Tip #68 Should Boards Embrace Servant-Leadership?

May 1, 2021  |  tips for effective boards

Of course, this decision is up to each board to make. Each board decides on its own values and expectations for management and for itself as a board. Policy Governance® boards (and other boards as well) express these values and expectations in their board policies.


In this Tips for Effective Boards, we’ll introduce the idea of servant-leadership. In subsequent Tips, we’ll focus on key characteristics of servant-leaders and what it means for boards to embrace the philosophy or approach of servant-leadership as a guiding principle for their board governance.


Servant-Leadership is a powerful and inspiring concept articulated in recent years by Robert K. Greenleaf. It’s an intentionally odd and somewhat jarring title since we don’t generally see leadership and servanthood as being linked.


We may tend to see effective leaders as being those who exert power over others and get them to carry out their dictates. Servant-leadership, on the other hand, is grounded in putting others first and seeing one’s leadership as a calling to serve those who are being led. Servant-leaders succeed when those they lead succeed. Servant-leaders strive to have a positive impact on all those with whom they interact. They are concerned about the well-being of all those they personally impact and they are concerned about all those their organizations impact.


Servant-leadership starts with the desire to serve others, not the desire to control. It puts serving others such as employees, customers, and the community as the number one priority.


In “The Servant as Leader,” the essay in which Greenleaf introduced the concept of servant-leadership, he wrote:

It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead…. The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types…. The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is this: 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 not be further deprived? (Robert K. Greenleaf, “The Servant as Leader” in Servant Leadership: A journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. 25th Anniversary Edition. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2002, p. 27)


Servant-leadership has been widely acclaimed by leadership experts such as Warren Bennis, Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard, Peter Senge, and others, including John Carver, the creator of the Policy Governance® model of board operations.


If you are not familiar with the idea of servant-leadership, you may want to google “servant-leadership,” “Robert K. Greenleaf,” or the “Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.”


In our next Tips for Effective Boards, we’ll focus on key characteristics of servant-leaders.


To learn more about the Policy Governance® model, please click  https://www.BoardsOnCourse.com/policy-governance.