Introverts And The Power Of Servant Leadership

Have you ever heard about servant leadership? A leadership style made in introvert’s heaven. The term was initially coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in his work The Servant as Leader, and it turned the world of management upside down. It was in the 1970’s, and the ideas like empowerment only started to be talked about. Most of the management was the good old carrot and stick type.

The word “servant” is taken in a broader context. It is not someone who is there to fulfill the whims of his masters, a slave. It is rather someone who has a higher purpose in life. A true servant is someone who is not concerned primarily with themselves, but whose actions will make the world a better place.

For the servant leader, the servant part comes first. Back then it was a somewhat radical idea, but today most of the modern management theories lead with the notion that empowering your employees, delegating stuff, and trusting the team is much more powerful motivational approach and leads to higher performance.

Servant leaders get into leadership as a side effect of wanting to serve others. They want to help out, they get passionate about an idea and want to help get it executed, and they take the leadership as a way to reach that goal. It goes opposite the leader-first idea where people get into leadership to promote their agenda and to fulfill the need for power, fame, or material possessions.

“Introverts by their very nature often make great servant leaders.”

Introverted leaders get into leadership for very similar reasons to servant leaders, following a very similar path. It is rarely the need for fame. Instead, it is a passion for a particular mission that pushes introverts to lead. Because of that and the approaches servant leaders use, it is a leadership style particularly suited for introverts. For servant leaders, the top priority worry is all about people and their short-term and long-term needs. People should not only get the work done, but should also develop their skills, grow, and become better human beings in general.

So what are the essential characteristics and practices defining servant leaders? When looking through the works of Greenleaf, Larry Spears, James Sipe and Don Frick, Ken Keith, or Stephen Covey we can summarize it in these twelve practices.

