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servant leadership

The Benefits of Servant Leadership

There is a question in the application of servant leadership: Who benefits… the leader, the employee, both, or none? This article describes my perspectives of servant leadership along with research of the topic. My purpose for such a comparative lies in my belief that leadership skills depend on our willingness to perform a self assessment to identify areas where we can grow as leaders.

Many leadership models taught today are decades old and don’t fully apply to our current world. We must consider the lessons learned from older models within the last half-century. Then, compare how they apply to international commerce structures, and generational and cultural norms of today. When we perform a self assessment, we create opportunities for professional development plans.

Servant leadership

I’ve watched many in recent years enter a leadership position lacking experience to perform, then settle in and whither. They get the leadership talk down, but they fail in leadership application.

Employees don’t want flowery talk. They need leaders to set an example with moral integrity. I believe one of the key elements of leadership is our ability to lift people up and train them to be our next leaders.

Leaders have a responsibility to those above them, below them, and to themselves to train, gain and apply the mastery of leadership. It is action that builds trust and communication necessary for effective team building.


My leadership approach historically included active participation as that allowed proactive problem-solving and built employee skill and confidence. Participative leadership approaches require employee inputs. I believe increasing the levels of ownership creates ideas from employees that most in leadership would not think to consider. I’m sure I’ve lost count of the many times someone worked for me and discovered a brilliant idea. When allowed ownership, they thrived.

The Greenleaf Model

In his book, Servant Leadership, Robert Greenleaf described four precepts of his model. Those axioms include:

  1. Service before self-interest.
  2. Listen first to affirm others.
  3. Inspire trust by being trustworthy.
  4. Nourish others and help them become whole.

Self Assessment

Servant leadershipConsidering the personal self assessment I mentioned earlier, I’m sharing an area for my own personal improvement. Greenleaf’s second precept addresses listening first and affirming. Given the world as it is, and where I find myself today, the first part of listening needs work.

Life gets busy and we can easily get caught in the spin of multitasking. I share this because it shows the importance of looking within and being a better person and leader. A year ago, things were different. There were areas I felt needed work, and after self-directed professional development, I’m in much better shape.

  1. Inspire trust by being trustworthy.
  2. Nourish others and help them become whole.

I believe my approach aligns with Greenleaf’s precepts to a certain extent. If there’s any differentiation, it comes from my prior career paths of two military services and federal law enforcement. Given those responsibilities addressing national and international missions, rather than specific services, mission before self seems like a better alignment to me considering that construct. I recognize your environment may focus on different areas.

Life is dynamic. If we are to live dynamic lives,

we need to know where we need to go.

Returning to the listening issue, sometimes our mental processes of thinking through a task can focus us to hear more of our own internal thoughts than those of the employee.


Greenleaf’s third precept: Focusing on trust is an area where I have firm agreement. Without trust in leadership, all bets are off. With that said, as a cautious person in relationships, I’m careful before fully trusting others. A loss of trust can significantly impede effective relationship building.


The last precept covering nourishment of an employee and making them whole is most closely aligned to my beliefs of leadership substance. Watching subordinate employees reach greater heights in their careers is the absolute payoff.

Greenleaf described the servant leader as being a, “Servant before anything else”. Leading people can be tedious, but watching them shine brings fresh energy. For areas of improvement, listening first is a skill I plan to develop further. As a multitasker, I’m always considering several needs and duties. Amid that mental busyness, intentional listening can help bring people together as a collaborative team.

I share my own areas of focus as you might find places in your life to build your leadership skills.

The Leadership Tree

I’m proud to say that over a period of decades, my employees attained higher levels than me. While this article addresses servant leadership, I have a hidden benefit:

Sitting on the shelf of a bookcase is a notebook full of pages. On each page is an illustration of a tree with large green leaves. Each leaf depicts the name of a person I had the privilege to lead or mentor that subsequently attained success.

There should be tangible fruit from leadership. In their book, The Gentleman Rebel, Lawrence G. Foster & Robert W. Johnson say, ‘‘It is the duty of the leader to be a servant to those responsible to him.’’

The result of developing employees to become capable leaders is the fruit on the tree of servant leadership.

Application of Servant Leadership

I believe applying the four servant leadership precepts with a participative approach improves employee performance in the present and creates viable leaders for the future. Positively influencing an individual by investing time into them is a reward.

When explaining the intricacies of a task, and why it is important, the employee engages cognitive understanding, and it strengthens their motivation. Through years of various leadership positions, I’ve observed creative inspiration and process improvements from enthusiastic employees. When giving a person ownership and letting them run, their ideas are noteworthy.

This article described the results of a self assessment and the correlation to this author. Going further, I described areas for improvement. This article began with a question of the true benefactor of servant leadership.

I believe each party gains in a servant leadership relationship.

The leader receives internal benefits from the perceived success of the employee. Byrd Baggett described the satisfaction gained from mentoring a person to success in his book, Power Serve: 236 Inspiring Ideas on Servant Leadership.


⭐️ About Anthony M. Davis

Anthony M. Davis is a Leadership, Success & Stress Coach, Board Certified Therapist, and Top-100 International Travel Photographer. His free book, “Keys to Your Success” is available now.

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