BridgeLite Blog

Servant-Leadership – not an Oxymoron
June 14, 2010

This question came to me last week.

What is Servant-Leadership? Really, isn’t that an oxymoron?


Isn’t leadership – well, just leadership?

Not that I’ve seen. There are many different styles, methods, and concepts associated with the term leader.

There are plenty of folks in leadership positions. Unfortunately, not very many of them are servant-leaders.  Robert K. Greenleaf is credited as the modern day creator of the of Servant-Leadership concept.  Also, James C. Hunter has excellent reading on the topic.  You can check out the BridgeLite resources page for links to some of their books for further exploration.

The following is a quick explanation of what makes servant-leaders different and why it matters.


Focus on the people they serve more than on themselves.

It’s about the team, organization, company – not the leader. A servant-leader wants to serve the people as the primary motivation for what he or she does in leading them.  The servant-leader provides the service (not to be confused with servitude) of leadership.

They love the people they lead.

As John Wooden said, “You don’t have to like them, but you do have to love them.”  Servant-leaders want the people they lead to be their best; do their best, because it’s the best for them, individually and collectively. As a servant-leader, you may not like their behavior or choices. You may want them to do things differently, but you love them anyway.  This concept is probably the best understood by parents and pet owners.

The opposite of a servant-leader is a leader primarily motivated by wanting to be the top dog, big boss, the one in front. This leader primarily wants to lead people because of their own aspirations or ego.

Who are some examples of servant-leaders?

Although not necessarily classified as servant-leaders, the concept of this type of leadership style has deep roots in history.  Some of the more famous ones are:

Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Gandhi.

And this matters so much because?

When leading, coaching, or mobilizing people to do anything… the heart matters.

If you want to initiate a new strategic direction, influence a change in the organization, or correct a situation that has gone awry, when people are connect via heart, heads follow.  People perceive attitudes whether unspoken or spoken. They will know if the leader is primarily interested in their well being – or not.

Have you worked with a servant-leader? If so, how did it make a difference?

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