Common misconceptions & 10 characteristics of this management style
by Molly Jacobson
August 28, 2019

The term “servant leader” can be viewed as an oxymoron. How can a person lead and be a servant at the same time? A common misconception is that servant leaders are practically subservient to their followers. But that isn’t true servant leadership. 

A true servant leader leads with others in mind, but is willing to make decisions when the time is right. They build people up instead of keeping them down, lead by example and cultivate a culture of trust within their organization. Servant leaders are charismatic and often attract followers due to their willingness to acknowledge others. 

Common Misconceptions

It’s not uncommon for an executive to wrestle with the idea of being a servant leader—“servant” often being the controversial keyword in question. Historically, the term has often been associated with indentured servitude or slavery. As such, there a number of misconceptions associated with servant leadership. Some of the most common misconceptions include: 

Servants are subservient—While one of the hallmarks of a servant leader is a desire to enable those around them to do their best, that does not mean they will offer unquestioning support. Servant leaders should do what’s right for the group, even if the decision is an unpopular one. 

  • Servants are slaves—Slaves have no freedom and must do what’s commanded of them without question. Servant leaders are not owned by their followers, and they have the free will to do what’s needed while keeping everyone’s best interests at heart. 
  • Servants only serve their followers—Servant leaders don’t just focus on serving their followers. In a business setting, they serve all stakeholders. This includes not only partners and clients, but also employees.
  • Servant leadership isn’t a leadership style, it’s a philosophy—It focuses on enriching the lives of those around them and building strong and ethical organizations. To be an effective servant leader, it’s imperative you possess the right characteristics. 

While servant leaders come from all walks of life, there are ten ideal characteristics they should possess. Read through the following to see which of these characteristics you feel are a fit with your leadership style.

1. Empathy 

Are you willing to look at situations through the eyes of someone else? Are you willing to share their perspective? Empathy often comes from having an open mind. Servant leaders aren’t afraid to put aside their personal viewpoints and show empathy toward others. 

2. Willingness to Listen 

Good leaders are willing to listen with an intent to gain understanding. Servant leaders give people their full and undivided attention and allow others to finish speaking without interrupting. If you strive to be a servant leader, it’s crucial you put an emphasis on improving your listening skills. 

3. Persuasiveness 

Persuasion is a powerful tool that, when used properly, can take the place of fear or authority, inspiring people to follow you rather than regulating them into doing so. Servant leaders rely on persuasion to convince others to take action and take everyone into account when making decisions. 

4. Emotional Awareness 

Servant leaders should support their followers both mentally and physically, which means ensuring employees are working in a healthy work environment. Do they have the resources they need to perform their assigned duties? 

Do they have support? Do they have sufficient training? Employees under a servant leader tend to be happier in general and often produce higher quality work as a result. 

5. Foresight 

We can all learn from our past experiences and strive to make improvements in the future. As such, servant leaders should be able to determine future outcomes by learning from past mistakes. They understand that all actions have consequences. It’s the job of a servant leader to determine what those consequences are and guide their organization in the right direction. 

6. Self-Awareness 

Servant leaders should have the ability to step outside of themselves to see how their behavior and emotions affect those around them. This means not being afraid of your vulnerabilities and acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses. The more self-aware you are, the more you can confidently lead other people. 

7. Sense of Community 

Businesses run better by building synergy. This can be done by running your organization as a tightknit community. Servant leaders often hold relationship-building functions (such as parties, barbecues, etc.) to encourage people to get to know one another. 

They may even set aside time before a work shift or a meeting to speak with employees on a personal level. Creating a sense of community encourages a healthy work environment, which in turn creates an improved, cohesive workflow. 

8. Accountability 

Servant leaders are accountable for every employee in their organization, and they’re willing to take responsibility when things go wrong. If a servant leader wants their employees to act according to the values of their organization, they must demonstrate those values themselves every day. Servant leaders lead by example and often do so by being accountable for their own actions. 

9. Ability to Conceptualize 

Servant leaders strive to see the bigger picture so they can plan for things to come later on down the road and always have the mission and vision statements of their organizations firmly in mind. 

10. Commitment to Employee Growth

Servant leaders understand the value of growing their employees on an individual level. They understand that people make mistakes and are willing to work with and help employees grow and improve.

One way to promote growth and development is to identify employees’ personal dreams and goals, and then give them assignments that align with this outlook so they can find fulfillment in their work. 

Building a Stronger Organization 

While servant leadership is not a model that works in every organization, it is highly effective in the right environment. It can be difficult to identify a true servant leader for your organization. Thankfully, with reputation-based platforms on the rise, like completed.com, it will become easier to identify individuals who display the characteristics of a servant leader. 

Defeating misconceptions and embodying the ideals of servant leadership are the building blocks for a strong organization, and it will take a strong individual to fill this role. Do you have what it takes to be a servant leader?