Part IV of this miniseries explores Servant Leadership, an approach that bears immense significance in leadership. At the forefront of this influential concept is Robert Greenleaf (1977), who emphasized the paramount importance of leaders assuming the role of servants, prioritizing the needs and welfare of others. Leaders who adopt a servant leadership style shift their focus from personal ambitions to serving their collaborative members, fostering their growth and success. In this way, servant leaders create an environment conducive to the development and flourishing of their stakeholders rather than solely pursuing personal power or gain.

Notable nonprofit leaders exemplify servant leadership through selfless dedication to their organizations and communities. Mother Teresa, a Nobel laureate, was selflessly dedicated to serving the poor and marginalized. She founded Missionaries of Charity, a global organization that assists those in need, including the sick, orphaned, and dying. Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, focused on equity and social justice, addressing systemic inequalities and empowering marginalized communities.

Patrick Pouyanné, CEO of TotalEnergies, prioritizedsustainability and social initiatives, while Judith Rodin, former President of the Rockefeller Foundation, is known for her servant leadership approach. She spearheaded initiatives focused on resilience, social innovation, and equitable development to create positive and lasting change. These leaders inspire empathy, compassion, and a commitment to serving others in the nonprofit sector.

Local heroes of servant leadership embody the principles of servant leadership and have a profound impact on a smaller, more localized level. These remarkable individuals may not receive widespread recognition, but their contributions are invaluable to their communities. Some examples of local heroes of servant leadership include community activists who tirelessly advocate for social justice and community development, nonprofit founders and directors who establish organizations to address pressing social issues, teachers and mentors who go beyond their teaching duties to guide and inspire students, volunteers who selflessly dedicate their time and skills to support various causes, and faith-based leaders who foster a sense of community and engage in acts of service. These local heroes exemplify servant leadership by putting the needs of others first and working diligently to create positive change in their communities. It’s important to note that local heroes of servant leadership may not always receive widespread recognition beyond their immediate community. However, their impact is profound, as they work tirelessly to uplift and serve their local neighborhoods, creating positive change from the ground up.

As you explore the attributes identified by Greenleaf, the individual credited with popularizing the concept of servant leadership, please take a moment to contemplate your leadership style and how it aligns with these qualities.

Listening: A servant leader actively listens to others, seeking to understand their perspectives and needs. By listening attentively, they create an open and inclusive environment where everyone’s voice is heard and valued.

Empathy: Servant leaders demonstrate empathy by putting themselves in the shoes of others and understanding their feelings and experiences. This understanding allows them to respond compassionately and supportively, fostering trust and collaboration.

Healing: Servant leaders recognize the importance of healing and promoting well-being within their teams or organizations. They aim to address conflicts, facilitate reconciliation, and create a safe space for personal and collective growth.

Self-Awareness: A servant leader possesses self-awareness, understanding their strengths, weaknesses, and biases. This awareness enables them to lead with authenticity, integrity, and humility and continuously learn and improve.

Persuasion: Servant leaders use persuasion and influence to guide and motivate others rather than relying on authority or coercion. They seek consensus and encourage active participation, valuing diverse perspectives and fostering a sense of ownership among team members.

Conceptual Thinking: Servant leaders can think beyond immediate concerns and focus on the bigger picture. They possess a systems-thinking approach, understanding the interconnectedness of various factors and making decisions that consider long-term implications.

Stewardship: Servant leaders view themselves as stewards of the organization and its resources, recognizing their responsibility to serve the greater good. They make decisions with ethical considerations, ensuring the well-being of stakeholders and the organization’s long-term sustainability.

Commitment to the Growth of Others: Servant leaders are committed to the growth and development of their collaborative partners. They provide mentorship, support individual goals, and create opportunities for learning and advancement.

Building Community: A servant leader works towards building a sense of community within the team or organization. They foster collaboration, trust, and a shared sense of purpose, encouraging stakeholders to work together towards common goals.

These attributes of a servant leader promote a people-centric approach that values the needs, growth, and well-being of others, ultimately leading to more effective collaboration and positive outcomes.

Greenleaf (1977) stressed the significance of self-reflection and introspection in servant leadership. According to him, the foundation of a servant-leader lies in their desire to serve others, placing service as the primary objective. Subsequently, through a conscious choice, they aspire to lead (Greenleaf, 1977, p. 13). Servant leaders prioritize understanding their strengths, limitations, and the consequences of their actions on others. This self-awareness enables them to effectively meet the needs of their followers and the organization (Northouse, 2018). Such leaders demonstrate self-awareness by acknowledging their strengths, weaknesses, and biases with humility. They embrace their limitations and continually strive for personal growth. By exemplifying self-awareness and humility, they inspire those around them to do the same, cultivating an environment of authenticity and openness within the collaborative setting. Their servant leadership approach lays the foundation for impactful and transformative collaborations.

Part V of this miniseries will explore the concept of emotional intelligence (EI), which Goleman (1998) defined as “the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions and to recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others” (p. 317) because community matters.

In community,

Dr. Pat

Dr. Patricia A. Clary is a syndicated columnist who consults with nonprofit and business sector partnerships that promote strategic community impact agendas to solve complex societal issues through governance, collaboration, and convening leadership. You can connect and follow Dr. Clary on LinkedIn at, or she can be reached at [email protected]. ©2023 All Rights Reserved.

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Dr. Patricia Clary