Servant leadership - quotes and thoughts

Written by Andrew Gibbons on 10 May 2017

According to the Greenleaf Centre for Servent-Leadership UK, “it was Robert Greenleaf who perhaps gave us the clearest definition of the servant-leader when he wrote: ‘The servant leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead’."

I really like the idea, and wish I saw more practice around, genuine servant leadership. From my recent research on and around this enigmatic topic, I offer these thoughts…

Matt Tenney

“The most impressive leaders set aside their egos and focus on empowering their people”.

“Effective leaders connect people to a pursuit or objective larger than themselves”.

“Big organisations with strict bureaucratic hierarchies have trouble holding on to innovative employees”.

“Any organisation can build an innovative culture if its leaders encourage employees to grow, and welcome their ideas”.

“By contrast, ego-driven leaders who micro-manage and are insecure about sharing credit can destroy trust and stifle innovation”.

“Great leaders must stand by their principles in difficult situations. That’s easier to do when you know that you’re serving others and why”.

Sendjaya and Sarros

“Servant leaders put other people’s needs, aspirations and interests above their own”.

“To servant leaders, leadership is about serving first”.

“As a servant leader, one does not force people to follow, but walks among them, and moves in a direction that can unite all in a common vision”.

“It doesn’t take a sophisticated skill set to be a command and control, ‘tell people what to do’ type of leader”.

“To be a servant leader takes a lot more skill, that is probably why we see so few”.

“The servant leader operates on the assumption that ‘I am the leader, therefore I serve’ rather than ‘I am the leader, therefore I lead’”.

“There has been a strong tendency among leadership scholars and journalists to treat leaders as isolated heroes, controlling and commanding others from within their ivory towers”.


Boone and Makhani

“Servant leaders possess courage, they risk failure, they provide leadership that will take followers to places they have never been before”.

“Servant leaders are talent scouts. They believe that everyone has a unique contribution to offer, and it is their job to recognise and direct it towards vision achievement”.

“Servant leaders adopt the attitude that they don’t need to be right all of the time. They know, and act on the concept that other people have good ideas too”.

“Servant leaders maintain a very strong commitment to listening. They know that listening is very hard work, and demands considerable investment of their time and effort”.

“Servant leaders are ‘present’ – that is, available to their constituents. They ‘walk the shop’, engaging in informal conversations, in order to know, and be known by followers”.

They go on to say that “creating a climate in which people are fully engaged, and in control of their own is at the heart of strengthening others”.

They also state that “servant leaders tend to pass on as much decision-making authority as possible to the organisational level closest to those whose needs are being served”.

Tom Peters

“The most significant role of a Chief Executive Officer is as a Chief Hurdle Removal Officer”.

“Every leader should ask: what specifically have I done today to be directly of service to the people I lead?”

Bob McDonald

“Slaves do what others want, while servants give what others need”.

“The job of a leader is to help people succeed”

“Growth by definition, requires change. Change requires renewal, leaders must provide training and development opportunities to grow”.

“The key question a servant leader should ask is: what can I do for you?”

Jim Collins

“It’s often better to ask questions than to dispense answers”.

“There is a direct relationship between the absence of celebrity and the presence of good-to-great results”.

“Fear doesn’t drive change – but it does perpetuate mediocrity”.
“Leaders of organisations that go from good to great, start not with the ‘where’ but the ‘who’. They start with getting the right people on the bus, and sitting those right people in the right seats”.

Lioba Howatson-Jones

“It takes maturity to move from self interest to service”

”Servant leaders can be seen as challenging by those using other models, particularly power models, because awareness of different worldviews can be confrontational for some individuals”.

“Servant leadership seems to contradict traditional forms of leadership, which almost always begin with power-based leading”.

“Servant leadership employs a different approach by considering follower’s needs and collaborating with them to achieve organisational goals”.

Ken Blanchard

“A leader who cheers those around him, offering specific praise for things done right, is a leader who will win the hearts of others and see great things accomplished”.

“Servant leaders don’t think less of themselves, they just think of themselves less often”.


About the author

Andrew Gibbons has been an independent management developer for the past years. He can be contacted on or 07904 201 474.


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