10 Proven Servant Leadership Characteristics You Can Build

10 Proven Servant Leadership Characteristics You Can Build

Last Updated on by Milton Campbell

A leader is a person who influences and inspires others to achieve a common goal. A true leader is someone that knows how to delegate tasks, take charge when needed, and also follow orders themselves.

Being a great leader in your industry requires more than just being a technically-skilled expert; it takes the right mindset and discipline.  An inability or unwillingness to lead can stunt team collaboration, company growth, and overall success.  

As this article will highlight, you can harness the servant leadership characteristics and apply them to your leadership style to become a better leader.

See Related: 10 Types of Leadership Styles: What’s Best for You

Table of Contents

What is Servant Leadership?

What is Servant Leadership? The term “servant-leader” was first coined by Robert Greenleaf in his 1970 essay, The Servant as a Leader.

What is a servant leader? A servant leader is an individual that takes the time to listen, encourage and empower others. It’s not about getting followers, it’s about developing other leaders. It’s not about you, it’s about them.

The philosophy of servant leadership is based on a set of guiding principles that describe how you can help others succeed through small changes in your behavior, attitude, and actions.

Servant leadership focuses on the growth and well-being of people rather than just tasks or profit. By adopting this approach to work, you create an environment where everyone benefits from the collaborative effort. The philosophy is if you take care of the people they will take care of the job.

Servant Leadership Characteristics

  • Great Listeners
  • Cultivates a Culture of Trust
  • High Emotional Intelligence
  • Have Humility
  • Care About Their People
  • Appreciate and Value Others
  • Know the Power of Persuasion
  • Foster Teamwork
  • Develops Others
  • Think Long-Term
Cartoon of a man dressed in a suit like a leader.

Great Listeners

In the modern age of pervasive digital communication, it is easy to become distracted. We are pulled in a million different directions by television, radio, email, text messaging, and other forms of communication that constantly demand our attention.

In this environment, servant leaders understand the importance of listening well. They listen to their staff members so they can better understand their needs and how they can assist them. They ask questions and then listen attentively to the answers.

Great leaders also listen to their customers. They want to know what their customers think about their products and services so they can make improvements. They also want to know what their customers need and how best to serve them.

See Related: Master Communication Skills with These 15 Powerful Tips

Cultivates a Culture of Trust

Servant leaders cultivate a culture of trust. Not only between themselves and their followers but also between team members. They have found success in creating strong teams by focusing on the needs of others first, rather than on their self-interests. Servant leaders are humble and patient with their employees, which builds trust and loyalty within their teams.

Trust is necessary for a team to function at high levels of performance. Individuals need to trust that they can be vulnerable with each other, share mistakes, share ideas and take risks without fear of rejection or ridicule. When employees experience high levels of trust, they are more likely to open up which leads to stronger relationships and better outcomes. When trust is low, team members feel less connected to each other, which in turn leads to higher turnover rates, reduced commitment, and lower engagement levels.

High Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a popular term these days. It’s the ability to understand, use and manage our own emotions in positive ways to communicate effectively, empathize with others and overcome challenges. In contrast, emotional intelligence means being aware of your own emotions and how they affect those you work with. It is also about knowing how to understand and respond to the emotional needs of others.

Servant leaders have high emotional intelligence. They are self-aware and aware of the emotions of others. By being mindful of their emotional states, servant leaders can see situations clearly which allows them to understand how their actions will affect those around them.

Servant leaders use their positive emotional states to motivate their team members and bring out their best. In difficult situations, servant leaders can manage the emotions of others and keep everyone on track.

See Related: The Ultimate Guide for Developing Emotional Intelligence

Have Humility

Servant leaders stand out as people who have a great deal of humility. They don’t see themselves as better than others or above taking advice or guidance from others. They also do not feel the need to be right all of the time.

Humility is a strength that attracts many followers because it makes the leader more approachable.

Servant leaders with high levels of humility like to surround themselves with people who have greater expertise in specific areas than they possess. They are willing to take advice from those with more experience, and they know that admitting when they are wrong is a sign of strength rather than weakness.

Care About Their People

Respect. Just a little bit. One of the servant leadership characteristics.

At its core, servant-leadership is based on the belief that people are the highest priority for servant leaders. They care not only about work but also the personal lives of their followers.

Servant leaders help their employees grow and succeed. They do this by empowering others and practicing humility.

Appreciate and Value Others

Servant Leaders know that if you treat the people around you right, then success will follow. That’s because they know that without their people, they are nothing. They are only as good as the people around them, so if those people are stressed out and worried about being able to do their job, then there is no way for them to be successful.

