5 Attitudes That Define Servant Leaders

If you want to take the next step in your leadership journey, learn the art of servant leadership.

Photo: Ken Gosnell, CEO and Servant Leader of CXP (CEO Experience); Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Ken Gosnell, CEO and Servant Leader of CXP (CEO Experience); Source: Courtesy Photo

Great leaders practice developing good qualities daily. Leaders who wish to transform their company culture and the people they lead must become transformational leaders by molding themselves into a servant leader. It requires that leaders cultivate an attitude of servanthood and thoughtfulness. Servant leaders think of others first above their business and even above results.

Robert Greenleaf, founder of the modern servant leadership movement, has written this about the subject, “The servant-leader is a servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. The conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead… 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.”

Mother Teresa, a nun, and a missionary, who exhibited servant leadership qualities once wrote that “Thoughtfulness is the beginning of great sanctity. If you learn this art of being thoughtful, you will become more and more Christ-like, for his heart was meek, and he always thought of others. Our vocation, to be beautiful, must be full of thought for others.”


Five essential attitudes of servant leaders


1. Servant leaders have a deep level of compassion

Compassion is a critical skill for all leaders. People need compassionate leaders who take the time to serve others. The most compelling benefit of compassion in the context of work is the outcome: it produces highly effective leaders. To become a highly effective leader, you need to go through a significant transformation. Bill George, a widely respected leader, former CEO of Medtronic, calls it going from “I” to “We.”

“This shift is the transformation from ‘I’ to ‘We.’ It is the most critical process leaders go through in becoming authentic,” he adds. “How else can they unleash the power of their organizations unless they motivate people to reach their full potential? If our supporters are merely following our lead, then their efforts are limited to our vision and our directions… Only when leaders stop focusing on their personal ego needs are they able to develop other leaders.”


2. Servant leaders cultivate kindness

Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate, and in one application, it could mean using your resources for others.

In his book, It Worked For Me, Colin Powell, the former U.S. Joint Military Chief of Staff and Secretary of State, writes about an experience he had as a child in which his church welcomed an elderly priest in distress to become part of the community, and how that experience of kindness stayed with him. He says that kindness is not just about being nice; it is about recognizing another human being who deserves care and respect. Powell once stated in a senior staff meeting, “You can never err by treating everyone in the building with respect, thoughtfulness and a kind word.”

Kindness is an underrated leadership trait, yet it is an essential quality of remarkable leaders who inspire people to follow their lead.


3. Servant leaders are grounded in humility

Humility is considering others more important than you consider yourself. Servant leaders consider what is best for their teams above what is best for them alone. New York Times best-selling author, John Maxwell says, “Good leadership isn’t about advancing yourself. It’s about advancing your team.”

A 2014 Catalyst leadership study highlights the importance of humility in leadership, revealing that humility is one of four critical leadership factors to create an environment where employees from different demographic backgrounds feel included.


4. Servant leaders know how to practice gentleness and care

Many view gentleness as weak, but it requires exceptional strength. If you look at gentleness through the lens of leadership, you’ll discover a new perspective.

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”Charles Dickens

Gentle leadership means being tenderhearted toward others. Servant leaders understand their employees are going to make mistakes. Puritan leader, preacher, and theologian Jonathan Edwards called gentleness “the Christian spirit.” Every leader must learn the art of showing gentleness to their supporters. Consider how you can practice more gentleness with your team and in your business.


5. Servant leaders practice patience

Patience is the act of waiting for others in action and thought. Servant leaders understand that teaching others requires patience. A patient attitude allows a leader to know when to shut up and listen to their team. Excellent leaders work to grow patience and are willing to wait for results. They set an example that patience is an important component of a productive culture.


Servant leadership works

“Leaders who enroll in supporting individuals through all these ups and downs inspire their people to higher performance, selflessness, and loyalty. These are the foundations of communities where people thrive and consistently outperform other teams.”

Servant leadership has worked in the past and can work well into the future because servant leaders will always mobilize followers. When a team knows that their leader cares and considers them, they are open to considering their jobs and handling customers with more care and thoughtfulness. If you want to take the next step in your leadership journey, learn the art of servant leadership.


Ken Gosnell is the CEO and Servant Leader of CXP (CEO Experience). He serves leaders by helping them to have great experiences that both transform them and their organizations that enable to go further faster. He has worked with hundreds of CEOs and leadership teams to enhance strategic, operational and people accomplishments. He is an author, coach, and strategic partner with CEOs. Ken is the creator and facilitator of the Christian CEO Linkedin Group and creator of the CEO Experience Impact Assessment. He is married to Shonda, and they have four children. Connect with @ken_gosnell on Twitter.


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