Leadership WalkMe TeamUpdated August 8, 2022

Servant Leadership vs. Other Leadership Styles

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Servant Leadership vs. Other Leadership Styles

Are you a natural-born leader? Or do you prefer leading from within the team? You might be a great servant leader. But what is servant leadership, and how is it different from traditional leadership styles? Understanding the basics of servant leadership is crucial to advancing your leadership skills. 

In this article, we’ll define servant leadership and the traits of an effective leader. We’ll compare this style to other forms of leadership, such as empathetic, ethical, transformational, and traditional leadership. We weigh the pros and cons of each to help you figure out the type of business leader you are.

What Is Servant Leadership?

Servant leadership is a leadership style built upon the principle of serving others. This goes against many’s conceptions of leadership that others should serve the leader.

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Robert K. Greenleaf formulated the idea of servant leadership after reading an essay in Herman Hesse’s book, Journey to the East. The main character of the book was one of several servants. When he disappeared one day, the other servants realized they had lost more than another servant. They had lost their unspoken leader.

The term servant leader describes a model for successful business management. It provides an alternative to traditional leadership. Servant leadership is an excellent option for ambitious business leaders looking for new ways to lead their teams to success. 

Traits of a successful servant leader:

  • Listening
  • Empathy
  • Awareness
  • Persuasion
  • Building community

Spears points out that this list is not exhaustive. However, it provides insight into the potential value of servant leadership as an idea.

Servant Leadership vs. Other Leadership Styles 

Servant Leadership vs. Other Leadership Styles-1

Servant leadership is only one of many styles. There are many more ways to be an effective leader. But how do they compare to servant leadership? And what makes a good leader? Let’s look at some other models for successful leadership. 

Traditional Leadership 

The most common approach to leadership is the top-down model. Traditional leadership is simple. Managers give orders, and employees follow those orders. Many business leaders are moving away from this command structure as it is ‘authoritarian.’ 

Traditional leadership generally involves a top-down approach. It saves time and avoids miscommunications when one person makes all the decisions. Leaders’ competency level determines the success of the traditional leadership model. 

Democratic Leadership 

A direct opposite of traditional leadership. Democratic leadership involves all employees in the decision-making process. Modern business leaders gravitate towards this style. They recognize the importance of individual voices in deciding the company’s future. 

The only drawback to the democratic approach to leadership is the potential for inefficiency. Taking into account everyone’s opinion in a large company leaves room for miscommunication and lower outcomes. 

H3: Laissez-Faire Leadership

Laissez-Faire, French for ‘let do,’ describes an approach with minimal interference. Leaders let their employees act with complete autonomy. This approach might be ideal if you don’t like bossing people around. 

Many researchers find that employees struggle to govern themselves. They often make poor decisions and fail to collaborate with others. As with all leadership styles, there are uses for the Laissez-Faire model. 

Ethical Leadership 

Ethical leadership sounds redundant, right? After all, every leader should operate ethically. The definition of ethical leadership varies across sources. But the core principle is to follow a code of ethics while leading.

Ethical leaders stick to a code of ethics that they share with employees. While every leader’s code of ethics is different, they all embody fairness, honesty, and authenticity traits.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership suggests that leaders should have a vision and mission statement for transformation. Transformational leaders focus on changing employee behavior and improving productivity and efficiency. 

This style relates to change management. Change management is managing a transformation by supporting and training employees. Transformational leadership will be the most beneficial if your company undergoes a significant change initiative. 

Transactional Leadership 

Transactional leadership may sound too systematic for some, but the results often speak for themselves. By focusing on metrics like productivity and performance, it’s easier to measure progress. 

Transactional leaders are observant, result-orientated, and prefer looking at the big picture. 

Empathetic Leadership 

Empathetic leadership suggests that compassion and sympathy are defining traits of an effective leader. The aim is to build trust, strengthening the bond between employees and management. 

Empathetic leaders minimize friction in the workplace by listening to employee feedback. Modern business leaders favor this employee-first approach. The drawback to this approach is that failing to build trust amongst employees can have negative consequences. 

Which Is the Right Leadership Style for You? 

There is no single “right” leadership style. Many like to frame the discussion as servant leadership vs. traditional leadership. The reality is that every leadership style has its use case. 

Every organization must decide which leadership style is most appropriate. For example, digital transformation requires a specific leadership style. Some projects benefit from a traditional leader, while others need a servant leader. Assess your company’s needs and refer to our guide to find the best leadership style for you. 

