Why be a Servant-Leader?

Servant Leader

Want to be a better leader? Check your ego at the door.

The most successful leaders focus on the needs of others before themselves. While this is especially true in regards to your employees, it’s also an important trait to maintain with your customers, friends, family and people in general.

As a business leader, your job is addressing the needs of your team and customers while providing leadership to fulfill them. This is an art, but the humble commitment to your team, customers and others—listening and responding to their needs— makes for solid leadership and ultimately drives innovation and success.

Such a “servant-leader” shares the wealth, but also importantly, works hard to develop that team and help them to better themselves and their lives. It’s a lofty goal, but if it creates efficiency and results in meeting your business objectives, it may be worth the investment.

The term is decades old, first coined by Robert K. Greenleaf, a retired AT&T executive, in 1970. But the idea is as old as civilization. It leads to better engagement with employees, customers and partners. And it creates bonds of trust and stronger relationships between team members. It’s important however, to remember that servant leadership focuses on people’s needs, not their feelings. You can’t avoid making hard decisions or delivering negative feedback when it’s needed.

So what makes a good servant-leader?

Larry C. Spears, former president of the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, created a list of the top 10 characteristics of servant leaders: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building a community. They serve as an excellent blueprint for embracing the leadership philosophy.


Listen to understand – Pay attention not only to what’s being said to you by employees, customers and stakeholders, but also to their body language, and their actions. Consider their perspective and the impact that has on what they are saying.

  • By listening attentively, you can make better decisions. This is perhaps one of the most important skills a leader can adopt because it will directly affect your ability to make sound choices about your organization.

Care about people – It could be argued that this isn’t a learned skill, but successful servant-leaders care about the people they have relationships with (and people in general).

  • Also, this sense of care manifests as a commitment to bettering the professional and personal lives of one’s team. A servant-leader helps their team improve and grow professionally, even though they may ultimately move on from the organization.

Persuade don’t coerce – Tyrants dictate, leaders lead. Spears calls this the clearest distinction between traditional leadership models and servant leadership. Persuade people to do the right thing, don’t use power and authority to win your point. Part of this is creating a culture where the organization’s goals and vision are communicated and shared.

  • Persuading others is rooted in listening. The better you hear what people need, the better you can respond to it, and so the better you can align goals or motivate others.

Lead with conviction and values – What are the values that your business stands for? Pay attention to whether those in the business, especially yourself, are holding true to the values you want your business to project.

  • How do you hold yourself and others accountable to adhering to your business’s ethics? Lead by example. Set the benchmark. Live the values and behaviour you want to see in others.

Dream big – Have a vision for your organization. Think long-term. Short-term goals are important, but don’t become bogged down by them. Instead dream big and, more importantly, share those dreams throughout the organization.

  • Be predictive. Foresight is understanding what happened in the past and predicting what’s likely to happen in the future.

Over the years, I’ve observed people and businesses and how they interact on a daily basis with their customers. These are men and women who listen, serve, and are committed to meeting the unique needs of their communities.

I believe servant leadership is an approach that can lead to great success in both business and life. But it’s not the only leadership approach or philosophy that drives success. Within your organization, how would you describe your leadership style? Is servant leadership likely to improve or diminish your company’s fortunes?

I’m listening!

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Ken has worked in the LBM business for over 17 years, including senior management experience in the manufacture of building products. He has a keen understanding of the relationship among vendors, manufacturers and the independents, as well as a thorough understanding of the contractor and consumer base in every region of the country. Ken's highest priority for Castle is to "buy competitively day to day" in order to keep its independent dealers competitive. "The result is that Castle shareholders enjoy greater returns today than ever before. There can be no greater testament to the strength of the team we've built," says Ken. "My job is to make them stronger and stronger."