Know the Power of Persuasion

Servant leaders are highly persuasive. They know that leadership is not about asserting their power, but rather focusing on the interests of others.

When you’re trying to get people to do something in exchange for a benefit, the first thing you think of is the promise of some kind of reward.

However, this doesn’t always work. In a study by Ernst Fehr and his colleagues, participants were given a task that paid out money for each successful attempt. Participants were then asked to complete either a difficult or easy version of the same task and earn an additional payout for each success.

The researchers found that when participants were offered a higher payout for the more difficult task, they were less likely to complete it compared with when they were offered a lower payout. The authors concluded that setting higher goals motivated people less than setting lower ones.

See Related: 11 Tips to Negotiate Like a Pro: How to Close the Deal

Foster Teamwork

Perhaps the most important facet of servant leadership is that it helps create a team environment. The best leaders put the needs of their followers before themselves and look to bring everyone together toward a common goal.

In addition to creating this teamwork, servant leaders also build trust within their teams. Trust is an essential part of any relationship, and the most effective leaders use their influence to build bonds of trust with those they work with and for.

Servant leaders are also capable of building up the strengths of those around them, which allows them to go from good to great. By focusing on the strengths of each team member, a leader can help others realize their full potential.

Servant leadership can also help foster stronger communication between team members. A leader who listens to followers is more likely to understand what they need to succeed, which often helps improve lines of communication and information flow within the organization.

See Related: 8 Characteristics Of Effective Teams (and How To Build Them)

Develops Others

The servant-leader shares power puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. Servant leaders focus primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.

While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.

Think Long-Term

Looking down a tunnel.

A servant leader thinks long-term, focuses on the future and has a clear idea of their overall vision for success. They then use this vision to guide their decisions and actions.

See Related: How To Write A Vision Statement That Will Inspire and Motivate

Advantages Of Servant Leadership

Here are 10 benefits of servant leadership:

1) Creates an environment of trust and transparency.

2) Increases collaboration and teamwork.

3) Improves communication in the organization.

4) Builds morale and helps with employee retention.

5) Promotes creativity and innovation in problem-solving.

6) Develops a sense of ownership among employees.

7) Increases employee empowerment to make decisions and take risks.

8) Helps develop people into leaders—it’s a path to developing future leaders from within your organization.

9) Fosters a long-term perspective for the business rather than short-term gains. The focus is on building relationships rather than just focusing on profits or getting things done quickly.

10) Puts the company in a position to provide excellent service.

Disadvantages of Servant Leadership

One of the biggest challenges to servant leadership is that leaders have to have a strong inner core. Servant leaders must be strong enough to put others first while also having the self-confidence not to get taken advantage of by their followers.

Another challenge is ensuring that employees don’t take advantage of the good nature of their leader. Servant leaders can sometimes be looked upon as weak or naive by their followers, which can cause them to abuse their positions and power within an organization.

Servant leaders must also be able to maintain their vision while serving their followers. This can lead to difficult situations where there are competing needs between leaders and servants, but these situations must be handled with care so that they don’t lead to conflict.

Famous Servant Leaders in History

Abraham Lincoln – Throughout his life and especially as president, Lincoln was a strong leader who possessed tremendous leadership skills. He was born into poverty and had few educational opportunities as a youth. Despite these obstacles, he became one of the greatest orators, thinkers, and statesmen in American history. And he was never afraid to be innovative in his leadership approach.

Nelson Mandela – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a civil rights leader in South Africa. He fought against apartheid, a system where non-white citizens were segregated from whites and did not have equal rights.

Mandela spent 27 years in prison after being convicted of treason. When he was released from prison, he did not seek revenge. He sought reconciliation.

Mandela’s response to his captors is a great example of forgiveness in action. His approach to dealing with those who wronged him is a powerful demonstration of servant leadership.

Dalai Lama – The Dalai Lama has served as a spiritual leader for many people around the world. His humanitarian work and teachings have earned him numerous awards including the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent campaign for the liberation of Tibet.

See Related: Greatest & Famous Servant Leaders: 57 Best in the World’s History

Wrapping it Up

While learning to become a leader, you might not have realized that you had the servant leadership characteristics in you, but they are there. As you recall them and apply them to your everyday life, your new skills as a leader will help you take control of your workplace and management style. Your co-workers will also respond well to your leadership skills and follow your example. By building these servant leadership characteristics within yourself, you can lead your team or company to success.

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10 Proven Servant Leadership Characteristics You Can Build
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Milton Campbell

I'm passionate about personal and professional development. I started Growth Tactics to not only share the knowledge I've gained as a manager and leader but also improve my skills. My vision is to help people be the best versions of themselves. Let's grow together.