Differences between Transformational Leadership and Servant Leadership

The main difference between transformational leadership and servant leadership is the approach to development. A servant leader focuses on developing people’s skills. They ask how they can best serve their employees.

Transformational leaders focus on company-wide growth. Many companies these days fail to achieve meaningful change. Leadership insights from Mckinsey show ‘About a quarter of companies don’t grow at all, and between 2010 and 2019, only one in eight achieved more than 10 percent revenue growth annually.’

Transformational leaders prioritize changing employee behaviors and mindsets to achieve meaningful growth. 

Similarities between Transformational Leadership and Servant Leadership

Both servant leadership and transformational leadership styles concentrate on improving people and teams. Servant leaders focus on creating certain traits in their employees. These include emotional intelligence, collaboration, and communication. Likewise, transformational leaders understand that you need to improve employee behaviors to achieve lasting change. 

Servant Leadership Best Practises

Servant Leadership Best Practises

You can find a lot of research on the most influential business leadership styles. While learning about different team leadership approaches is essential, the best lessons come from practical experience. 

Servant leaders implement a unique style of management. To thrive as a servant leader, you need to follow these best practices:

  • Lead by example
  • Listen to employee’s concerns
  • Encourage a positive attitude to change
  • Work to improve the workplace
  • Reflect on your team’s progress 

Delivering Value Through Servant Leadership 

Delivering Value Through Servant Leadership

How can you deliver the most value as a servant leader? Follow these servant leadership principles to optimize your management abilities. 

Celebrate & Praise Others 

Many business leaders neglect lower-level employees because they focus on meeting executive demands. Servant leaders put the needs of individuals above all else, regardless of their position in the company. To embody this management value, celebrate and praise employees whenever you can. Let them know their work is important. 

Create An Inspirational Vision 

One of the most common reasons leadership fails is management’s lack of inspiration. To motivate your employees, especially during challenges, you must provide them with a vision. 

But what does an inspirational vision look like? It depends on your business goals and aims. It’s crucial to lay out an ideal future for your company and communicate the vision of your business transformation. This pushes them to go the extra mile as they know they’re contributing to your organization’s vision of success. 

Construct Ethical Guidelines 

It’s a standard in any workplace to lay our ground rules, including a code of conduct, so employees have a framework for how they should behave at work. The servant leadership style takes this one step further by constructing ethical guidelines. 

Good servant leaders place compassion, empathy, and integrity at the heart of the company. This is a lot different from many autocratic leadership styles. The traditional leadership approach is to only focus on business outcomes. 

Empower Others

Servant leadership works best when you empower employees. You can improve individual employee performance by raising your staff. Encourage frequent collaboration, especially during disruptions and challenges. 

Many leaders in the business world have a competitive streak, which is helpful in the right scenario. But a good servant-leader focuses primarily on lifting everyone around them, working beyond self-interest. Empower others to become leaders and embody the qualities of servant leadership. 

Prioritize People Over Tasks 

Executives usually focus on metrics such as profit and business process efficiency. This is how they determine success. Servant leadership occurs when you prioritize people over tasks. 

Work to improve all business areas, but focus on the human side of development. Collect continuous feedback from your employees, especially during a change initiative. Aligning people with strategy is foundational to the servant leadership model.

Be Flexible & Agile  

Agility applies to how management deals with change. When overhauling the conventional way of work, you’ll likely encounter friction from employees. Managing a business transformation requires flexibility. 

For example, let’s say your company is integrating new technology or updating legacy software. Digital transformation is a must for companies that want to grow. Many leaders fail to guide transformation due to stubbornness. The servant-leader approach involves making adjustments when necessary. 

Lead With Humility 

Many traditional leadership styles create leaders who struggle to connect to their workers. We all know entirely unapproachable business leaders. It often comes down to a lack of humility. 

Not only is arrogance an undesirable leadership trait, but it also makes you a less effective leader.  Employees are more likely to listen to a leader they relate to. A great servant-leader shares power and works beyond self-interest. 

Leading from the Inside Out

Servant leadership is all about connecting to your workforce. As we’ve discussed throughout this post, servant leaders embody compassion, emotional intelligence, and inclusivity traits. 

Traditional leaders often rule with an iron fist. As we know, this approach fails to get results. The servant leadership style requires a leader fully committed to employees’ satisfaction.

To become an effective servant leader, you must communicate to your employees at their level. Instead of a top-down approach, take the time to listen to employee needs. Increased worker satisfaction leads to higher productivity and performance and better results across the business. 

Consider servant leadership as an alternative to other leadership styles and always strive to improve as a business leader.

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