What Servant Leadership Isn’t

Leadership is essential, and we can’t survive without it.

Drop a group of people in the middle of nowhere and, unless someone emerges as a leader that the rest decide to follow, they won’t make it back to civilisation.

That’s because people want to be led, and even leaders need someone to follow.

In my last post, we looked at different leadership styles and finished up on my favourite type of leadership – servant leadership.

In my mind, it’s one of the most underrated and underused forms of leadership.

And while its name does describe what it is – leading by serving others – it can also give the wrong impression.

Servant leadership is definitely not about being the doormat, the affable manager who just goes with the flow and lets the team do what they want (that’s more laissez-faire leadership!).

Instead, it is one of the most powerful and motivational types of leadership and can create the highest employee morale and greatest organisational culture.

So, let’s have a look at what servant leadership isn’t (and what it is).

Servant Leadership

Misconceptions About Servant Leadership

Unsurprisingly there are a lot of misconceptions about servant leadership.

Part of this is because, at first, the words “servant” and “leader” don’t seem to go together.

Leaders are strong, powerful and authoritarian figures. While servants are humble, powerless individuals whose purpose is to serve others. Right?

So, if servant leaders are serving first and leading second, then they’re likely to be pushovers for their staff? They’re likely to ignore past mistakes from their employees and won’t hold them accountable or challenge them?

None of these statements are true.

While servant leaders are generally humble and focused on serving their team, they don’t come across (and aren’t) weak and ineffective in leading.

By taking the time to understand their employees, being in the trenches with them, helping and supporting them – they’re building trust, mutual respect and developing a unique type of authority.

An authority that doesn’t come because of their job title as a manager or boss, but authority that is earned and given by those they’re leading.

Ultimately, this is much more powerful and effective. However, more importantly, it creates an environment where everyone feels supported, heard and empowered.

So, instead of being the manager that everyone wants because they will allow them to get away with anything, servant leaders are the managers everyone wants because they will inspire them to the greatest success and create the best culture to be a part of.

This fact is obvious when you take a look at the number of servant leaders who have changed the world – from Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi to former US President Abraham Lincoln.

What Servant Leadership Really Is

Servant leadership is based on the premise that the best way to get your staff to produce outstanding work is for them to feel inspired, supported and fulfilled.

Which makes sense – if you feel valued and appreciated by your boss, of course, you’re going to do your best work. And this is actually the reciprocity principle at work.

You see, to be a servant leader, it’s all about treating people the way they want to be treated and serving their needs. When you do that, they are likely to do the same for you.

The result is a great environment to work in – one that inspires others to be better and everyone in your team to collectively achieve their goals.

What it also does, is it shows your team that you can lead from every position in an organisation. If something needs doing, you do it. It doesn’t matter whether you are the CEO or the janitor – you can still lead.

As John Maxwell, the number one leadership and management expert in the world, says, “leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.”

This is, in essence, what servant leadership is all about. It’s people-focused and dependent on having the character to serve others and see the bigger picture, in order to influence and lead people to where you all want to go.

Why I Aspire to Be a Servant Leader

My goal is to inspire people.

It’s hard to do this by telling, but you can powerfully inspire people by serving them.

Like I mentioned earlier, if you treat people as they want to be treated – the result is that they are inspired and motivated. This leads to them being better at their job, which, in turn, equals better results for our clients.

And this is apparent each and every day at Attain.

However, it’s definitely not been easy!

Naturally, I’m a very task-oriented person (my Reach Profile is a Driver), so I’ve had to work hard at becoming an effective servant leader.

I have to stop before I act and put myself in the other person’s shoes. How is what I say or do going to be perceived?

Regardless of what needs to be communicated, I have full control of how I say something. I consider people’s feelings first before I open my mouth – and I don’t always get it right!

But, like anything, leadership is a skill that you work at. The more you do it, the better you get.

So, every day, I practise being a better servant leader because I know that is the leadership style that will inspire me, my team, and my company to achieve our goals and make a difference.


Since servant leadership is one of the more underused types of leadership, there are a number of misconceptions around what it is and how effective it is.

However, it is an incredibly impactful way to lead your team and will create an empowering and inclusive culture and work environment.

It’s probably not the most natural leadership style for my personality, but because of what it can achieve, I’ve worked hard to be a servant leader in the organisations I’ve led and been a part of.

Next month we’re going to look at how you can become a servant leader.

Sharn Piper – CEO
M: +64 27 733 4333
E: sharn@weareattain.com

Having successfully led numerous sales teams, built multiple successful businesses I know what it takes to create a sales process that is robust, repeatable and produces consistent results when applied in a consistent way.