10 Actions of Servant Leaders

This is conclusion of a two part post. Read part one here.

“The servant leader is servant first . . . it begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, serve first. Then conscious choice bring one to aspire to lead.”

Robert Greenleaf wrote the above quote in his 1970 essay on servant leadership. Over 40 years later Greenleaf’s message grips the keen servant leader tuned into the level of disengaged, unhappy, employees and energy-depleted cultures.

But, what does a 21st century servant leader do in the face of such discontent? Is it all too much to do something about? Absolutely not! What’s inspiring about the human spirit is our buoyant nature.

21st century leaders need to tap into the actions that unleash the human spirit in our organizations. These are merely 10 ways. Certainly in a list like this simplifications must be made. I hope, however, each action speaks boldly on their own.

Reveal greatness

To serve means to place other’s needs first. A servant leader finds ways to helps others realize their greatness. Why? To amplify talent. To spread goodwill. To inspire confidence in the face of ambiguity, darkness. And brighten an already bright work culture.

It’s what you add

It’s not how you benefit, but what you add that matters more. It’s what makes a difference for another person, team, company, even society. Such a shift in perspective looks to make things better for others, not for one’s self. Lehman Brothers could have used more of this. Foxconn can use more of this.

Hone strengths

When we do something we’re good at accomplishments flow more naturally. Helping employees identify their strengths and finding ways to apply them are known to improve well-being.

Focus on our humanity

It’s in our DNA to want to make a difference. We want to do something that matters. We want to matter. A servant leader taps into this human need to reveal greatness in others and makes progress where others who fail.

Be in action

Serve is a verb. There is much work to be done in this post-Great Recession era. After massive layoffs, meager gains in the economy, and European and asian market instability, reluctant executives aren’t focusing on the dismal mood in their companies. Servant leaders can find plenty of opportunities to lead locally and make better the environment in which their teams must work.

Unite people

The silos are showing signs of major wear-and-tear, and are not repairable. With a slim workforce, servant leaders must reach across the organization connecting people and purpose to exploit passion. A united group of people can accomplish remarkable results.

Look for the underlying story

A good story has a purpose and a lesson within it. A good story draws us in. The work to be done, to be shipped, has a story waiting to be told. Servant leaders know to look for it, tell it, and inspire people to complete the story.

Believe in people

This is a no-brainer.

Boldly exploit passion

Employees come to work with their passions hidden or known. Servant leaders work to know what lights up their employees, professionally and personally. Why? Because they care. They want to help people direct their passion towards to achieve something great.


Perhaps one of the hardest actions. It requires discipline to see where sacrifice is needed. Where wants take a back seat. Where observation and timing are rewarded.

In a time where we’ve heard countless stories of misguided actions of executives, managers, and employees it’s time to rewrite the storyline. It’s time that we do a deep dive in what it means to serve those on our teams. It’s time to see people and relationships as a competitive advantage. It’s time to serve first.

Change Leader | Speaker | Writer Co-founder and CEO of ExchangeGain. Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Top ranked leadership blogger by Huffington Post. The Optimistic Workplace (AMACOM) out 2015

  • Dr. Lisa McCool

    Foster leadership in others. Mentor others by revealing their strengths to them and to the organization. — One of the most important tasks of a leader is ensuring leadership continues through time, after we’re gone.

  • Randy Conley

    An excellent list of 10 actions! I especially like your point about the word “serve” being a verb – it’s an action word! Too many people confuse Servant Leadership with a laissez-faire style of leadership, almost akin to letting the inmates run the asylum. Servant Leadership, as you’ve described it, is a vibrant, active, engaging leadership philosophy that seeks to bring out the best in people.

    Great work my friend.


  • Dr Richard Norris

    As Eintstein said.. The only life worth living is a life lived serving others.

  • There’s a more human way to do business.

    In the Social Age, it’s how we engage with customers, collaborators and strategic partners that matters; it’s how we create workplace optimism that sets us apart; it’s how we recruit, retain (and repel) employees that becomes our differentiator. This isn’t a “people first, profits second” movement, but a “profits as a direct result of putting people first” movement.

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