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Chapter 13: Technique 10: Servant Leadership

An essential characteristic of inner leaders is that they provide needed services to followers so they can succeed and in the followers’ successes facilitate the leader’s success (Braham, 1999; McLaughlin, 2001). A service role asks leaders to change the traditional leadership mind-set that assumes they are served by their followers.


Two aspects of this service role are important. First, the leader’s job is to prepare followers to provide high-quality, excellent service to clients, customers, or citizens. In doing this, inner leaders act to empower followers to enable them to be of service (Bleskan, 1995). This aspect of the service dimension is similar to training and education programs leaders have been doing routinely. If there is a difference in these activities associated with inner leadership, it is in the effort to prepare the follower to be of service on a wider front. These leaders see merit in helping followers broadly develop their capacity to be of service.

Second, leaders serve their followers. The leader’s job is not only to encourage and sustain high quality service to customers by all stakeholders but to provide service to all those who have a stake in performing that service. Some have called this task servanthood. The task of leader servanthood is one of facilitating the work of others; serving coworkers as they have needs so they can accomplish their set tasks. Leaders serve followers in ways that ease their tasks and that energize and inspire them to unified action. The leader’s service to followers can take the form of personal assistance, resources, training, or encouragement or in any of countless ways that enhance the capacity and resources of the follower.

This kind of servanthood is the reverse of much of past leadership literature. Rather than attempt to dominate followers, inner leaders go to work for them. That is, they serve them by providing all things necessary for follower success. Followers’ success is facilitated partly through the leader’s work to create a useful work-community culture. Leaders also serve followers as they teach core values and desired skills and patterns of work behavior. They serve by providing information, time, and materials necessary for followers to be successful in doing the community’s work tasks. Inner leaders also assign goals and plans and inspire and train others to carry them out. Once followers are trained and committed, leaders also share responsibility with them. In effect, leaders prepare followers, provide facilitating help, and then let followers lead themselves within the constraints of the shared vision (Greenleaf, 1977).

Inner leadership requires that the leader establish and maintain a work culture that fosters service as a prime value. This values-displacement activity includes setting standards of conduct and focusing attention and the energy of the work-community members on service quality. The intent is to change coworkers so they internalize the service value in performing their work.

Innerlevel leaders are involved in creating and maintaining work systems so that emphasis on service results, and they can measure the quality and scope of services provided (Danforth, 1987).

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