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Chapter 13: Method 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; McLaughlin). A service role asks leaders to change the traditional leadership mind-set that assumes they are served by their followers.

Defining Servant Leadership

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). 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).

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).

Methods Of Practicing Servanthood

Servanthood asks inner leaders to practice leadership because they choose to serve others (Braham). A simple, yet useful definition of service is any act, attitude, or behavior someone does that helps another person. Inner leaders help others by making available to them needed information, time, attention, material, or other resources. They also help by focusing their time and attention on work-community purposes that give meaning to the work. In effect, servant leadership invites leaders to create and facilitate a culture of follower self-leadership. It is attitude - both the leader's and the follower's - that determines whether an act performed helps or does not help. Given this fact about serventhood (Braham), it is therefore impossible to specify specific acts of service a leader may render to a follower outside the constraints of a specific time and place context. The situation and the present needs of the follower compel each act of service.

Service Techniques

Preparing to serve their followers asks inner leaders to master specific skills and tasks that implement the principles of this leadership technique. The first task in mastering inner leadership centers on the principle of self and follower development. The definitional elements of inner leadership include those of caring, service, and innovation. While productivity is always a part of any leadership action, inner leaders rely for excellent performance on a vitalizing vision that unites stakeholders in synergistic service to one another. This service takes the form of a variety of tasks and skills.

  1. A first task is setting and living a consistent set of values that honor the essential humanness of followers and challenges them to cooperative work effort. An important characteristic of inner leadership is that it presumes that leaders and followers are connected by common acceptance of a few values held about who people are and why and how they should relate to one another in social groups. This leader model puts forward a values-set honoring individual members per se upon which the work of the work community will be founded, one that is also suitable for the foreseeable future. Such a set of agreed-upon values cements the work community together and makes in-the-middle leadership success possible. The community's values form the basis of the vision statement and all the actions inner leaders take to energize followers.

  2. Inner leaders learn to create, promulgate, and consistently apply a vitalizing vision of what they can become through service to the work community and to their customers. The leader's vision forms the platform upon which all interactive work-community work is done. It interprets the leader's values set and defines the present and future values context, the intent of which is to attract community members (Klenke). Visioning comes out of the personality of the leader, but unless the vision strikes a responsive chord in the lives of stakeholders, it cannot energize and inspire cooperative action. Any effort to induce followers to attain high quality performance, effectiveness, or excellence must be conditioned by a vision that asks followers to do these things within the context of the vision's values.

  3. Inner leaders must become expert in developing and leading a service oriented work community and in manipulating the ambient work culture. Supporting the work community's values-set and its guiding vision demands that leaders create and maintain a congruent cultural surround within which both leader and stakeholders can find support for actions to operationalize their service values. An effective work-community service culture includes preparation of strategic plans, setting standards of service excellence, and displacement of competing values held by some members of the community. Each of these aspects of culture management need to be placed in the context of inner leadership (as opposed to top leadership).

  4. Inner leaders need to prepare to serve their followers by learning to relate in one-on-one relationships with followers to convey desired information, understanding, and job skills. A central need in servanthood is that leaders prepare themselves to be able to feel comfortable in situations where they and other work-community members sit together in council to share planning, policy, and decision-making activities. This is a new technique requiring the inner leader to prepare in terms of values and attitudes, as well as skills and knowledge. It presupposes a leader who respects, cares for, even loves followers. Counciling-with others can be done only as an institutional system when leaders and followers respect the essential humanness of one another and act in response to these values.

  5. Inner leaders need to prepare to serve their followers by learning to be teachers and otherwise to communicate needed information. Preparation to serve their followers also asks inner leaders to teach followers to maximize their innate talents in group-sanctioned service to one another and to their customers. Often using coaching techniques, inner leaders expend energy to teach stakeholders to bond with the work community in ways that serve them individually as together they serve the work community's purposes. The result of gaining skill in teaching proficiencies is that followers are enabled to be independent in values-related work activities (Carson). That is, they learn to act on their own in ways the leader would have them act. The need for supervision is minimized as followers internalize common values and behave in ways that respond authentically to those values.

  6. Leadership in the middle asks leaders to also master several techniques that facilitate follower service to the work community and to customers. Some of the specific skills inner leaders need to master in working with their staff include common courtesy, management by walking around, naive listening, using symbols, focusing, and celebrating accomplishment (these skill areas are defined and placed in context of leaders' self-development elsewhere). For example, implicit and explicit in inner leadership is the idea of empowering followers to govern themselves as they pursue service excellence in their work community activity. The service objectives of inner leaders are two: first, helping stakeholders to produce high quality service to coworkers, clients, and customers as they perform of the work community's work; second, to seek to enhance each member of the work community. Leadership success can be measured in terms of both service excellence and transformed followers who come to be self-controlling, self-directing, and self-governing servants in their own right. That is, the inner leader's role is to teach followers service values and to prepare them to be of service themselves.

  7. Successful inner leaders engage in a continuing program of personal change to improve those capacities and values that honor people, shared leadership, and high-quality service in work performance. Inner leaders incorporate a concern for the growth and transformation of followers to the end that these followers will want to use more of their innate talent and intelligence in doing the communal work. The process of leader change to prioritize a service role is personal and intimate. This mind-set change must precede any acts of service a leader might perform for a given follower or for the work community generally. Inner leaders learn to assess their current service strengths and continually work to improve them,

  8. Accepting a philosophy of service is the basis of the inner leader's relationships with all stakeholders. The most important part of preparation to be successful servants of their customers and stakeholders is to accept the service role implicit in the process and philosophy of inner leadership. Both the leader and those led must come to accept this role and the values that form its foundation. This choice is critical to the practice of inner leadership. For the inner leader, it is essentially a task of internalizing the values of shared leadership and mutual interactive development. It is partly a problem of education about and acquaintance with the tasks and skills of service. It is also partly an act of faith.

