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Servant Leadership: Leading with Empathy and Purpose

Posted by Devika Hastak

July 9, 2024

Servant leadership is an employee-focused approach that uses empathy and service to foster trust, empower individuals, and boost performance.

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns turned the world upside down, there has been a significant shift in workplaces with the needs and expectations of employees. A more substantial focus is building a healthy work culture where employees feel empowered, valued, and cared for.

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Leaders play a vital role in shaping the culture of an organization, the employee experience, and, consequently, the overarching performance of their business. Although there are a variety of leadership styles out there, ‘servant leadership’ is quickly gaining traction as one of the most popular and effective styles because of its focus on empathy and serving others.

Explore servant leadership and why you should adopt it in your organization. Read to the end to discover a book list, curated by our experts in HR outsourcing for SaaS startups, that will help kick off your servant leadership journey.

What is Servant Leadership?

Servant leadership is a term that Robert K. Greenleaf first popularized in his 1970s essay ‘The Servant as Leader.’ As the term suggests, this is a style of leadership where you adopt a mindset of serving instead of leading and acting as a servant to your employees. As SHRM puts it, this leadership style “prioritizes the growth, wellbeing, and empowerment of employees.”

The big difference between traditional and servant leadership is that the former focuses on the business or organization’s success. In contrast, the latter focuses on developing employees’ engagement and commitment to growing the organization. Servant leadership theory stems from the belief that prioritizing the emotional health of employees empowers them to express themselves freely and encourages them to be their authentic selves. This fosters trust, loyalty, and empathy in employees, motivating them to return the favor and creating an environment focused on growth and high-quality work.

The 10 characteristics of servant leaders include:

  1. Listening
  2. Empathy
  3. Healing
  4. Awareness
  5. Persuasion
  6. Conceptualization
  7. Foresight
  8. Stewardship
  9. Commitment to the growth of people
  10. Building community

Why Should You Adopt Servant Leadership?

Workplace culture and employee experience have never been more critical of how the world evolves. Wherever you turn, you hear about toxic versus positive work cultures and their impact on business performance and resilience. Trust, empathy, purpose, and communication are elements of excellent company culture. Experts in small business and consumer goods leadership development say effective leadership styles such as servant leadership contribute significantly.

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Servant leadership adopts a people-focused approach, a cultural trait commonly found at the best workplaces in the world. Servant leadership helps build a high-trust environment within your organization, which is another crucial cultural lesson we can learn from these model workplaces. Specialists in HR consulting for consumer brands and SaaS startups will tell you that high-trust cultures create a sense of belonging, increase emotional safety, and empower employees to do their best work.

Some key characteristics of servant leadership, such as empathy, awareness, and community building, develop emotional intelligence in leaders. This is especially significant since emotionally intelligent leaders make employees feel appreciated and respected. Employees feel like substantial members of the organization, boosting morale and productivity. According to, servant leadership can also help build a “united, cohesive community that confronts common challenges in unison,” which is critical to the success of any organization or society.

How to Be a Servant Leader

It is important to remember that servant leadership is not a technique but a mindset or approach that must be developed and incorporated holistically. Here are some practices you can adopt to become a servant leader.

Lead by example

Set the tone through your actions and embody the skills and practices you want your employees to display. Although you are a leader, acting like an equal part of the team will garner tremendous respect and trust from your employees, building a stronger leader-employee bond. Be willing to support your team with their work and tasks if needed. If you want your team to do the same, practice healthy workplace habits such as active listening, compassionately treating others, and striking a work-life balance.

Instill a sense of purpose

Help your employees understand their work’s unique contribution to the organization’s big picture. People are likelier to do their best work when they feel their efforts matter. Acknowledge and celebrate your team for achieving small milestones, and regularly help them recognize the impact of their work.

Practice transparency and communication

Be transparent and open in your communication, especially during times of turmoil.  Expert HR services for SaaS startups recommend providing your teams with regular updates on matters that might affect them, requesting their insights on organizational issues, and involving them in decision-making processes.

Encourage learning and development

Adopt a skills-based approach to everything you do, establish learning and development opportunities in your organization, and encourage your employees to make the most of them. When leaders invest in the growth and development of their employees, they signal that their wellbeing matters to them, making them feel valued and appreciated. HR outsourcing for SaaS startups can help you embed holistic skills-based practices throughout your organization.

Be open to feedback

Small business and consumer brand leadership development recommends regularly assessing how to improve your employees’ lives easier or better. Openly ask for appraisals and feedback on your leadership practices, and ask employees to provide constructive criticism on what is working well as well as potential areas of improvement. This will also foster an environment where teams feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and ideas, creating space for innovation.

Embody compassion and empathy

Treat your employees with compassion and empathy and encourage them to do the same. Take the time to connect with your employees personally to show that you genuinely care about them and their lives outside of work. This will make them feel appreciated for their authentic selves and foster greater trust.

Some Inspiring Books to Get You Started

Interested in becoming a servant leader? This list of highly recommended books from our experts in HR services for SaaS startups will provide a deep dive into understanding servant leadership and how you can develop the necessary skills:

    1. Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness by Robert Greenleaf
  • The Servant Leader: How to Build a Creative Team, Develop Great Morale, and Improve Bottom-Line Performance by James A. Autry
  1. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together, and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek
  2. The World’s Most Powerful Leadership Principle: How to Become a Servant Leader by James C. Hunter
  3. The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner

Final Thoughts

In the future of work, the onus falls on leaders to create a high-trust environment that makes employees feel appreciated and valued and empowers them to do their best work. Greater importance is given to developing soft skills and emotional intelligence in leaders.  Servant leadership already embodies the employee-focused approach that most organizations are working towards. With support from our specialists in HR consulting for consumer brands, you, too, can develop your capabilities as a servant leader and enhance the workplace experience in your organization. 

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Want to know more about servant leadership?  In addition to taxes, accounting, bookkeeping, and CFO services through its FinOps, Escalon’s Essential Business Services include PeopleOps (HR, benefits, recruiting, and payroll) and Risk (business insurance).  Talk to an expert today.


Devika Hastak
Devika Hastak

Devika Hastak is a dynamic content writer who is passionate about using the power of the written word to promote knowledge sharing and drive business success. She is adept at crafting compelling content tailored to client objectives and successfully executing SEO strategies that significantly impact brand awareness and lead generation. When she’s not wielding her digital pen, you can find her conducting culinary experiments in the kitchen or enjoying a good laugh with her family and friends.

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