Servant Leadership in Action

Servant Leadership

What Is Servant Leadership?

By Ken Blanchard

What do you think of when you hear the term servant leadership? Do you picture a workplace culture where managers and direct reports work side by side, set goals, collaborate on projects, solve problems and celebrate victories together? Or do you picture a chaotic scene from a movie where the inmates are running the prison?

If you don’t understand servant leadership, it may be because you think people can’t lead and serve at the same time. But they can, if they recognize that there are two kinds of leadership involved in servant leadership: strategic and operational.

Strategic leadership has to do with vision and direction. It’s the leadership aspect of servant leadership. Leadership is about going somewhere. If you and your people don’t know where you are going, your leadership doesn’t matter. A compelling vision ensures everyone is going in the same direction. Once the organization has a compelling vision, they can set goals and define strategic initiatives that help people know what to focus on right now. The traditional hierarchical pyramid is effective for this part of servant leadership because, while the leader should involve experienced people in helping to shape direction, the ultimate responsibility remains with the leader and cannot be delegated to others.


“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” –Theodore Hesburgh


As soon as people are clear on where they are going, the hierarchical pyramid is philosophically turned upside-down. Now the leader’s role shifts to a service mindset for operational leadership, which has to do with implementation. The question now is: How do we live according to the vision and accomplish the establish goals? Implementation is the servant aspect of servant leadership. It includes policies, systems, and leader behaviors that flow from senior management to frontline employees—and make it possible for people in the organization to live according to the vision and values and accomplish short-term goals and initiatives.


Create a Servant Leadership Culture

Take Off Your Mask and Speak from Your Heart

This is a guest post by Dr. Quentin Schultze, Professor of Communication Emeritus at Calvin College, a media company CEO, speaker, and author of many communication books, including the newly released Communicate Like a True Leader: 30 Days of Life-Changing Wisdom. Visit his blog.


Speak from Your Heart

A fine friend and skilled speaker landed in a dreadful situation. He had agreed to address a convention of toastmasters—persons who lead local public-speaking clubs where members overcome common speaking fears and practice effective speaking techniques.

When he arrived a few minutes early for the event, he met with his friend who had arranged the speech. He discovered that the audience was not toastmasters, but postmasters who run local post offices.

He frantically tried to organize a speech in his head while his friend introduced him. Then he took the stage, mic in hand, alone with the whole banquet hall of postmasters peering directly at him. What could he possibly do?

He relinquished his facade.


“I never saw a well-fitting mask. It is a great relief to take them off.” —Robert Greenleaf


My friend explained to his audience that he had planned a speech for the wrong group. That he didn’t even know what postmasters actually do. That he was thoroughly unprepared.

Then he spoke from the heart about what he knew intimately. He told stories about his loneliness. About his fears. About the stifling lack of meaning in his own work sometimes.

My friend’s message was simple but profound: We are all first and foremost human beings, not workers. We share a common humanity. We experience fear as well as hope. We all feel this in our hearts.

Then he thanked the postmasters for the opportunity to share his off-the-cuff thoughts and feelings.

He received a long, standing ovation. The wounded storyteller had connected with the wounded postmasters. By taking off his “professional” mask, he had honestly led them into a shared, human journey of hope. In spite of being unprepared, he had served them as a great leader-communicator.


“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” Thomas Jefferson


If You Fake It, You’ll Eventually Fall