servant leadership

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Careers in information technology: A CIO guide to getting ahead in IT
Contributor(s): Linda Tucci

Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy that believes the most effective leaders strive to serve others, rather than accrue power or take control . Others can include customers, partners, fellow employees and the community at large. 

The term was coined by management expert Robert K. Greenleaf (1904 -1990) in an essay published in 1970, "The Servant as Leader." He writes: "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."

Greenleaf identified 10 principles of servant leadership:

  • Listening
  • Empathy
  • Healing
  • Awareness
  • Persuasion
  • Conceptualization
  • Foresight
  • Stewardship
  • Commitment to the growth of people
  • Building community


This was last updated in January 2014

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