Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations, and ultimately creates a more just and caring world. The approach to management turns the traditional power hierarchy upside down, putting the needs of others first and helping people develop and perform as highly as possible.

Put simply, servant leadership is about prioritizing the growth and well-being of employees and the communities to which they belong. Unlike traditional leadership models that emphasize the accumulation and exercise of power by those at the top of an organization, servant leadership is based on the idea that the primary role of the leader is to serve others.

The concept of servant leadership was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in his 1970 essay, “The Servant as Leader.” Greenleaf described it as a leadership philosophy where the main goal of the leader is to serve. This is in stark contrast to traditional leadership where the leader’s primary focus is the thriving of their company or organizations.

Defining characteristics of servant leaders include:

1. Listening: They focus on listening to understand, rather than to respond.

2. Empathy: They strive to understand and empathize with others.

3. Healing: They help foster the emotional health of their team members.

4. Awareness: They are self-aware and situationally aware.

5. Persuasion: They seek to convince others rather than coerce compliance.

6. Conceptualization: They think beyond day-to-day realities to bigger possibilities.

7. Foresight: They have the ability to foresee likely outcomes of situations.

8. Stewardship: They hold their institution in trust for the greater good of society.

9. Commitment to the growth of people: They are committed to the personal, professional, and spiritual growth of each individual within the organization.

10. Building community: They seek to create a sense of community within the organization.

Servant leaders achieve results for their organizations by giving priority attention to the needs of their colleagues and those they serve. They are often seen as humble stewards of their organization’s resources: human, financial, and physical.

The approach can lead to higher employee engagement, increased trust, stronger teamwork, and improved performance. When leaders prioritize the needs of their team members, those team members feel valued and are more likely to be committed to their work and the organization’s goals.

Critics of servant leadership argue that it can be time-consuming and may not be suitable in all contexts, particularly in highly competitive or fast-paced environments. But proponents argue that the long-term benefits of building a culture of trust and empowerment outweigh any short-term inefficiencies.

In today’s complex and rapidly changing business environment, many organizations are finding that the servant leadership model aligns well with the values of younger generations in the workforce, who often prioritize purpose and personal growth over traditional hierarchical structures.

As we move further into the 21st century, servant leadership continues to gain traction as a viable and effective leadership philosophy, one that can create stronger, more innovative, and more humane organizations.