The 3 Main Principles of Servant Leadership


Servant leadership originated with Robert K. Greenleaf. He wrote an essay titled “The Servant as Leader,” in which he laid out his thoughts on leadership.

His thoughts were new for the time. They’re still valid today, in my opinion.

In this article, I want to look at the principles Greenleaf laid out as he promoted the concept of servant leadership. These 3 principles will help you become a better, more servant-minded leader.

The 3 Main Principles Of Servant Leadership

In his essay, Greenleaf mentioned 3 items that stuck out to me. They are that servant leaders listen, have empathy, and their role is more in line with a facilitator or an enabler.

These are the principles we’re going to look at in this article.

Servant Leadership Listening:

Everyone wants to believe they’re great listeners. They think they’re able to sit down, have a person explain what’s going on, and just listen.

Have you tried this recently?

Once the person begins to share what’s going on, you begin to formulate solutions. You stop listening. They start to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher: Mwah wah wah wah mwah.

That’s not listening. That’s trying to solve a problem.

Instead of problem-solving, leaders need to truly listen. To do so, you must put aside preconceived notions and any desire to give your input and just listen.

Let the person share. Let them vent. Give them the space to fully and honestly share what is on their mind.

After the person is finished, don’t offer your thoughts or ideas. Instead, ask them what they want the following steps to be. You let the person offer their suggestions. Surprisingly, their suggestions can resolve their issues.

Servant Leadership Empathy:

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. It sounds like a tall order. For many leaders, it is.

Leaders, for some reason, have become disconnected from their people. They no longer realize what it feels like to be in the shoes of those they lead. Do you remember when Cousin Eddie kidnapped Mr. Shirley, Clark Griswold’s boss, in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?

Eddie kidnapped Mr. Shirley because Mr. Shirley did away with company bonuses. Instead, Mr. Shirley gave employees a subscription to a Jelly of the Month club.

Mr. Shirley couldn’t understand the feelings his action would have on them. He didn’t consider what they would think or do when they got a subscription instead of a bonus.

This is a lack of empathy.

It took cousin Eddie kidnapping him, bringing him to the Griswolds, and hearing why Clark wanted to harm him to make him realize what he had done. After hearing Clark’s reasoning, Mr. Shirley could understand Clark’s feelings.

Don’t let it take a “cousin Eddie” moment to empathize with those you lead. Instead, listen and understand your people. Truly hear them.

Servant Leadership as Facilitators and Enablers:

Leaders are people who make things happen. Servant Leaders are people who make things happen by giving their people the right resources and support. They know there are needs, and they fill the gaps.

Servant leaders also take it a step further by being enablers, but not in a negative way. Enabling in servant leadership is different. To be an enabler, you help your team achieve its goals by removing obstacles and enabling them to reach success.

Be a facilitator. Be an enabler. Help your team to succeed by giving them what they need and removing any obstacles standing in the way.

Be A Servant Leader

This article should help you have a better understanding of what the main principles of servant leadership are. You know you have to listen. You have to have empathy. And you have to facilitate and enable those you lead.

When you begin to do these things, you become a servant leader.

The road won’t be easy. You’ll stumble back into old habits. However, now that you know, you can move forward toward the goal of serving the people you lead.