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Research: The Top 5 Characteristics of Servant Leaders

Thursday, October 17, 2019
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In their academic paper “Identifying Primary Characteristics of Servant Leadership,” researchers Adam Focht and Michael Ponton share the results of a Delphi study they conducted with scholars in the field of servant leadership.

A total of twelve characteristics were identified—five of which were agreed upon by the scholars polled. These five most prominent servant leadership characteristics were:

1. Valuing People: Servant leaders value people for who they are, not just for what they give to the organization. They are committed to people, particularly their followers.

2. Humility: Servant leaders do not promote themselves; they put other people first. They are actually humble, not humble as an act. Servant leaders know leadership is not all about them but that things are accomplished through others.

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3. Listening: Servant leaders listen receptively and nonjudgmentally. They are willing to listen because they truly want to learn from other people. To understand the people they serve, they must listen deeply. Servant leaders seek to understand first, then to be understood. This discernment enables the servant leader to know when their service is needed.

4. Trust: Servant leaders give trust to others. They willingly take this risk for the people they serve. They are trusted because they are authentic and dependable.

5. Caring: Servant leaders have people and purpose in their hearts. They display a kindness and concern for others. As the term servant leadership implies, they are here to serve, not to be served. Servant leaders truly care for the people they serve.

To a large degree, these findings mimic the results of polling that The Ken Blanchard Companies conducted with 130 leadership, learning, and talent development professionals who attended a series of executive briefings in cities across North America in 2018. Participants identified 11 primary characteristics of servant leaders. Topping the list were empathy, selflessness, and humility. Also mentioned multiple times were authenticity, caring, collaboration, compassion, honesty, open-mindedness, patience, and self-awareness.

What characteristics would you add to the list? What makes someone a servant leader in your opinion? Please enter your additional characteristics in the comments section below. To learn more about The Ken Blanchard Companies’ research into servant leadership concepts and application, visit the Servant Leadership Resources page on the Blanchard website.

About the Author

David Witt is a program director for The Ken Blanchard Companies. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. He has authored or co-authored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer, and US Business Review.


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