  9. Learning to be of service to stakeholders implies that leaders are willing to let them perform as much of the work as they can, including as much of the leader's work as they are willing to assume. Maximizing their service to followers includes inner leaders in involving staff fully in the work-community's work. Serving followers is letting them perform all the kinds of work that will help them become more fully conscious of the work that needs to be done. It entails helping followers acquire more skill in performing their duties. It involves providing them with situations and conditions in which they can learn about the other jobs done by coworkers and become more expert in doing that work in addition to their own.

  10. Inner leaders provide both formal and informal organizational structures that facilitate broad service activity. Structural and procedural mechanisms need to be fashioned to institutionalize shared servanthood. Sometimes new structures need to be introduced into the work community to formalize service responsibilities. These structures usually take the form of small work units that require cooperation and interdependency. Such structures may include task forces, operating committees, or councils of workers. These small groups force members to take responsibility for directly helping attain the work unit's aims - its plans, program designs, and new services or service delivery systems - as well as developing policies and operating processes and otherwise overseeing job tasks. Policies and procedures authorized in the work community also need to be developed that constrain members in how and when to serve others.

  11. Inner leaders assure that service rendered is useful, relevant, and timely. The essence of success in this technique is not always keyed to a policy or procedure or an elaborate process. Rather, it relies for success on the attitude of mind of leaders and followers. As both come to accept the role of helper - to each other and to customers - whatever actions they take will be part of this inner leadership technique. Of course, some system of control and accountability must also be included in leader–follower relationships to insure appropriate use of human and other resources. The key ingredient is a values construct that prioritizes service.

As inner leaders serve the needs of all of their stakeholders, they model desired service behavior and underline the importance of service in their contacts with those with whom they interact. Then they can be successful.

Discussion Issues And Questions


  1. A key inner leadership technique is being expert in providing needed services to all stakeholders to make their work successful.

  2. Inner leaders serve their stakeholders so they can succeed and in the followers' success facilitate the leaders' success.

  3. Rather than attempt to dominate followers, inner leaders go to work for them. That is, they provide all things necessary for follower success.

  4. Inner leaders establish and maintain a work culture that fosters service as a core value and includes setting standards of conduct and focusing the attention and energy of the work-community members on high-quality service.

  5. Inner leaders help others by making available to them needed information, time, attention, material, or other resources.

  6. It is impossible to list universal acts of service a leader renders followers since the situation or the needs of the follower dictate the character of each act of service.

  7. A first task in developing a service orientation is setting and living a consistent set of values that honor followers and challenge them to cooperative work effort.

  8. Leaders need to gain expertise in working cooperatively with followers in one-on-one relationships with them.

  9. Inner leaders need to prepare to serve their followers by learning to be teachers - to transmit desired information, understanding, and job skill.

  10. Successful inner leaders continually change to improve those capacities and values that honor people, shared leadership principles, and high-quality service at all levels.

  11. Learning to be of service to stakeholders implies a willingness to let them perform as much of the work as they can, including as much of the leader's work as they are willing to assume.

  12. Servant leaders provide both formal and informal work community structures that facilitate mutual service activity.


In responding to each of the following questions, describe and evaluate specific program or actions you take to inculcate servanthood principles in your work community.

  1. Have I created a customer-focused service standard in my work community?

  2. Do I try to bind my followers to a common cause of quality service and recognize both work community and individual service accomplishments?

  3. Do I foster conscious programs to inculcate a strong service and quality work orientation among employees?

  4. Do I make the people who actually do the work an in-house consultant team to improve conditions and results?

Servant Leadership Learning Activities

The following may be useful to inner leaders to gain experience in serving their followers and teaching them to serve others.

Activity 1: Create a Story

Instructions. Much of the work inner leaders do is in aid of getting their stakeholders to perform higher levels of service to each other, to customers, and to the larger community of which they are a part. One way to do this is to create and promulgate stories that highlight service and illustrate its importance in the work of the work community.

  1. Think about your work community; its leaders; all stakeholders; and the programs, products, and services they collectively provide.

  2. Recall a story (or stories) prevalent in your community that emphasizes service. Recast that story to bring it up to date while still respecting its essential character, values, and intent to highlight service values.

  3. If you cannot think of a currently widespread story, create a new story that illustrates and illuminates the service values held by your work community and helps define it as a unique place in which to work.

  4. Consider sharing the story with your work colleagues.

Activity 2: "Counciling-With" Others

Instructions. For stewardship patterns to work up and down the organization, new ways of viewing the leader–follower interaction are necessary. Counciling-with followers is a new insight into the relationship between leader and follower that Fairholm developed a decade ago. Sitting-in-council with followers puts the leader and follower together in an equal, sharing relationship, both committed to the success of the work community and both caring for the values of the others. Ideas flow freely as influence shifts from person to person. Any or all may propose or alter ideas, methods, problems, and solutions.

This is not counseling - unilateral action taken by the counselor toward the other person. Counciling-with followers, rather is finding out together what is right, proper, and needed. This shared approach is often discussed in terms of participatory or democratic approaches to management.

Respond to the following questions from the perspective of your present work situation.

  1. When talking with coworkers, do I tell them things and encourage a sharing of information?

  2. Do I encourage group discussions and facilitate group dynamics?

  3. Do coworkers frequently exchange ideas with me?

  4. Do I have the self-esteem to allow others to have good ideas and take the lead at times?

  5. Am I able to synthesize group information and formulate decisions or next steps?

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