The Mind of a Servant Leader

The Mind of a Servant Leader

A new leadership idea was introduced not too long ago that is impacting the world in which we live and work. It is called “Servant Leadership.” 

New and Radical

Robert Greenleaf introduced the business world to Servant Leadership through his work at AT&T in the 1970’s. It was a dramatic shift from command-and-control leadership models that were the default styles of the day. Four decades later Servant Leadership is one of many leadership approaches organizations can choose from, yet there is still resistance from many leaders to this radical, others-first model.

A 2005 article in Gonzaga University’s International Journal of Servant-Leadership lists the following companies as practicing servant leadership:

This is an impressive group and many are well-known for their excellence in innovation, customer service and employee satisfaction. As Servant Leadership takes root in more and more organizations, perhaps the barriers to what is perceived as a “touchy feely” model will crumble as the advantages of Servant Leadership become clear.

Connecting Heads with Hearts

A Servant's Mind

In his bestselling book, Leadership is Dead: How Influence is Reviving It, author Jeremie Kubicek talks about a crisis in leadership today: It’s called self-preservation.

He states, “In my view, leadership as we have known it is dead because far too many leaders have abused their positions and have lost their moral bearings.”

Leadership is in danger of becoming synonymous with corruption and selfishness.

I had the privilege of meeting Jeremie at a Starbucks in Atlanta last November. We had an immediate rapport and I was impressed with his humility, genuineness, and desire to help others.

And this is really the heart of servant leadership.

It’s so rare to find a successful leader who’s willing to meet with a stranger for no other purpose than to see how you might be able to help them.

Best Places to Work

More recently I met with another leader cut from the same cloth. Kim Hoogeveen started Quality Living, Inc.  in 1987 and it stands today as a premier hospital rehabilitation center in the nation. Consistently earning the designation as one of the Best Places to Work, Kim has packaged his leadership approach into what he calls MindSet.

As I listened to him describe it, I said, “that sounds a lot like servant leadership” to which he replied, “I hope so!”

Kim shared the survey results of the Best Places to Work application comments from employees. It went on for 23 pages! The workforce is engaged – willing to go the extra mile for the organization and its leaders because they know the leaders of QLI will go above and beyond for them.

One employee stated this:

“Every year I learn new things that make me loyal to the company and make me a valued member…QLI is truly invested in who I am and my growth not only as an employee, but as a person in life. They are dedicated to helping me be successful in whatever way they can with my education, financial well-being, my health, etc.”

What’s in a Name?

A recent discussion on a LinkedIn group of which I am a member addressed the question of whether a new moniker was needed to replace the term “Servant Leadership.” As I’ve followed the responses, I came to the conclusion that the only possible way to rename it is to use a synonym for servant, but what’s the point of that?

Why are we so averse to calling ourselves servants?

We have to reconcile in our minds the parallel aspirations to serve and to lead.

Three Foundational Thoughts

The mind of the servant leader is centered on three foundational thoughts: Mission, Character & Service.


Mission pursues the greatest question, “Why am I here?”

Our thoughts at this stage focus on what we are uniquely equipped to do. We consider our strengths, interests, values and overall purpose in life. Practically speaking, when we are identifying our mission we may take assessments, talk with friends and mentors, and decide through introspection, prayer and discovery what we find most fulfilling and essential to our lives.


Flowing out of our mission is character. “Who do I need to be?” is the question at hand.

What behaviors and traits reflect my mission and guiding principles? Setting our moral compass and aligning our values bring our mission into clearer focus and we are less likely to get involved in things that don’t reflect our true selves.


Finally, our final thought is around service. The question is “What do I need to do?”

Having established our purpose and guiding principles, we think about how we can serve others. We tend to start here, eager to DO rather than BE. But the true servant leader is concerned first about who they are so that they can serve more effectively.

Mission and Performance

Whether you call it intentional influence, values-based leadership, or servant leadership, the important thing is to start with introspection and reflection on who you are and what type of person you want to be. Resist the urge to just start serving as an end in itself.

Jeremie Kubicek says,

“A true influencer values mission and performance together.”

The mind of a servant leader pays attention to being a particular kind of person; a person who considers how to influence others so that everyone wins. Knowing one’s mission and the character that will help accomplish that mission makes it possible to positively influence others with power and clear purpose.

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Todd Conkright is Owner at Cornerstone Global Training & Performance Solutions

He serves his clients by building strategies that lead to net gains
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L2L Contributing Author


  1. Scott Crandall on June 23, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    Todd — Bravo! Right on the mark! Like you, I don’t get the resistance to the “Servant” part of leadership — except that it must be the ego and corrupt human nature getting in the way. Imagine that: our egos and human nature getting in the way of right behavior and high performance?

    Anyway, great post, great points, and I think there are LOTs of us out here saying “Huzzah!” to this philosophy.

  2. Naveen Arutla on June 24, 2011 at 12:09 am

    Todd, Excellent post..Ofter we forget to role model and still rely on the age old leadership style.. Im sure while their is resistance on this style of leadership but future looks positive while we are working on connecting Heads with Hearts.. Exellent …

  3. Dan Hupp on June 24, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Thanks for sharing this Tom. Another source and a practitioner of Servant Leadership is Dr. John Stahl-Wert. He is a co-author of the book The Serving Leader and Ten Thousand Horses. These are both stories the dodan a great job of brining servant leadership to life.

  4. Wayne Kehl on June 24, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    You hit a home run with this one, Tom…and rightly so! Congratulations!

  5. Raj Chhatwal on June 25, 2011 at 11:02 am



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  9. influencing on October 6, 2011 at 1:08 am

    It is very rare that we come across a leader who has a mind of a servant. Most leaders now thinks of how they would pay the debt when they still running for a specific position. The true problems of the society are being compromise.

  10. […] from a patriarchal, omniscient ideal, to something else that still requires a name. “Servant-Leader” has been offered up, but I’m not yet convinced. In spite of new leadership’s namelessness, […]

  11. ramakrishnan6002 on November 7, 2014 at 7:47 am

    Reblogged this on Gr8fullsoul.