3 Hallmarks of Servant Leadership


I meet with leaders on a regular basis to discuss the potential of building a custom program for their group, team, or class. A question that I often get asked is “what is servant leadership?” After all, we make it a point right there in our mission statement that AML exists to “foster and inspire servant leadership.”

I love this question because it is an incredible opportunity to get right to the heart of our mission, and ultimately, the work for which we are purposed.

To take a small step back, I’ll first define how we at AML view leadership in general. We understand leadership as, fundamentally, a process of influence. And in that sense, leadership is neutral- having both the potential to be either positive or negative.

This is why we specify the type of leadership that we aim to foster and inspire. Servant leadership is a perspective of leadership in which the primary aim of an organization or person’s influence is to advance others. It is influence which specifically places the interests of others at its core.

So how do you know if you are exercising servant leadership? Here are 3 hallmarks to look for in your own leadership to help you assess whether or not you are exercising servant leadership. These are by now means exhaustive. It should be a great start though:

  1. You are looking through a “stewardship lens” when it comes to the management of resources such as money, time, and relationships. Leaders typically have access to a relative abundance of resources. Those resources can be physical in nature (such as an operating budget or a supply of equipment) or less tangible resources (like a rolodex of experts or years of personal experience). A stewardship lens helps you to perceive your wealth of resources as opportunities that exist for strategic dispersement to your team… not hoarding. The stewardship lens helps a leader see that their resources are simply entrusted to them for a time.

  2. You have a robust and sincere interest in the people you are leading. This doesn’t mean that you will be fast friends with everyone on your team… even if your team is of a size where it is theoretically possible. But having an interest in someone (wanting to know what they like, what they don’t like, and what really motivates them) is good evidence that you care about them. And it is very difficult to put someone’s interests at the core if you haven’t even been motivated to discover their interests.

  3. You appreciate receiving feedback from those whom you are leading, especially the constructive kind. Often times, we don’t receive feedback well, particularly when feedback is of a constructive nature. Why is this? Lot’s of reasons really, but I can say from personal experience that one significant reason stems from our desire to self protect- whether it is protecting a reputation, a title, a position, a set of actions, or (fill in the blank). While I’m not advocating a perpetual posture of being a doormat, it is important to recognize that it is very difficult to be proactively advocating for others while consumed by the task of advocating for, or defending, yourself.

Do any of these assessment areas resonate with you?

What else would you add to this list?