Tag Archives: purpose

The Ten Characteristics of a Servant Leader

In 1970 Robert K Greenleaf first published his essay, The Servant as Leader. This essay catalysed a world-wide movement for Servant Leadership. I was fortunate to have been exposed to the essay and many other resources associated with Servant Leadership from 1997. As such I have educated my clients about the power of being a Servant Leader ever since.

Throughout the essay, Greenleaf references a set of characteristics that need to exist for a leader to be a true servant. In total there are ten characteristics and each of them are explained below.

An example of a company that practices Servant Leadership
An example of a company that practices Servant Leadership


True leadership starts with the ability to listen for understanding. This is different to listening for argument. When you listen for understanding you are genuinely interested in understanding where the other is coming from. This does not mean that you have to agree with their perspective, just that you are genuinely interested in understanding it. When you listen for argument, you are listening from the perspective of finding holes in another’s arguments so that you can shoot them down. You are right and they are wrong. Period. A Servant Leader works hard at developing their skills so that they can listen for understanding.


Listening for understanding enables leaders to have an increased capacity to relate to those with whom they are interacting. While they might not completely understand the perspective of the people they are working with (there are times when it is not genuine to say I Understand when your life experience is so different from the person’s with whom you are speaking), a Servant Leader has empathy for them and considers the serious impact of their decisions on the people they serve.


Michele Hunt said that Leadership is a serious meddling in other people’s lives.

Servant Leaders need to be able to both heal themselves and the people they work with. Organisational life can create emotional hurt for people and leader’s need to have the ability to help people resolve their relationships with colleagues, customers and the organisation itself. Often healing is represented by the leader treating all the people they come into contact with in a respectful way. Too many employees have not been respected because of their position in the organisational hierarchy. A Servant Leader treats all people with the same level of respect irrespective of their role. In doing so a Servant Leader helps the people they serve become more whole themselves as they build respect for themselves.


Each of the ten characteristics of a Servant Leader is interdependent. A Servant Leader is self-aware, aware of what is happening for the people they serve and aware of what is happening outside their organisation. Being aware does not guarantee a sense of peace for a Servant Leader. In fact it is the opposite. Awareness means that the leader is sharply awake and keenly disturbed at the same time. Through awareness the Servant Leader knows that the world is a not a perfect place but that it can always be improved.


The Servant Leader is able to persuade through genuine listening and dialogue. They use facts, the picture of the future they are creating with others and a clear and shared sense of purpose to help the people they serve to find and create the future they desire. Persuasion is not coercion. Positional authority is not the power that a Servant Leader uses to get their way. Instead a Servant Leader is able to influence those they serve through their genuine practice of the ten characteristics of a Servant Leader.


A Servant Leader is able to communicate what possible futures look like. They have the ability to see beyond the day-to-day realities of organisational life to the possible future that they and the people they are serving are striving to create. Most importantly this characteristic is not one where the future they describe is the one that they dreamed by themselves, rather it is the possible future that they are able to articulate on behalf of the collective view that emerges over time.


Foresight is the ability to see multiple consequences of both action and inaction. A Servant Leader is acutely aware of the ripple effect of errors of omission. They understand that they have an ethical responsibility to take action when they have the freedom to take action, even if that action is difficult.


Organisations and institutions do not exist to make heroes of their leaders. Servant Leaders understand that they have a duty to serve their organisation so that it is in better hands for the next generation of leaders. The organisation and the institution are bigger than the leader. This mental model is essential if you wish to be a true Servant Leader.

Commitment to the Growth of People

A Servant Leader aims to have the people they serve become more autonomous or at the very least not to be worse off as a result of their leadership. They strive to help people to find and develop their talents and celebrate in their success, even when this may mean (at times) those people leave the organisation.

Building Community

A Servant Leader is acutely aware that humans require a sense of belonging to help maintain their mental well-being. To this end Servant Leaders work at bringing people together and fostering a sense of community and understand that building community is created one person, one-act at a time.

