According to the Servant Leader Institute (, there are nine behaviors of servant leaders.  Are you putting them to work in your leadership role?  I recently was exposed to this list and thought it was rather thorough.  It’s different from the ten characteristics put out by Robert Greenleaf, the founder of the Servant Leadership movement.  But there are some similarities as well.

The SLI, introducing these nine behaviors says:

Servant Leadership is more than a philosophy; it is a daily practice of behaviors.  What are you already doing? And what can you do better?

SLI encourages servant leaders, and those trying to become servant leaders, to use this list daily to acknowledge and celebrate progress along the path.

Nine Behaviors of Servant Leaders

The nine behaviors are as follows:

  1. Serve First
  2. Build Trust
  3. Live Your Values
  4. Listen to Understand
  5. Think About Your Thinking
  6. Add Value to Others
  7. Demonstrate Courage
  8. Increase Your  Influence
  9. Live Your Transformation

Serve First

At the core of servant leadership is the desire to serve.  In every encounter, your first inclination should be “how can I serve this person today?”.  It is only with a serve-first mentality that you can truly embrace a servant leadership model.  Without the desire to serve others (instead of the more natural human inclination of thinking about how we can be served), there is little hope for you becoming a servant leader.

This expands beyond just leadership encounters.  It includes meetings with business prospects, business partners, friends, colleagues, church members, etc.  Think about how different it makes a sales call when you go into the appointment (as the salesman) with the mindset of “how can I serve this prospect today?”.

Build Trust

Trust is one of the most fundamental, necessary qualities of a leader.  Recently I wrote a blog post about the need for integrity in leadership.

But trust goes beyond just being trustful yourself.  It also involves you extending trust to those you work with.  If you are not able or willing to put your trust in others, then you cannot transform into a true servant leader.

Live Your Values

Do you know your values?  This is an exercise I work with my clients very early in our relationship.  Why?  Because values serve as the guardrails of our life.  They help us make decisions according to our values by keeping us between the lines.

You must make the effort to define and articulate your values.  Ideally, you should have around five to seven values that put words around what is most important to you.  For example, one of my values is to “leave the world a little better than I found it”.  One way I do that is by writing this blog.  It’s free, and helpful (I hope) for those who want to be better people.  I hope that, by reading it, I am living out my value of making the world a little better.

Listen to Understand

I just completed three blogs on listening skills.  Part 1 and Part 2 were on “how to be a bad listener”.  And the third one involved skills to be a good listener.

To be a servant leader, you need to put others first in every transaction, and that includes conversations.  You must be able to put aside distractions and focus on them and keep the focus off of yourself.

Think About Your Thinking

Mindset is critical for servant leaders.  I believe an abundance mindset must be in place for you to be an effective servant leader.  Abundance thinking leads us to believe that there is room in the world for all of us to succeed.  A scarcity mindset forces us into thinking that there isn’t enough for others.  So if someone else succeeds (including someone on my team), it means less for me.

Is your mindset getting int the way of you being an effective servant leader?  Do you find it getting in the way of being a servant leader?

Add Value to Others

Similar to the previous point, the servant leader mindset makes you think about how you can add value to those you work with and serve.  Do you see yourself adding value to those around you?  Do people come to you with questions or to request advice?  If so, then they probably see you as adding value.

Another measure of this trait is the idea of having to take credit.  Servant leaders do not feel the need to get credit.  Moreover, servant leaders strive to make sure their team members or constituents gain most of the credit.

Side story:  This is a foreign concept in much of corporate culture.  Years ago I was working in a large Fortune 500 company.  As a senior leader in the IT department, I had regular monthly 1-on-1s with the CIO.  In one of our meetings, my CIO told me that I wasn’t nearly competiive enough.  (Something that is rarely said of me).  I asked him what he meant.  He told me that every day I should be coming in “proving that I’m the best leader in the department and that I’m better than my peers”.  I responded, explaining that I thought my job was to come in and work together with my fellow team members to achieve the goals of the department and company.  His resposne?  “Oh John, you are so naive!”.   I knew then that my servant leader mindset was not congruent with this organization

Demonstrate Courage

I recently heard that one of the qualities of today’s young entrepreneurs is that they are both “crazy enough and courageous enough” to take risks.  Are you willing to make tough decisions, take risks and follow through on your commitments?  It takes courage to do this.

It also takes courage to put others first.  All of these behaviors I’m writing about take courage.  Listening first?  That takes courage.  Adding value to others?  That takes courage.  Trusting others?  You bet that takes courage as well.  Being a servant leader takes courage.

Increase Your  Influence

Being an influencer is not about being popular.  It means you have the courage (previous point) to do the right thing and bring others along with you.  SLI asks “Will you do what is right even when it may produce an unpopular outcome?”.  Sometimes standing up for what is right may be a short-term hit to the company.

Doing what is right, no matter the consequence is a huge part of being authentic.  Servant leadership requires authenticity.  It also necessitates that we have no hidden agenda.

Live Your Transformation

So now you have all these behaviors, do you live it?  Do you incorporate it into everything you do?  When you have something of value, do you share it?  When you need something, do you ask for it?  If you’ve established the other eight behaviors, this one should come naturally.

Pull It All Together

Living the nine behaviors of servant leaders is not easy.  It takes determination, resolve and a willingness to be truly authentic in your relationships.  I work with leaders who are going through transitional phases of their lives.  My goal is to bring out the best in them.  And hopefully, help them figure out how to put servant leadership to work in their lives and career.  Contact me if you’d like to find out more.