Leadership styles Part 4: Servant

This series of four articles will explore four different leadership styles and how the style can affect a group in accomplishing a goal. Part 4 focuses on servant leadership.

This is the fourth and final article in the four part Michigan State University Extension series exploring four leadership styles: dictator, democratic laissez-faire and servant. This series also examines how a leader’s style can affect a group in accomplishing a goal. Part 1 of this series focused on dictator style leadership, Part 2 discussed democratic leadership and Part 3 reviewed laissez-faire leadership. This article will focus on the servant leadership style, which is a leader who gives priority to the needs of his or her group and promotes their well-being.

Although the concept of servant leadership is timeless, servant leadership was not recognized as a leadership theory until 1970 when Robert K. Greenleaf published the essay, The Servant as Leader. Greenleaf describes the servant leader process as follows: “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then the conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.” Greenfield continues by stating the objective of a servant leader is to stimulate thought and action for building a better, more caring society.

In Greenleaf’s essay, one of the most important characteristic of a servant leader is the desire to serve. Greenleaf believed this was critical as it reflected on “what we do in our little corner of the world” and “why we do it.” In addition, Greenfield identified ten principles and characteristics he considered important to the success of a servant leader:

  • Listening
  • Empathy
  • Building community
  • Healing
  • Awareness
  • Commitment to the growth of people
  • Foresight
  • Persuasion
  • Stewardship
  • Conceptualization

Greenleaf also describes servant-leaders as people who initiate action, are goal-oriented, dream great dreams, are good communicators, possess the ability to withdraw and re-orient themselves, and are dependable, trusted, creative, intuitive and situational. Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King are great examples of servant leaders as they can be defined as leaders who gave priority to the needs of the group because they wished to create a more caring world.

In examining the servant leadership style, Focus on Leadership authors Ann McGee-Cooper and Duane Trammell concluded that servant leaders displayed five core practices:

  • Listening without judgment
  • Being authentic, open and accountable
  • Building community and showing appreciation
  • Sharing power
  • Developing people

Reflecting on the characteristics and practices considered important, what leaders have you come in contact with that are servant leaders? Do you consider a 4-H club leader or church preacher to be individuals with servant leadership qualities? Of the four leadership styles, the democratic and servant leadership styles are often found to be the most appropriate to use with youth groups.

The ability to lead as a servant leader is a desired tool, although today’s rapidly changing environment requires much more is learned about leadership styles in order to be successful.

Every leader of a group, club, business or organization will learn that each situation is different and a variety of leadership styles and tools will be needed. The four articles in this series provide basic information to help prepare leaders and educate them about the advantages and disadvantages of different leadership styles. As stated in the other articles, it is important for individuals in leadership roles to know what style works best for a given situation and for the group they are leading, in order to accomplish the group’s goals.

As mentioned previously in this series, Michigan 4-H Youth Development recently released a new and exciting global leadership curriculum that can provide more insight into leadership styles: 4-H Backpack to Adventure: Youth Leaders in a Global World (4H1643). The 4-H global leadership curriculum will assist volunteers, parents/guardians, professionals and other youth educators in developing the knowledge and skills they need to become youth leaders in a global environment. The 138-page publication is available in print and electronic versions at the MSU Extension Bookstore (the electronic version is shipped on a USB drive).

One of the activities offered in 4-H Backpack to Adventure: Youth Leaders in a Global World curriculum is called Lead in Style: Duct Tape Sculptures. This citizenship activity provides hands-on learning with a team-building component as participants learn about the four common leadership styles. 

For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local county MSU Extension Office.

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