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The Way of the Servant Leader

In the words of a J. Carla Nortcutt, “The goal of many leaders is to get people to think more highly of the leader. The goal of a great leader is to help people to think more highly of themselves.” That is the foundation of Servant Leadership, and the way of the Servant Leader.

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Photo: Adobe Stock Photography

Robert K. Greenleaf came up with the Theory of Servant Leadership. After Robert read the work of Hermann Hesse, Journey to the East, he came up with this theory. The story focuses on a central figure, Leo, a servant to a band of men on a mythical journey. Leo did the menial chores of the company. However, sustaining them with his presence, spirit, and song. After Leo disappears, disarray sets in and the expedition team disbands. The narrator of Hesse’s Journey to the East after some years of wandering finds the long-gone Leo in an Order. To his amazement, he discovers that this Order sponsored the long-disbanded expedition and Leo the servant, was the titular head of the Order.

Can a leader be a servant as well? From the story that birth this theory, we can see the possibility of this happening. In the perception of Robert K. Greenleaf, he believes the validity of this theory. The ways of the servant leader are as follows:

1. The Servant Leader is first a Servant

The servant leader must be a servant

As we see in the person of Leo, there is first the natural inclination to serve, not by compulsion but by choice. Every servant leader must have this natural lean towards service. The way of servant leadership is one which is devoid of any preoccupation to grab power or material possession. The initial proclivity to work is the genesis of such leader’s aspiration to want to lead. Serving is the first order of the day before inclining to lead the pack.

2. Meeting the needs of others is the Servant Leader’s first priority

Servant Leaders prioritize helping others

The Servant Leader’s paramount goal is to satisfy the highest priority needs of people. The way of the servant leader is to make sure that those they are serving are growing as individuals.  He/she, the servant leader, aims to see growth in those they are serving in the place of health, wisdom, freedom, autonomy, with a growing self-inclination to become servants. Servant leaders work towards the cessation of deprivation of the underprivileged in the society. Hence, the way of the servant leader is to meet the needs of others first before they commence thinking of their own needs.

3. No job is too menial to the Servant Leader

Jesus washed the feet of His disciples—No job is too menial for the Servant Leader

No job is too menial or too small for the servant leader. Leo in the Journey to the East story was comfortable doing the menial duties of the team. For the servant leader today, no job should be too menial for the servant leader. One can see this leadership methodology in practice in the training of a Starbucks Store Manager. During the training process, the Store Manager at Starbucks must first learn to do all the duties of the barista and must be comfortable doing so. That is the way of the servant leader. You must be able to do and be comfortable with doing duties you expect your followers to do for you. No job is too menial for the servant leader.  

4. Humility is the sail of the Servant Leader

Humility is the sail that makes the servant leader who he/she is

The sail is what drives a sailboat through the restless oceans. The sail catches the wind, and it pushes the boat forward—without a sail, you cannot have a “sail-boat.” Humility is analogous to the sail of the sailboat. Humility is the sail that makes the servant leader who he/she is. In the absence of humility, it is hard for servant leadership to exists as pride will stifle the life out of servant leadership. We can find the best description of humility as the sail of the servant leader in the Holy Writ’s book of Luke 22:26 that “The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules, like the one who serves.” Humility is a core trait of the genuine servant leader.

Best leaders are first servants always

There are several iconic examples of servant leaders. Nelson Mandela’s life passion was to see equality become the mantra of everyday living in the country of South Africa. He passionately sought after it even to the point of putting himself at risk and going to jail in his pursuit to see the cessation of apartheid in South Africa. Martin Luther King, Jr. is another exemplary servant leader. His pursuance to see the eradication of racism and the inequality that it breeds, became his life mission. His speeches are resounding reminders of his equality pursuit for the African American during the Civil Rights Era of the United States. Sometimes, the pursuance of the servant leader can become deleterious for the leader in question. For instance, Martin Luther King, Jr. paid the ultimate price with his life pursuing his noble ideals.

Other notable servant leaders where Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Albert Schweitzer, and the ultimate servant leader of all being Jesus Christ. In every instance of His life, He sought to ensure that the needs of all that he encountered.  In the Holy Writ’s book of Mark 10:44-45, He asserts that “Whoever wants to be first must serve the rest of you like a slave. Follow my example: Even the Son of Man did not come for people to serve him. He came to serve others and to give his life to save many people.” Hence, servant leaders are not power mongers who throw their weight around when they acquire some modicum of power. The way of the servant leader is selfless service, care, and humility. We need more servant leaders in organizations today. For those that want to become servant leaders and are looking for a primer to direct them in this style of leadership should look to opus, Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf.

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  • Servant Leadership is shown on the conceptual business photo

  • Vintage style maid in uniform with the duster

  • Jesus washing feet of modern man wearing jeans

  • humility word in mixed vintage metal type printing blocks over grunge wood

  • Smart saying handwritten with chalk on black desk

Ogbonnaya Agom-Eze is an entrepreneur and the Founder, CEO, Editor-In-Chief of Oaekpost, LLC, a U.S.-based online media company and the parent organization of He is a multi-niche writer with a wide range of interests in various genres. Agom-Eze is based in the Greater Seattle Area, Washington, and can be reached at

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