The importance of servant leadership
By Adil Wali , 22nd Jun 2011

Sometimes the concept of servant leadership doesn’t get enough attention. When it does, most people understand the buzz wordiness of it but not its actual meaning and somehow like it to the “Are you a maker or a manager?” question.

The key to fully understanding servant leadership is captured in its subtlety. A lot of people who don’t appreciate the human side of life may think it’s just another “touchy-feely” concept that doesn’t mean anything.

Turning leadership on its head

Traditionally, leadership meant “I’m on top because I lead you.” Servant leadership flips that on its head; it’s about me serving my employees, not them serving me. It’s about the people who work WITH you not the people who work FOR you, so in that sense, it’s a paradigm shift that means looking at leadership with a different set of lenses and saying “I’m here to make these people lives better – I work for THEM”.

Servant leadership is about putting the people you manage first. The whole idea manifests itself in an upside-down pyramid:

Servant leadership pyramid from
Servant leadership pyramid from

Servant leadership is about creating a clear path that allows your employees to do their best work. Look at leadership in that way and I think you ultimately create better work environments. I think you get the best out of people because you demonstrate genuine caring and compassion for them.

3 keys to servant leadership

In order to be successful, you need to keep in mind:

  1. Servant leadership is a paradigm change. You can’t just read a book about it and say, “I get it.” You have to change how you look at the world. You have to fully adopt the notion that you serve the people on your team.
  2. You have to hire the right people for it to work. You can’t be a servant leader to a team that doesn’t know how to take action and own the outcome of something. Otherwise you’d have to micro manage them. Servant leadership starts with team building. Members of your team have to be self starters of sorts or you’ll never win.
  3. The devil’s in the details. There’s no “kind of” being a servant leader. It has to radiate from everything you do. Everything you do has to demonstrate that you’re putting others first. If you think you “kind of” do it, you don’t. It’s all or nothing.
Why servant leadership’s important

So who cares about this touchy-feely stuff? Why is it important? Before you think it doesn’t matter think again.

Management is a huge responsibility because managers have a profound impact on the lives of the people they manage. I think a lot of managers just don’t grasp the reality of that. Keep in mind, your people are working with you sometimes more than half of their waking time. People’s stress levels have a direct correlation to their health and how long they live. If you’re an @sshole manager, you’re essentially shaving years off of their lives. That’s inexcusable.

Look in the mirror. Is that the legacy you want to leave? Open your eyes. Day in and day out you have a huge impact over the quality of other people’s lives and that’s a big responsibility. You have the opportunity to make others’ lives more enjoyable, more engaged. If you have a positive, profound impact on the lives of just 5 people, that’s HUGE. This is bigger than you think.

About the Author

Hi, I’m Adil Wali. I became a Microsoft certified professional at age 14 and started my first web development company. That led to a career as a serial entrepreneur, advisor, and startup investor. I got my first “real job” at 33, and I’m now a FinTech executive with a passion for the markets.