Strategic Leadership June 2014

So you want to be a leader?

When you hear the words leader or leadership what do you think of? Do you think of someone who takes charge or tells others what to do? Most would agree with this statement. Yet, there is a newer type of leadership being birthed!

This modern type of leadership I would like to introduce you to is called “servant leadership.” Robert Greenleaf coined this term in the 1970’s for leaders who empathize with the needs and concerns of their followers. This may be the exact opposite of what happens in a good number of societies and organizations today. After all, “everyone” is concerned with their “own” interests. However, we are seeing that servant leaders have great influence over their followers and organizations. And some of the most successful organizations such as Southwest Airlines, Hess Corporation, Starbucks, Men’s Wearhouse and Wegmans Food Market, are among the many organizations that implement this leadership style (

Servant leaders are known for being selfless and empowering others. You see, it is not about the leader at all, but about the people he or she leads. These servant leaders understand that if they do not have healthy followers on their team the mission of their organization cannot be accomplished. Although humility is the main characteristic of this type of leader, do not be misled by the name, “servant leadership.” By any means is a servant leader weak in character, all the contrary; it is someone with concrete values, strong work ethics, and fair judgment.

So how do you know if you are a servant leader? According to Greenleaf (1970), “the best test…is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, will they not be further deprived?” If you answered yes to this you are a servant leader. If you answered no, then there maybe some work to be done.

Servant leaders take their organization to a level of competitive advantage. Followers feel cared for; in return, they will give more to the cause of the organization. Followers will be engaged and produce better outcomes because they are being empowered, and, as a result build trust, respect, professional growth, and community.

This is what a servant leader does for his or her followers:

  • Build followers up
  • Empower followers 
  • Care for followers
  • Put followers first
  • Lead followers by example
  • Encourage followers
  • Accountable to followers and other leaders

So, do you still want to be a leader? Are you willing to serve others and give followers room to mess up, yet encourage them to try again? Are you willing to be selfless, and at the same time invest in others? Can you lead by example and not by the old saying “do as I say and not as I do?” If you are answering yes to these questions you are well on your way to becoming a servant leader! By the way, this type of leadership is not that new. This type of leadership was embodied by some of the greatest leaders of all times; such as Jesus, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Óscar Romero, just to name a few. The question rests; will your name be added to these great servant leaders? 

Authors Peter & Ruby Rios


Peter and Ruby Rios are married and reside in Rochester, NY. Peter is a business consultant with RIOS, Robust Innovative Organizational Solutions, LLC, which he co founded with his wife Ruby. Together they are partners in many different endeavors. Ruby holds a PhD in Biochemistry and is presently conducting further research at the University of Rochester within the Pathology department. Her focus is on Leukemia. For consultancy email them at

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