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Servant Leadership

The concept of "servant leadership” may be new to some of us, but it has been around for centuries It 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.”

Robert K. Greenleaf the founder of the modern day servant leadership attributes the idea of servant leadership to Herman Hesse’s, “The Journey to the East” and contemplating the role of Leo in the story.” Leo’s story is enlightening. He is a person of extraordinary presence; all goes well with the people on the journey until Leo disappears. And finally Leo is found in another situation as a leader. This is when Robert Greenleaf coined the phrase “Servant Leadership. “However Sendjaya and Sarros used the Bible account as Akuchie, and made the claim that Jesus Christ, not Greenleaf, introduced the notion of servant leadership to everyday human endeavour.

“Servant Leadership begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first; perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions. The leader-first and servant-first are two extreme types, between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”

This thought triggered many questions in my mind, I related, reflected and truly realised that it is definitely the natural instinct to Serve and the Conscious Choice that brings one to aspire to lead. Hence "A servant can only become a leader if a leader remains a servant".

There are different styles of leadership, I will mention the ones commonly practiced i) Authoritarian ii) Participative iii) Delegative, iv) Transactional, and v) Transformational, all with their advantages and disadvantages are preferred by different leader. At this point I must mention one more type the most risky in my opinion the “Laissez-Faire.” This, of all the approaches involves the least amount of oversight. We could say that the authoritative style leader stands as firm as a rock on issues, while the laissez-faire leader lets people swim with the current and an uninvolved leader may end up appearing aloof. This works with highly skilled team but otherwise involves a risk that people may unwittingly drift in the wrong direction, away from the critical goals of the organization.

According to Edmonds, Servant leadership is defined as a person's dedication to help others be their best selves at home, work, and in their community. Anyone can serve and lead from any position or role in a family, workplace, or community."

Over the last three decades, servant leadership has risen from a noble and ethical leadership ideology stuck in religious worldviews to the very principles of how the most successful companies on the planet operate and profit. Typically, what you think servant leadership is usually the opposite of what it truly is.

The idea of servant leadership is that the typical hierarchy where employees are supposed to serve their bosses is turned upside down.  Leaders serve their people, the leaders who differentiate themselves from the rest aren't necessarily the leaders who have all the power, but they are the leaders that have the ability to empower. They win people's hearts by helping, developing, praising, encouraging, and motivating.
Some of the wildly successful companies which are regularly featured in Fortune magazine's annual "100 Best Companies to Work For" list for having high trust, high employee engagement, and low turnover--are guided by visionary leaders who walk the talk of servant leadership, who maintain a broader view of servant leadership and its impact on the greater good through humanitarian efforts. To substantiate this I would quote the example of David K. Williams, chairman and CEO of Fishbowl, the No.1 manufacturing and warehouse management solution for QuickBooks, a serial entrepreneur, an authority on using servant leadership to substantially increase organizational success. According to his book, “The 7 Non-Negotiables of Winning”  details how respect, belief, loyalty, commitment, trust, courage, and gratitude play an integral part to multiple key business outcomes. When these seven core traits become the standard within any company, employees become inspired to flourish and companies sail over business hurdles to achieve record growth.

Sylvia Metayer, CEO of Sodexo Corporate Services Worldwide is another example of Servant Leader. She leads Sodexo's Corporate Services segment--the worldwide leader in improving the quality of life of 75 million people. In 2016, for the fifth year in a row, Sodexo was among Fortune's "World's Most Admired Companies, because of her division's clear focus, under her guidance, on understanding how human beings thrive at work. This is evidenced by their massive 2017 Global Workforce Trends report. Through their research, they identified six dimensions of quality of life on which Sodexo's services have a direct impact:

  • The Physical Environment: Ensuring that employees are safe and feel comfortable.
  • Health and Well-Being: Providing opportunities to make employees healthier.
  • Social Interaction: Strengthening bonds among individuals and facilitating access to culture and leisure.
  • Recognition: Making employees feel valued.
  • Ease and Efficiency: Simplifying the daily employee experience and improving work-life balance.
  • Personal Growth: Helping employees grow and develop.

In doing all this there emerges a very important question How to make people’s work easier?

The answer to this is about making them ready for the fast changing world by creating career paths, supporting the training of the people so that they are ready for change. It's actually quite an endeavor, because it means shifting the organization from a very traditional, very top-down model, to one where people learn how to be collaborative. This is where the leader’s role comes in as servant leader and not a served leader.
World's top brands have grasped the immense power that is generated from putting people (employees) ahead of profits through shared values like authenticity, entrepreneurship, freedom and ownership, community, and collaboration. And servant leaders, naturally, have leveraged this emotional currency as the only sustainable model for the future of work.

If you are a servant leader ask these questions to yourself:

  • Do those I served grow as persons?
  • Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society?
  • Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?


  • Great progress happens when you take chances.
  • Innovation starts at the edge of discomfort and
  • The process of delegation should include help, coaching, and guidance where it is needed.

Mrs. Helen A.R Luke
Member Resource and Research, Pallavi Group of Schools

Mrs. Helen Luke
Member Research and Resource
Pallavi Group of Schools

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