Servant leadership as a philosophy and mindset are timeless. First given a name and theoretical structure by Robert Greenleaf in his 1970 work "The Servant as Leader," the construct is defined well in Greenleaf's "Best Test."

We believe that most people working in the public sector have a natural desire to serve. Having this serve-first mindset is critical to servant leadership, but the philosophy requires both service and leadership. Dr. Kathleen Patterson has identified seven practical characteristics of servant leadership:

Greenleaf's Best Test:

Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?

Agapao Love

The profound social and moral respect with which servant leaders treat others.



The element that consistently counteracts our self-interest. Humility is embodied by leaders when they sincerely value the perspectives, input, work, and investment of others.



Caring about others' outcomes enough to make personal sacrifices for their good, for the organization, or for society as a whole.



While organizational vision is important, what Patterson means by vision is to understand and appreciate the personal and professional vision of your employees. Recall the central theme in Greenleaf's Best Test: "Do those served grow as persons?". To answer that, the servant leader must know where the person wants to grow.


For any team or organization to be effective, the follower must trust the leader's intentions, and the leader must trust the follower's ability to accomplish the goals to move towards the vision. It is not automatic, and it is not blind trust. It is developed by consistently acting with Agapao Love, Humility, Altruism and focusing on Vision. 


In relationships built on the other elements, followers are equipped with the authority, accountability, responsibility, and resources to strive towards the Vision continually. Empowerment requires effective communication and joint development of goals and expectations. If your employees do not understand what you expect, they are not empowered to achieve it.


A servant leader serves out of a desire to provide the follower what is needed for the follower to succeed, not out of a sense of indebtedness or requirement. 

Interested in furthering your Servant Leadership Journey? Our Servant Leadership Essentials for Community Leaders sessions provide the tools and techniques for servant leaders to thrive.