Servant Leadership is not confined to community, not-for-profit and government agencies. Quite the contrary. Many successful for profit organisations are explicit in their application of Servant Leadership. Three explicit examples include Vanguard, Southwest Airlines and TDIndustries.

If you would like to explore how Servant Leadership can be introduced to your organisation please contact me here.

Gary Ryan enables organisations, leaders and talented professionals to move Beyond Being Good.

Be aware of your employability skills

Recent research by Mark McCrindle and his team has indicated that a current school leaver can expect to have 17 employers throughout their career. This equates to three different employers every decade.

iStock_000009570322SmallWhat some of you may find surprising is that the current data for people 45 years and older is that your job tenure average is six years and eight months. This means that more experienced people find themselves out looking for work more than ever.

In this context, conscious development of your employability skills is not just for young people. It is also critical for more experienced people to continually develop your employability skills, given you will also be looking for work at least 1.5 times every decade (and that number is predicted to climb over the next decade).

The challenge for those of you who are more experienced is that while you have experience, you haven’t consciously developed your employability skills. In fact, you are unlikely to know what they are!

If you would like to learn about what employability skills are and how to capture stories that show how you have developed them (which is vital for successful interviews) you can download the first two chapters of my successful book What Really Matters For Young Professionals! for free here. The first chapter explains what employability skills are, and the second chapter teaches you how to capture examples of how you have developed them so that you can recall these stories in interviews.

Once you understand how you have developed your employability skills it is critical that you keep developing them. Your reality is that as more and more people enter the job market with the same skills that you have, the key differentiator between you and someone else is not your skills but how well you have developed your employability skills. In fact, well-developed employability skills are much like a parachute for your career. So check out the free chapters from my book and get moving on protecting your employability.

Gary Ryan enables organisations, leaders and talented professionals to move Beyond Being Good.

Schools and Universities are NOT Businesses

Simon Sinek clearly articulates the power of purpose in his book Start With Why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action . He explains that when you understand Why you do what you do, then you have more power to take actions that are consistent with living your purpose.

When you start with why, people follow leaders for themselves. They do not follow leaders for their leaders.

Question Mark SkyWhat is the purpose of our schools and universities? Do they exist to make money? Is that their purpose?

Or do they exist to help children and adults learn how to learn so that they can contribute to creating a better world to live in?

Imagine a school whose purpose was to make money. Business people would be invited on to the school board and no doubt astute business decisions would be made to make sure that the school did indeed make money. Intuitively, what do you think that school would be like to go to? Sure, there would be talented teachers there. But would a talented teacher be 100% engaged with the idea that what they were doing was first about making money? Yes they would receive a nice pay-cheque, but would that make that teacher fully engaged with why the school existed?

What is your intuitive response to this scenario?

Imagine, on the other hand, a school whose purpose was to help children to learn how to learn so that they could contribute to creating a better world. Imagine that same talented teacher working in that school. Intuitively, how engaged with the school do you imagine that teacher would be?

Which of these two teachers would be more likely to go above and beyond the call of duty on a regular basis because of the purpose of their school? The one whose actions will help the school make more money, or the one whose actions will help children learn how to learn so that they can contribute to creating a better world?

If you are reading that I am suggesting that business people should not be on school or university councils then that is not what I am suggesting.

Schools and universities need to be rigorous in their financial practices and learn from the business community about how to make the best use of their money. But the reason for using business principles should always be in the context of serving the purpose of education. Education should not be used as the context for serving the purpose of making money.

Schools and universities require soul and a sense of belonging. The purpose of education must always drive their use of business principles, else they risk serving the wrong purpose and will diminish the education experience of the children and adults they serve.

Based on your experience, what is the purpose of your school or university?

You can view Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk here.

Gary Ryan enables organisations, leaders and talented professionals to move Beyond Being Good.