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The leader’s way: Servant leadership

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
– Mohandas K. Gandhi

When some people think of leaders, they think of dictatorship, coercion, arrogance, high-mindedness, elitism and autocratic persons. But the best and most effective form of leadership is servant leadership. John Maxwell, a leadership expert who is regarded by Inc. Magazine as the top leadership authority in the world, stated, “The measure of a leader is not the number of people who serve him, but the number of people he serves.”

True leaders are people who are willing to sacrifice for the good of the collective vision. Although leaders should be honored for the good they do, they should never let the position they are in cloud their vision of what is the true priority. Leaders who are self-centered, insecure and have no interest in others can never truly accomplish greatness. True leaders are those who look to add value to their followers and lead by example.

A true example of servant leadership was found in slave abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman. Tubman suffered greatly as a child under the brutality of slavery. She developed a vision of freedom from slavery, and eventually escaped from her slave masters. Tubman then risked her life through service by leading about 13 missions geared toward freeing more slaves through the channels of the Underground Railroad. She helped to free about 70 slaves, contributed toward the ending of slavery in the United States of America and was a strong activist of the women’s suffrage movement.

Origin of the term

The term “servant leadership” was coined by Robert Greenleaf in 1970 through an essay titled “The Servant as Leader”. Greenleaf worked in management and research at AT&T in his early career and later with Harvard University School of Business and other established organizations. One of the great concepts of his work on servant leadership is that traditional leadership promotes a leader-first mentality, and servant leadership promotes a servant-first mentality.

In his article, Greenleaf spoke about the story of a servant named Leo who went on a trip with a group. Leo embodied the mentality of a servant and carried out menial but important tasks for the group. When Leo disappeared, the group abandoned the mission because his service was paramount to the organization.

On this premise Greenleaf developed the term “servant leadership”. This style of leadership is very different from traditional forms of leadership such as authoritarian, paternalistic, democratic, laissez-faire and transactional.

Greenleaf proposed that, “A new moral principle is emerging which holds that the only authority deserving one’s allegiance is that which is freely and knowingly granted by the led to theleader in response to, and in proportion to, the clearly evident servant stature of the leader”.

Leaders add value

As a leader, your greatest asset is people. If you continue to invest in your followers, your organization will continually grow. According to John Maxwell, there are three ways to add value to people: valuing people, making yourself more valuable and learning to relate to what other people value.

If you don’t think your followers are valuable and significant, you will never truly appreciate their worth. When a people feel worthless, they underachieve, have a negative attitude and will look to follow another vision eventually. Everyone wants to be significant, and it is important to see people not as they are but as they can be, while motivating them toward that ideal state.

When a leader is more valuable, the followers become more valuable. You can make yourself more valuable through gaining knowledge and insight, accomplishing great goals and building a solid reputation. Followers can gain value through leaders who share their knowledge and, experience and also leaders who share their credibility.

True leaders always find ways to connect with those who follow them. Relating with others makes following exciting and fulfilling. People are automatically drawn to people they know understand their current situation in life. I remember as a student in St. John’s College when I would listen to adults who would come and facilitate speaking sessions with us. One day, Dr. Dave Burrows came to speak to us and shared his testimony about gang life and how his life was turned around. Out of all the speakers who spoke to us in my 12 years at St. John’s College, that message stood out to me and resonated because he related to what I was familiar with as a young man.

Leaders take initiative

When true leaders see something that needs to be done in an organization, they are the first to address it. Leaders are people who do not wait to be told to do the right thing. Leaders understand they are not always right, but they use intuition to solve problems that may seem insurmountable. Leaders are always ready to move, understanding that they are leaders at all times. True leadership is never fickle and always responds with a positive attitude.

Going beyond job descriptions

When an organization is in its developmental stages, leaders will always wear multiple hats. Leaders are people who are comfortable operating outside of their comfort zones. When there is slack within an organization, leaders are the ones who pick it up. Leaders are people who learn each area of their organizations. If a team member transitions from the organization, a leader should always be ready to fill the position and be knowledgeable to provide training for a suitable replacement.

Leaders create culture

Leaders create organizational culture through being examples. Organizational culture is formed by what leaders esteem as important and valuable within the organization. Organizational culture is also formed through learned behavior that is developed by what is rewarded within organizations.

Servant leaders produce cultures of collectivism as opposed to individualism. Servant leaders are always hospitable and make all followers of the vision feel loved and affirmed within organizations. Servant leaders communicate their passion for the vision regularly throughout the organization, sparking identical passions for the vision within the organization.


Throughout history there have been many great examples of servant leaders. Some of these are: Barack Obama, John Maxwell, Harriet Tubman, Dr. Myles Munroe and Mother Teresa. The core of leadership is people, and one of the greatest fulfilments in life is the act of service. Greatness is always found through a person serving a gift to the world, not in the world serving a gift to a person.

The core of great service as a leader is compassion and empathy. You must always truly care about your followers and understand their current situation in order to be an effective leader. People only care about what you know when they know that you truly care. You must be the type of leader who your followers will be willing to run through a brick wall for, simply because they know your heart is in the right place and you are competent to navigate the team through any test life throws at them.

Malcolm Foulkes is a published author of two personal development books which are being sold internationally. He is also an experienced motivational speaker, leadership and corporate success coach and chairman of the Business and Marketing Community Institute. He is the recipient of the 2015 National Youth Award in religion, and also the recipient of Dr. Myles and Ruth Munroe Award for Outstanding Leadership. He holds a bachelor’s of business administration in marketing from The University of The Bahamas, where he was named the top marketing student in his graduating class. He can be reached at

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