- Overcoming

Getting to know your team members, their background, their negative experiences and their habits or behaviour in unpleasant situations helps to maintain a good working environment.

This can be done through weekly meetings or workshops to take care of their mental health.

This quest to develop work in healthy environments is beneficial for individual and collective fulfilment and self-improvement.

Servant leaders help them by leading in a transparent, balanced and inclusive way.

4.- Awareness

The service leader needs to be aware of the strengths and difficulties of his or her employees.

But they must also identify their own in order to detect areas for improvement and work in alignment with the organisation.

This will help to integrate all values and make it easier for the team as a whole to pull in the same direction.

5.- Persuasion

Team leaders do not use authority to impose their criteria, they use persuasion and convince their team members with arguments.

Persuasion builds trust, helps communication and creates consensus within the group.

Thanks to persuasion, the service leader makes each member of the team feel how important their role is for the success of the project.

6.- Conceptualisation

Sharing aspirations and dreams with your team, beyond short-term goals, helps to build a sense of togetherness and integration within groups.

This vision makes servant leadership focus on both individual projects and the overall goals of the organisation.

7.- Forecast

It is important for service leaders to keep a close eye on the tasks performed by each employee in individual projects.

Thanks to the experience and knowledge of their teams, the service leader can anticipate the impact that certain situations will have on them and can implement it in future projects.

8.- Administration or responsibility

Project management administration in service leadership is about fostering a culture of communication, inclusion and cooperation.

Recognising your responsibilities and knowing how to manage them helps you to maintain the trust your company gives you.

9.- Commitment to people’s growth

Service leaders are very committed to the growth of the people in their team.

They prioritise service to others and help in the personal and professional growth of each member of the team.

They value the emotional side of people more than the logical or rational side.

10.- Desarrollo de una comunidad

Servant leaders foster healthy environments for their teams, in addition to the personal development or growth of each team member.

They promote the creation of communities within organisations where each person’s contributions are valued and respected.

Although it may seem more complicated nowadays, in some organisations, virtual meetings can be held to build trust, get to know each other better and build camaraderie, if they are not in the same workplace.

This not only helps individual growth, or individual appreciation, but will also lead to better performance of the work they do together.

Unlike other traditional leadership models that encourage competition or promotion at any cost, servant leadership encourages camaraderie, collaboration and cross-functional work.

6 consejos para convertirte en un buen líder servidor

Now that we have seen the characteristics of servant leadership, we propose these ideas for you to put into practice so that you can transform your leadership towards servant leadership, if you deem it appropriate:

Lead by example

Walking with your team, being at their side, dedicating the same time and effort to move projects forward, will help you to work in a united and integral manner.

But it is also about everyone stopping at certain times and recharging the energy needed to get the job done and to have the mental health to see it through.

Listen to feedback from the team

Asking for feedback from your team and being open to listening to it makes you aware of your abilities and how you can improve your skills and put them to good use for the team.

Letting teams feel free to express their opinions on each project, encouraging feedback, makes for a flexible and innovative working environment.

Show the importance of everyone’s work

Letting each member know how their work impacts on the company’s goals makes them maintain that responsibility and feel involved within the organisation.

Use motivation to make them feel involved in every project that goes towards the same purpose.

Help your team develop and grow.

Servant leaders need to know the aspirations and goals of each person in their team to help them grow personally and professionally.

Through training workshops, opportunities to broaden their skills or coaching programmes, servant leaders can help achieve their team’s goals.

Encourage teamwork

This type of leader encourages collaboration, and it is essential that each person is allowed to grow and feel surrounded by trusted colleagues.

Teams are stronger when they work together.

This benefits both the individual team member and the organisation itself.

Team-building activities can be scheduled, either face-to-face or online, to strengthen relationships.

Taking care of your team on a personal level

Knowing your team’s personal lives will help you lead with empathy.

Supporting someone if they are going through a bad time will create a bond that will not only benefit them personally, but will also help them feel understood, and will have an impact on the results of the project at hand.

Servant leaders focus on their long-term goals by taking care of their teams in a personal way as well, creating a strong bond between all team members that lasts over time.

Advantages and disadvantages of servant leadership

Like any other type of leadership, servant leadership has advantages and disadvantages.

The servant leader fosters strong and solid team cultures. They encourage responsibility and involvement among their employees through knowledge, creativity and motivation.

To do this, they must know each member of their team very well, both personally and professionally, in order to understand and support them.

All this requires experience, time and energy, so the results start to show more in the long run.

Before making the decision to adopt this type of leadership, it is good to know the advantages and disadvantages of servant leadership:

Advantages of servant leadership
Boost team morale

Each member of the team feels proud of their work because they are valued and feel integrated into the organisation.

Their work is recognised and this gives them security and confidence in what they do.

Putting the person at the centre

Servant leadership cultivates a people-centred culture.

The communication and relationship it creates with team members creates a connection between them and with the leader, which leads them to seek the best decisions for the company and for the team as a whole.

Disadvantages of servant leadership
Decreased authority

The very personal relationship that servant leaders establish with their teams reduces their authority.

This can lead to people in the team taking advantage of this transparency and also to discomfort or confusion among other team leaders who do not follow this method of leadership.

Long-term strategy

Servant leadership may not seem valid for some organisations or corporate systems that are based on short-term results.

Difficulties in decision-making

The freedom and opportunities given to team members to participate, have their say and show their capabilities can sometimes be overwhelming.

They may even feel overburdened or overwhelmed by working in a work environment that gives them so much power.

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