Illustration of team members during a meeting

October 05, 2021 •

6 min reading

Servant Leadership: What type of leader are you?

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Engaging in servant leadership can promote empowerment in your employees and secure better outcomes for your business. Are you ready to make an important mind shift regarding the professional working paradigm and figure out what kind of leader you are? Authoritarian or participative?

Servant Leadership: What is it? 

Servant leadership is about embracing the concept of serving others and developing the courage to lead differently. It's a concept that fosters a collaborative attitude and supports collectivism with the aim of working towards a common purpose. Similar to the relational and participative leadership style, it is based on principles of inclusion, empowerment, purposefulness and ethical behaviors.

Servant leadership's premise is to lead by putting the needs of the team first. Servant leaders trust that when their team members feel personally and professionally fulfilled, they produce higher quality of work and are more efficient. Employee satisfaction and collaboration are main outcomes in servant leadership.

Servant leadership is relevant for business as it creates a working environment in which employees at all levels of the organization feel respected, heard, appreciated and valued. This type of approach creates a positive corporate culture based on values, ideas and ethics, and leads to high morale among team members. Organizations that decide to follow servant leadership philosophy tend to have a stronger positive work culture with high employee engagement and retention.

However, this style requires long-term commitment: it is not always suited to situations where quick decisions or tight deadlines must be met. Although it has the potential to inspire high employee accountability and loyalty, management must still exhibit leadership qualities. Ultimately, the servant  leadership style does not allow for much control over employees, so managers must be confident in the abilities of both their team members and themselves.

Servant leadership: 10 main qualities 

  1. The ability to listen. Giving the opportunity for all team members to be heard and paying close attention to what is being said, (and what may potentially not be said).  
  2. Being empathetic. Caring about the team on a personal level. Feeling happy and fulfilled in one's personal life contributes to success in the professional domain. Helping with personal issues when possible. 
  3. Problem-solving. Fixing previous problems before moving onto new projects or challenges.  
  4. Being aware. Self-awareness about yourself and your team. Being able to accept and grow from your weaknesses. Being aware of your team's strengths and weaknesses. 
  5. Being persuasive. Servant leaders use persuasion and leading by example – rather than their authority – to encourage people to take action. 
  6. The ability to conceptualize. Communicating the bigger picture and why the challenges are relevant for the team. Giving a meaningful context. 
  7. Having foresight. Learning from past mistakes and successes, and using this knowledge to build on present activities. 
  8. Being a steward. Understanding your responsibilities, protecting the trust and confidence, sharing the information with the team. 
  9. Commitment to people's growth. Helping team members to develop professionally and become leaders themselves. Providing opportunities to grow and develop. 
  10. Building community spirit. Encouraging collaboration and engagement. Valuing the opinions of each team member and encouraging them to speak up and actively contribute.  
Do you recognize these qualities in yourself? How can you develop the skills needed to be a servant leader? Knowing your leadership style is extremely important and should be seen a journey. 
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What type of leader are you? 

There are as many approaches to leadership as there are leaders. Building awareness of frameworks and styles can help you develop your approach and  be a more effective leader of your professional teams.

The two main leadership styles can be summed up under these umbrella headings:

  • Authoritarian leadership: This style positions the executive at the center of the decision-making process and relies on defined tasks and close monitoring.
  • Participative leadership: This style empowers employees with  influence and responsibilities, and involves them in many of the decision-making processes.
With this 7-step process, you will have all the tools you need
to master your company Customer Experience.

Authoritarian styles 

Transactional Leadership

The "transaction" usually involves the organization paying their staff in return for effort and compliance on often short-term tasks. The leader has a right to "punish" team members if their work doesn't meet appropriate standards. Transactional leadership is present in many business leadership contexts and can offer some benefits, e.g., it clarifies everyone's roles and responsibilities. Furthermore, because transactional leadership judges team members on performance, people who are ambitious or who are motivated by external rewards – like bonuses or compensation – often thrive. The downside of this style is that, on its own, it can be demoralising because team members can do little to improve their job satisfaction, hence it can lead to high staff turnover. It also has serious limitations for creative work.


Directive leadership 

This instructional technique is also based on employee compliance. Directive managers pay close attention to their employees’ actions and motivate them through discipline, often employing transactional techniques such as rewards and punishments to drive results. Directive leadership is hierarchical and values consistency, control and predictability. It is often motivated by controlling costs and achieving market prominence helped by top-down leadership tactics.  


Bureaucratic leadership

Bureaucratic leaders are rules-based and ensure that their personnel follow procedures rigorously. This is an appropriate style for work that involves serious safety risks (such as working with machinery, toxic substances or dangerous heights), or with large sums of money. Bureaucratic leadership is useful for managing employees who perform routine tasks. However, this style is much less effective in teams and organizations that rely on flexibility, creativity and innovation.


Participative styles

Transformational leadership

Conceived in the late 70s, transformational leadership - similar to servant leadership - bases itself on integrity, accountability, emotional intelligence and good communication. The belief is that if the main business vision is shared and upheld among all levels of personnel, better engagement ensues and so leads to higher productivity. Management works directly with employees to create a vision and identify change. However, it’s essential for managers to balance idealistic thinking with strategy. Although they can inspire accountability, it’s important that leaders understand both the strengths and weaknesses of their employees.


Democratic leadership

Democratic leadership, as the name suggests, has the objective of building commitment and consensus across a team. Again, like servant leadership, executives ask for input from their team members before making a final decision. However, here, management still make the final decision. To avoid the pitfalls of a too laissez-faire style, leaders exert some element of final say. Ultimately, organizations with a strong structure can benefit from this type of participative method.


Situational leadership 

Flexibility leads to success! This is a more of a leadership framework than a style. The situational approach helps leaders adapt their style to suit the working environment and/or needs of the team. It does not depend on the skills of a leader, but rather on his or her ability to adjust to specific circumstances.> This strategy encourages leaders to take stock of their team members, weigh the many variables in their workplace and choose the leadership style that best fits their goals. It works well in problem-solving and coaching situations where there is frequent change in context and team members. 

Possible variables include:> 

  • Level of competence, knowledge, experience of the employee.
  • Complexity of the task.> 
  • Level of interdependence among employees.
  • Psychological requirements of the job.> 
  • Specific business situation, e.g., crisis or business as usual, replication vs. innovation.

The main concept here is that there is no better style than another. An effective leader will use a style of leadership that will best suit the specific work situation and uphold its goals.

Written by

Consultant - Service DNA at EHL Advisory Services

SERVICE EXCELLENCE: A 7-step process to master your company Customer Experience.

1. Customer Behavior
2. Customer Culture
3. Service Design Roadmap
4. Customer-Focus Governance
5. Customer Service Goals
6. Employees Service Excellence Training
7. Service Performance & Continuously Improve