  1. Foresight and vision – being able to give others a purpose to live for is a gift. Most people want to make a mark, to be useful, to be recognized and valued. It all starts with having a vision of how they can help the world. It doesn’t need to be anything significant. Even opening the eyes of your team to the fact how their work helps a couple of customers or how they are making lives better for those around them is enough. Servant leaders understand the need to see the big picture, and because they are willing to delegate to others, develop them, so they are competent to handle the tasks, they also free themselves for ensuring the direction is right and plan for future.
  2. Trustworthiness, strong character, and moral authority – servant leaders lead by example. They don’t use positional power to make people do their bidding, but rather to inspire and persuade the teams to do the right thing. All this is possible only if they are the moral authority. They are only followed if they are being seen as someone, who is worth following. For introverts, this means getting comfortable with who you are and be authentic and transparent. Don’t try to pretend to be a charismatic extrovert but rather use your strengths to lead quietly.
  3. Competence – no one is going to follow an incompetent leader. It is not enough to be a moral authority or have a trustworthy character. You also need to be competent so people will buy into your vision. Servant leaders understand this and are continually learning and developing themselves to be able to fulfill their function in the team better. Preparation is one of the top strengths introverts have. You are able and willing to put time into study and preparation, and you think twice before you speak. This gives you an edge as you build easily an image of someone who knows what they are talking about.
  4. Self-awareness and awareness of surroundings – servant leaders are curious and aware of what’s going on around them. They care about the company, the team, and their people. Because of this state of alertness, they often worry about everything and are putting a lot of pressure on themselves to fix the problems of the world. Luckily, servant leaders are also self-aware. They understand how their moods and behaviors affect those around them and are able to moderate any undue anxiety. For introverts, the key will be confidence. You need to be confident enough in your abilities to find a balance on what to worry about and what is across the line.
  5. Humility – they are humble and understand that no one is perfect. They help others, but they also understand that even they are not perfect. Servant leaders always try to improve themselves, keep growing in their field of expertise and in the art of leadership. They know that if they stop growing, they are putting a cap on how they can help their team improve. Only by continuous learning and growing as human beings, they can provide the same to their teams. Most introverts are rather humble, but if you want to achieve your mission, you once again need to find the right balance. Being able to speak up when needed and do a bit of self-promotion to advance the cause is sometimes necessary.
  6. Listening – servant leaders are master observers and listeners. They try to understand the situation before making decisions, they try to understand their people, and they listen for ideas, feedback, and then tailor their leadership style as needed. Right, not much more to say, I just described introverts.
  7. Empathy – it is a key to good relationships between people. Since servant leaders put people first, it is understood that they need to know how to do that. By being able to empathize with others you are letting yourself see the world through their eyes, you are less likely to overreact and accuse everyone around of having evil intentions. Empathy is a key to understanding each of the team members, giving them the benefit of the doubt, giving them opportunities, and in return getting back loyalty and higher performance.
  8. Empowering and delegating – unleashing the hidden power of others by trusting them, developing them, and ultimately giving them the freedom to do what they are good at is a key to high performing teams. Servant leaders understand this, and even though they are hands-on, their focus is on helping, removing obstacles, and being supportive. They have enough confidence in their teams that they are comfortable to delegate work and empower the teams to truly own the work. Introverts are often a bit perfectionists. You may be urged to do the job yourself, but once you learn to delegate you will find that you are getting so much more back. You have more time to focus on the long-term, have an opportunity of more think time, and less anxiety as the world doesn’t sit just on your shoulders.
  9. Persuasion – servant leaders are excellent communicators and influencers who, as I mentioned, don’t rely on their positional power. They prefer to persuade others into action by solid arguments and good vision rather than by coercing the cooperation by threats. This means that servant leaders must be willing to have a dialog with their team members as equals. They need to be able to explain the benefit of the work, explain the “why,” so employees actually motivate themselves internally to get the job done. This often works for introverts just fine since no one is saying you need to have the conversation with the whole team at once. You can start with individual conversations, and by being prepared well, you can dive deep into topics you care about and win others on your side by showing you care about them too.
  10. Stewardship – it is all based on the idea that everyone deserves to be treated with respect, everyone deserves to be trusted and cared about. Servant leaders put people first and care for others. They are also persistent. They understand that some things take time and they are willing to invest a significant amount of effort in educating and inspiring others. This is very close to the hearts of introverts who often have the tenacity to dive deep into the problem, remove all distractions and work until the resolution.
  11. Developing others – servant leaders will spend a lot of time developing others being it teaching, coaching, or mentoring. They believe that when you share the right values and create the right culture with people who know you care, who constantly learn and grow, and who are in return internally motivated to do their best you can achieve a supreme performance. Seeing others around them growing and becoming better, more prosperous, and happier, is what fuels the servant leader. The same things often give energy also to introverts. You don’t need to get accolades for the work you have done. It is enough to see the actual results in the real world.
  12. Collaborating – servant leaders are team players and community builders. They are good at collaborating, building alliances, and getting others to follow their example. In the best teams, the same as in well-working communities, everyone works for the good of the team and puts their selfish needs aside. Servant leaders often go and take care of the less fortunate. They want to give back to society. Introverts may prefer to work alone, but when in the team, because of their wish to avoid conflict, they are often the invisible glue that helps to smooth the interactions between others and builds a harmony.

When you look at Goleman’s model of leadership styles, you can see that servant leadership is most closely related to participative leadership style as it focuses on developing people, giving them opportunities to grow, supports delegation and participative decision-making process. It has a strong essence of leading by example.

Servant leaders don’t need to force the team to follow them. By virtue of their hands-on approach, and by doing what needs to be done, they let others see them serve. That, in turn, encourages the team to join and become servant themselves. Servant leaders invest in people and always tell them that they care about them not only as workers but as human beings. No task is too menial for a servant leader. Introverts by their very nature often make great servant leaders.


Photo: josealbafotos /

I’m gathering material for a book about introversion, leadership and successful careers, and I would love to hear from you! If you are an introvert, who has a successful career and/or who moved to a leadership role, I would like to ask you to share your experience with me. I prepared a couple of short survey’s that will make it easy for you: Strengths of successful introverts (What strengths introverts have that can help them be successful?); Blueprint of a successful career (What is required for a successful career?); Strategies for introverted leaders (As an introverted leader what strategies do you use to lead and manage others effectively?)

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, introversion, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

Categories: Introverts, Leadership

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