servant leadership illustration

There are several essential types of leadership styles  in business. For instance, transactional and charismatic leadership are ideas that help managers build effective working relationships with their employees.

Emile Hawkins, chair of the department of entrepreneurial leadership at Southeastern University, said a servant leader is a different concept. “Servant leadership transcends any other form of leadership, given its biblical meaning and universal application. As a result, it should change how leadership is thought of within business or any other aspect of society.”

Hawkins is passionate about the topic of servant leadership, and he shared his thoughts about its meaning, its motivations and traits and how people can become more of a servant leader.

What is Servant Leadership?

Then He [Jesus] came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”

Mark 9:33-35 NKJV

Defined biblically, servant leadership means leaders must serve others. This is what Jesus — the Son of God and the ultimate servant leader — taught and demonstrated, which shows great humility. He created all things (Colossians 1:16, Hebrews 1:2) and then became human to serve humanity. The Creator served creation.

Jesus described His remarkable approach to service in Matthew 27-28: “And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as ransom for many.”

Servant leadership follows His example, though it appears to oppose most conventional theories of leadership. However, following in the footsteps of Jesus and His radical commitment to service is the heart of servant leadership.

Though servant leadership is defined biblically, Robert Greenleaf founded the modern servant leadership movement in the 1970s, which formally introduced the concept into mainstream business terminology. He took a different look at leadership, and his explanations help illustrate how people can strive to become servant leaders.

The Servant Leader: Motivations and Traits

Greenleaf’s essay, “The Servant as Leader,” frames what it looks like to be a servant leader. Hawkins commented on the following excerpts from the essay:

 The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.

Hawkins: He says, ‘the servant leader is servant first,’ and I emphasize, because he does, first. Here’s where it all gets challenging:

The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?

Hawkins: A lot of students are stunned at the difficulty of these questions, because they realize that’s one of the hardest tests to try to meet on any given day. If I do something for you, how do I know whether or not you’ve become healthier, freer, wiser, more autonomous? I don’t know unless I have an accountability relationship with you.

The servant leader isn’t looking for anything in return, and doesn’t monitor whether certain actions are beneficial to others. The process of serving and helping others transforms the leader and prompts people impacted by the servant leader to want to serve others.

Servant leaders develop a quiet confidence and an incredible ability to listen. Even if servant leaders have an extroverted personality, they’re careful about how they approach people and certain situations. “They’re not just saying, ‘I want to be perceived as quiet or a listener,’” Hawkins said. “Rather, servant leaders say, ‘I am a listener. I am empathetic. I do believe in being aware of what’s going on around me, and I want a complete conceptualization of the dynamics that are happening in any situation before I act or make a decision.’”

Stewardship is another hallmark trait of servant leaders. They may own the business, but they’re concerned with taking care of the space to ensure that others benefit. Leaders know that their skills and gifts are designed to serve other people.

Becoming a More Effective Servant Leader

Overall, skills in the business world are divided into hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills include management, accounting, finance and marketing, while soft skills relate to interactions and the relational side of the business. “he truth of it is, if we back up even further and take another look at it, we find that the soft skill really is the hard skill,” Hawkins said. It’s difficult to learn how to work with people, make attitude adjustments and respond when things don’t go as planned.

Hawkins provided questions that people can ask themselves as they start on the path of becoming a more effective servant leader:

  • What can I do to become better as a person?
  • What can I do to recognize that people will not always agree with everything I think is important, or my own values?
  • What do I do when people don’t share my values? Or what do I do when I don’t share their values?
  • And how do I adjust my attitude in order to reach the altitudes in life that I desire?

Answering these questions can be difficult, but that’s what true servant leadership requires. “Most people find it difficult,” Hawkins added, “(but) it should be natural.”

As difficult as it may be to serve others, it is possible. After all, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” because there is transformation in He “who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:17, 21). Jesus is the ultimate servant leader and model for all things.

Start on Your Path

Gain the knowledge and skills to become a servant leader in a faith-based environment. Learn how to maximize your strengths and the strengths of those around you through Southeastern University’s online Bachelor of Business Administration, online Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership and online MBA programs. All programs take place in a convenient online format.