Servant Leadership Characterstics

The following set of 10 characteristics are viewed as being critical to the development of servant-leaders. These are based on the study by Mr Larry Spears, while he was the CEO of Greenleaf Center of Servant Leadership, USA. I have used Mr Spears’ ideas with his permission.

These 10 are by no means exhaustive. However, they serve to communicate the power and promise that this concept offers:

1. Listening

Traditionally, leaders have been valued for their communication and decision making skills. Servant-leaders must reinforce these important skills by making a deep commitment to listening intently to others. Servant-leaders seek to identify and clarify the will of a group. They seek to listen receptively to what is being and said (and not said). Listening also encompasses getting in touch with one’s inner voice, and seeking to understand what one’s body, spirit, and mind are communicating.

In the Bible, we see Habakkuk earning his right to be heard by first listening in Habakkuk 1:1-11, We see David using this skill to resolve his conflict with Saul, in 1 Samuel 26:1-25, We see the negative effects of Rehoboam failing to listen in 2Chronicles 10:15. We see Jesus using his listening skills to connect in Luke 2:42-52. James advice in James 1:19 stands out.

2. Empathy

Servant-leaders strive to understand and empathize with others. People need to be accepted and recognized for their special and unique spirit. One must assume the good intentions of coworkers and not reject them as people, even when forced to reject their behavior or performance.

We see Jeremiah warning the Israelites of the coming judgment. However, he also empathized with the flaws of the people (Jeremiah 4:19-26). His empathy enabled him to lead them over the long haul. 2Corinthians 1:3-4 tells us that we should be able to comfort others just as God comforts us. 1Peter 3:8 asks us to have compassion. The second Beatitude given in Matthew 5:4 is clear too. Jesus, when asked about the greatest commandments, listed “Loving your neighbor as yourselves” only next to Loving your God (Luke 10:27). Jesus’ letters to the seven churches (Revelation 2:1-29) is a great example of the Lord putting compassion before correction. He makes sure that they know that He understands their situation first before asking them for correction. Paul identifies well with his listeners in Romans 7:14-25.

3. Healing

Learning to heal is a powerful force for transformation and integration. One of the great strengths of servant-leadership is the potential for healing one’s self and others. In the book “The Servant as Leader”, the author, Greenleaf writes, “There is something subtle communicated to one who is being served and led if, implicit in the compact between the servant-leader and led is the understanding that the search for wholeness is something that they have.”

Psalm 103:3-5 is a beautiful illustration of how God raises a leader through the process of Pardoning (v3), healing (v3), redeeming (V4), crowning (v4), and satisfying (v5). We have already seen David’s act of forgiving and healing the hurt feelings with Saul. Joseph’s act of revealing himself to his brothers (Genesis 45:4-7) is another example of how important forgiving and healing self and others is. Numerous examples set by Jesus himself confirm this. Paul’s exhortations for us to continue to reconcile with ourselves and our brethren, are many in the Bible.

4. Awareness

General awareness, and especially self-awareness, strengthens the servant-leader. Making a commitment to foster awareness can be scary–one never knows that one may discover! As Greenleaf observed, “Awareness is not a giver of solace – it’s just the opposite. It disturbs. They are not seekers of solace. They have their own inner security.”

In our session on Personality, we have seen the need for awareness. Psalm 51:6 tells us that God wants us to know the innermost truth in us. Jesus led from Who He was (John1:1 &14)

5. Persuasion

Servant-leaders rely on persuasion, rather than positional authority in making decisions. Servant-leaders seek to convince others, rather than coerce compliance. This particular element offers one of the clearest distinctions between the traditional authoritarian model and that of servant-leadership. The servant-leader is effective at building consensus within groups.

Acts 26:1-29 is one of the most compelling court speeches by Paul. He nearly converted King Agrippa. This passage gives us many clues on what is required for persuasion. Peter, one of the best examples of a “turn around leader” in the Bible, manages to make people ask “What shall we do?” at the end of his speech in Acts 2:14-38, through sheer persuasion.

6. Conceptualization

Servant-leaders seek to nurture their abilities to “dream great dreams.” The ability to look at a problem (or an organization) from a conceptualizing perspective means that one must think beyond day-to-day realities. Servant-leaders must seek a delicate balance between conceptualization and day-to-day focus.

The first three Chapters of the book of Nehemiah is a great example of how Nehemiah was able to conceptualize both the problem and the solution, much before he even saw it. And because of that great leader the Jews were able to rebuild the wall in just 52 days. Just imagine 52 days to rebuild want has been lying in ruin for more than 120 years. Jesus laid out his plans in John 14:1-31, He would prepare a place for them ( and us) (John14:1-4) and He prepared them for the place (John 14:16-29) He laid plans for the Holy Spirit to finish the work He had begun. Jesus told the disciples that they would do greater works than He had done (John 14:12), and he laid out the plans to achieve this dream.

7. Foresight

Foresight is a characteristic that enables servant-leaders to understand lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision in the future. It is deeply rooted in the intuitive mind.

The story given in Exodus 18:1-24 is a good example of this foresight. Jethro could foresee the problems that Moses could face, if he continued to do what he was doing and thus was able to guide Moses in the correct way. The life of Abraham (Genesis Ch 12 to 23) is a demonstration of how God enabled him to see way beyond the past and present into the future. We also see the negative effects of not being able to see beyond the present in the life of Esau (Genesis 25:29-34; Genesis 32:3-23 and Genesis 33:1-20)

8. Stewardship

Servant Leaders believe that in all institutions CEO’s, staff, directors, janitors, drivers, cooks and trustees all play significance roles in holding their institutions in trust for the great good of society.

Psalm 104 is a good reminder for the leaders that the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. And hence Leaders should behave like stewards and not owners. Paul takes great pains in explaining about unity in diversity using the metaphor of the body and it’s part in 1Corinthians 12:4-31. He stresses the point that all are equally important in the Church, but they are meant to be diverse.

9. Commitment to the Growth of People

Servant-leaders believe that people have an intrinsic value beyond their tangible contributions as workers. As such, Servant-leaders are deeply committed to a personal, professional, and spiritual growth of each and every individual within the organization.

We see this in many places in the Bible. Moses invests time and effort in developing Joshua (Numbers 27:18-23). 1Chronicles 12: 1-38 explains how David raised up an Army. We see Jesus raising up and preparing leaders all through His life. We see Paul training up church leaders in 1Thessalonians 1:5-8. We see Paul developing Timothy. We see Paul teaching Timothy, and Titus how to prepare other leaders (1Timothy 5:17-22, Titus 1:5, Titus 2:15)

10. Building Community

Servant-leaders are aware that the shift from local communities to large institutions as the primary shaper of human lives has changed our perceptions and caused a sense of loss. Servant-leaders seek to identify a means for building community among those who work within a given institution.

Church is the highest form of community that we can think about. And Christ has given it to us. He has entrusted His body to us. As leaders of the Church , it is essential that we continue to take action to build this community. Paul gives us some tips in Ephesians 4:1-8. Jesus himself demonstrated the need for leaders to build a balanced and diverse team with his disciples. His action of including Matthew in the team is a great example of this (Mark 2:14-17).

Menorahleadership can help with some tests to really assess your Servant Leadership Quotient.

Always remember, understanding your Servant Leadership Quotient is just the beginning, and by itself it has no value. Let me state something that I have repeated many times in the past. 

God is not concerned about what you do not have ( He knows it already)

God is interested in what you do with what you have

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