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Leading is Serving

 leading is serving



Making my way home from a business trip to Houston, waiting for my flight to board, I busied myself by researching some articles on leadership. Hobby Airport was busier than I have ever seen it – thousands of people bustling around, standing in long lines, even running to catch flights, carrying bags full of carefully wrapped gifts all while Christmas music played through the speakers overhead. So imagine how apropos it felt when I stumbled upon this great blog post, The Servant Leader’s Night Before Christmas by Ben Lichtenwalner. Using the famous children’s story as a basis for his poem, Ben shares an important reminder with all of us: Leading is Serving.

The Servant Leader’s Night Before Christmas doesn’t only remind us about Servant Leadership; it portrays some of the essential differences between Servant Leadership and other leadership styles.

While Robert K. Greenleaf is credited with the phrase “servant leadership”, the concept of servant leadership is a timeless ancient philosophy where the ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware. Both a philosophy and set of practices, Servant Leaders share power, putting the needs of others first, helping people to develop and perform to their highest potential. This differs significantly from “traditional leadership” which generally includes a “command and control” style of leadership – due to the fact that it involves the accumulation and exercise of power by the one “at the top”. As Greenleaf puts it: “The servant-leader is servant first…It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, 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 the servant-first are two extreme types. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test is: Do those served grow — do they become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely themselves to become servants? This is my thesis: Caring for people is the rock upon which a good society is built. Whereas until recently caring was largely person to person, now most of it is mediated through institutions – often large, complex, powerful, impersonal; not always competent; and [sometimes] corrupt. If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them.”

Servant Leadership is often times associated with Participative Leadership, a style of leadership where leaders engage, support and enable subordinates to develop their full potential and capacities. This involves including employees in decision-making and delegating more extensive tasks and activities. With this an employee’s influence and responsibility increases as that person is growing and developing towards their greatest possibility. Evolving your employees requires certain characteristics that are fundamental to the development of a Servant Leader – and all of which are essential components of effective leadership:

  • Care: Recognizing that every human being brings value to the organization, Servant Leaders have an aspiration to foster people’s physical, emotional and spiritual health with dignity and in a way that is whole


  • Commitment: Servant Leaders take accountability for the growth and development of themselves and others


  • Community: Servant Leaders have a desire to create a meaningful sense of community and unity among their people


  • Compassion: In consideration of the individuals who work in their organization, Servant Leaders have an empathetic comprehension of others’ feelings and worldviews


  • Consciousness: In an effort to model – not mandate – their leadership, Servant Leaders are aware of their own values, feelings, strengths and weaknesses


  • Foresight: Servant Leaders have an understanding and well-developed sense of intuition about how the past, present and future are connected


  • Listening: Because Servant Leaders are genuinely inquisitive and want to learn, there is emphasis to listen effectively to others with a non-judgmental, curious desire to fully understand another


  • Stewardship: Servant Leaders are agents of change who work towards the greater good


  • Vision: Servant Leaders are visionary; they have developed the capacity to integrate current realities with future possibilities


At Generon, we talk about Renewing Leaders or Stage IV Leaders. We are often asked: “What is the difference between a Servant Leader and a Renewing Leader?

Renewing Leaders embody all of the values and characteristics of Servant Leaders but have matured to a more comprehensive level of development. They have the ability to perform at an extraordinary level; at the heart of this performance is their capacity to access tacit knowing which they use to envision and create the future they desire for their organization. Renewing Leaders hold the worldview that there is an underlying intelligence within the universe that is capable of guiding and preparing us for the futures we must create. In this they combine their cognitive understanding of the world around them with a strong personal sense of possibility – the possibility of realizing hidden potentials. In short, Renewing leaders are Servant Leaders who have developed the added capacity to sense and actualize emerging futures for the benefit of the people, the organization and the world.

As I was scrolling through #servantleadership on Twitter looking at what others tweeted about under the hashtag, I came upon this short quote and thought I’d share it.

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