The phrase ‘servant leadership’ was first coined by Robert Greenleaf in the early ’70s. The concept is pretty simple. A servant leader puts others’ needs ahead of themselves and actively looks for ways to help them shine, grow and accomplish. The opposite of top-down or do-as-I-tell, servant leaders thrive when those around them grow. There is supposed to be little room for ego in servant leadership; only a relentless focus on strengthening and empowering those you are with.

Greenleaf’s writings and concepts have inspired countless of other writers to embrace this philosophy. The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership is the official home for Greenleaf’s original writing and has since grown in scale and scope. Learn more about the man and his passions for “A better society, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people” here.

After nearly a year of research and learning we have come to the conclusion that Servant Leadership is broken. While the concept of Servant Leadership was an admirable approach to leading and supporting others, it is an outdated model for our modern world. The opportunities and challenges facing families, communities and businesses are too urgent and complex to rely on this well-intentioned yet very limited model. Leaders absolutely need to serve those around them: leadership without service is unrewarding, ineffective and boring. However, our research tells us that the imbalance caused by the weight of the word servant makes this dated model unapproachable and ineffective for the vast majority. 

We need to retire Servant Leadership for a few important reasons:

  • Anyone acting like a servant is not in an equitable relationship
  • It implies others have problems that only we can solve
  • It sets unreasonable expectations about how we look after ourselves and those around us 
  • It can be driven by a need to lead, rather than a desire to serve

Four Simple Words has launched the idea of Service Leadership and now wants to share practical tools that will empower leaders from all walks of life. Click here to learn more about our initial ideas around Service Leadership and click here to tell us what you think of them (good and bad!)

Leadership Books We Have Read & Would Recommend 

I’m working hard at being a lifelong learner of what it means to be in service to others. These writers have been instrumental to my learning and I hope will be to yours as well.

  • Give and Take by Adam Grant. 
    • Why you should read it: A thoughtful and easy read with proof that givers can win!
  • EGO is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
    • Why you should read it: The title says it all. Get out of your own way to be a success.
  • Trust by David Johnson
    • Why you should read it: We can’t serve one another until we trust one another.
  • The Power of Kindness by Brian Goldman 
    • Why you should read it: Goldman shares his personal struggle with what being ‘kind’ means as a father, son and physician.
  • Barking Up The Wrong Tree by Eric Barker
    • Why you should read it: More scientific proof kindness pays off!
  • Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott
    • Why you should read it: Service Leadership isn’t about being a wallflower. It’s about encouraging others to be the best they can be. A courageous conversation can be a powerful way to help them get there.
  • Epiphany by Michael Coren
    • Why I want to read it: Coren’s journey while not about service leadership directly is an example of why thinking about others is good for ourselves AND them.
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