Grow in Your Understanding of the Servant as Leader

Are you pursuing Christ-like humility in your leadership?

25 But Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. 26 It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28

Humility does not come naturally to anyone.

Who hasn’t seen an example of our self-centered nature in a two-year old child in the checkout line at the grocery story, lying flat out on the floor, screaming at the top of her lungs, fists clenched because Mom wouldn’t buy her a candy bar? When the child did not get what she wanted, a temper tantrum followed.

The reality is that adults have an inner two-year-old. We know what we want, when we want it, and we are dejected, annoyed, and maybe even angry when we don’t get our way. While it’s not appropriate to lie on the floor and scream anymore, often – in our minds – we are tempted.

Our model for humble leadership lives in the servant-mindedness of Jesus Christ during His ministry on earth. We’re not likely to achieve that kind of perfect and consistent humility in this lifetime. But great leaders aspire to grow in Christ-like humility with each passing day.

If you are interested in developing as a leader, grow in your understanding of servant as leader.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Power of Servant Leadership, by Robert K. Greenleaf

Based on the seminal work of Robert K. Greenleaf, a former AT&T executive who coined the term almost 30 years ago, servant-leadership emphasizes an emerging approach to leadership—one which puts serving others, including employees, customers, and community, first. The Power of Servant Leadership is a collection of eight of Greenleaf’s most compelling essays on servant-leadership. These essays, published together in one volume for the first time, contain many of Greenleaf’s best insights into the nature and practice of servant-leadership and show his continual refinement of the servant-as-leader concept. In addition, several of the essays focus on the related issues of spirit, commitment to vision, and wholeness.


The treachery of hubris is far more than many of other potential problems a leader might encounter. It’s fun to be a leader, gratifying to have influence, and exhilarating to have dozens – maybe even hundreds – of people cheering your every word. In many all-too-subtle ways, it’s easy to be seduced by power and importance. It’s possible for any leader to get infected with the disease of arrogance and pride, becoming bloated with an exaggerated sense of self and pursuing one’s own ends. How can you avoid this?

Humility is the only way to resolve the conflicts and contradictions of leadership. Humility is the antidote for hubris.

The path to a greater understanding and practice of humility begins with the realization that in order to lead, you must first serve. 

Good leaders must first become good servants.

Ten Characteristics of the Servant as Leader

Listening – the servant-leader seeks to identify the will of a group and helps clarify that will by listening to what is being said (and not being said).

Empathy – the servant-leader strives to understand and emphasize with others.

Healing – the servant-leader recognizes that they have an opportunity to help make whole those with whom they come in contact with.

Awareness – the servant-leader makes a commitment to fostering awareness, helping one to understand issues involving ethics and values.

Persuasion – the servant-leader relies on persuasion, rather than positional authority, in making decisions.

Conceptualization – the servant-leader seek to nurture their abilities to dream great dreams, thinking beyond day-to-day realities.

Foresight – the servant-leader understands the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision for the future.

Stewardship – the servant-leader assumes first and foremost a commitment to serving the needs of others.

Commitment to the growth of people – the servant-leader believes that people have an intrinsic value beyond their tangible contributions as workers, and is deeply committed to the growth of each and every individual within his or her organization.

Building community – the servant-leader seeks to identify some means for building community among those who work for an organization.

– Robert Greenleaf, The Power of Servant Leadership


Prepare a worksheet listing the 10 Characteristics of a Leader (found above) across the top of the sheet. At the bottom of the sheet, write the following: Using a scale of 1-10(1-Not at all; 10-Excellent), please write the number under each characteristic that best describes you. Make seven copies of the spreadsheet.

  • Ask two close work associates to rate you using the worksheet.
  • Ask one close friend to rate you using the worksheet.
  • Ask your immediate supervisor to rate you using the worksheet.
  • Ask a spouse or family member to rate you using the worksheet.
  • Complete the worksheet, rating yourself.

Average all six scores to obtain a composite score for each characteristic.

On the remaining worksheet, list the composite scores by each characteristic.

  • Under the characteristics with a rating of 7, 8, or 9, write specific actions you will take to move that rating up one number.
  • Under the characteristics with a rating of 4, 5, or 6, list at least one specific example of that rating.
  • Under the characteristics with a rating of 1, 2, or 3, talk with your spouse or trusted friend about why the rating is low.

Excellent leaders set the example by aligning their actions with their values as a servant leader, just as Christ did.

James Kouzes and Barry Posner, writing in Great Leadership Creates Great Workplaces, suggest leaders ask themselves these three questions at the end of each day:

“What have I done today that demonstrates the values that I hold near and dear?”

“What have I done today that might have, even inadvertently, been inconsistent with what I value and believe in?”

This reflection will prepare you to ask a final question: “So tomorrow, what do I need to do differently so that my actions match my words?”

Servant leaders who make this a regular habit will not only be practicing their craft, they will be developing themselves and others as servant leaders – ultimately reflecting the heart of Christ who did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 19-1, published July 2015

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.


At Their Service

Ask yourself daily:

What did I specifically do today to be “of service” to members of my group or team? Was I truly a “servant” to them?

Robert Greenleaf, writing in the classic Servant Leadership challenges leaders to be servants. To help leaders understand the concept, he had two “exam” questions that leaders should ask concerning the people on their teams:

  1. Do those served grow as persons?
  2. Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?


Tom Peters translates these questions as follows:

  1. Leaders exist to serve their people. Period.
  2. A team well served by its leader will be inclined to pursue Excellence.

Use the word “Serve.” (That’s what you do.)

Use the word “Service.” (That’s what you provide.)

Use the word “Servant.” (That’s what you are.)


John Maxwell, writing about the Law of Addition:

When you think of servanthood, do you envision it as an activity performed by relatively low-skilled people at the bottom of the flow chart? If you do, you have a wrong impression. People are drawn toward those who serve them sacrificially, not repelled by them. It’s about attitude.

Leaders seek ways they can add value to others, and the primary way they do it is by serving them. In John 13, the Savior of the world exhibited that He was also the greatest Servant of all time. In a powerful object lesson of servanthood, Jesus stripped down to a garment around his waist, looking the part of a servant. He took a basin of water and a bowl and began washing his disciples’ feet.

Christlike Servant-Leaders

  1. Are motivated by love to serve others (vv. 1,2)
  2. Possess a security that allows them to serve others (v. 3)
  3. Initiate servant-leadership to others (vv. 4-5)
  4. Receive servant-ministry from others (vv. 6, 7)
  5. Want nothing to hinder their relationship with God (vv. 8, 9)
  6. Teach servanthood by their example (vv. 12, 15)
  7. Live a blessed life (vv. 16, 17)

When leaders serve, they add value to the people who receive their service. It might be something as simple as feeling special; it could be a resource we give others or a word of encouragement. Whatever it is, people always receive something and feel better about themselves because of their leader.

Leaders should add value to everyone they serve. Seek to replenish and resource them to live the higher life God has called them to.

Jesus served – should you do any less?