Servant Leadership – Evolving to an Effective Management Style

The year was 1972 and I opened my first “Principles of Management” textbook as a Freshman at Drexel University. Having worked many summer jobs, I had been exposed to working for managers of warehouses, retail stores, painting companies and pet stores. So, I had experienced firsthand the styles of many lower level managers and now it was time to educate myself on the practice of managing people.

The text book defined management as “getting things done through other people” (I believe it may have been Peter Drucker who first uttered those words). The experts who wrote the textbook also told me that there were 2 basic approaches to managing people:


  1. Focus on the task and drive the people to complete the task
  2. Focus on the people and make sure that they have the skills and the tools to complete the task

As a future manager I was eager to digest these 2 approaches. While I feared the hard driving task masters that I observed and occasionally worked for, I noticed that the job always got done. The humanistic, people-oriented manager was able to inspire her people to get the work done and the people actually seemed to enjoy doing the work.

The management experts as they wrote in my text books defined additional styles of management that were being created and promoted in the business world:

  • Coercive Style
  • Authoritative Style
  • Affiliative Style
  • Democratic Style
  • Pacesetting Style

In evaluating these new styles of management, my intuition led me to the humanistic styles (Democratic and Affiliative) as my preferred style. As a new manager, this style worked for me as I was able to secure promotions by generating positive results for my company. As time passed, I noticed a change in the personality of the work force. Not everyone who I managed responded to me humanistic approach. Some individuals actually rebelled against it. What should I do? I couldn’t treat some folks in a humanistic manner and others with a coercive style. Or could I?

This is where my personal research and inquiry with experts took me to a new style of management – the contingency style of management defined as…

A contingency approach to management is based on the theory that management effectiveness is contingent, or dependent, upon the interplay between the application of management behaviors and specific situations. In other words, the way you manage should change depending on the circumstances.

I was definitely all in on this approach and it worked very well for me for much of my career. I was in situations that required softer approaches with people to inspire them to achieve stated goals. Other situations because of culture, time factors, goal requirements, and the existing situation required a much harder, direct and defined approach with explanations and logic coming after the fact. My ability to analyze behaviors and situations dictated my degree of success when it came to properly applying a contingency management style.


At this point I believed that I had discovered the most effective and best style of managing people; the contingency style. After all, it considered behaviors and elements of each situation. It also was flexible enough to change based on circumstances. What else was there?


There was one variable that all the aforementioned management styles failed to consider and that is the development of people. Early management theory and definition required the manager to “get things done through other people”. Remember? It never said anything about developing people. They would develop by performing the work that you assigned to them. But what if a manager could achieve goals by managing people in a humanistic manner and develop people at the same time. Was there such an approach to management? It turns out there is, but it falls under leadership and not management. Some difference between Managers and Leaders are shown below and taken from “Next Generation” website:

Managers Give Directions Leaders ask questions
Managers have subordinates Leaders have followers
Managers use an authoritarian style Leaders have a motivational style
Managers tell what to do Leaders show what to do
Managers have good ideas Leaders implement good ideas
Managers react to change Leaders create change
Managers try to be heroes Leaders make heroes of everyone around them
Managers exercise power over people Leaders develop power with people


So, the style that I am referring to is called Servant Leadership. It is a more encompassing management style in that it develops individuals while managing them. Servant Leadership was created by Robert K. Greenleaf in an essay that he published in 1970. Mr. Greenleaf said:


“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.”


As a manager, the servant leadership style of managing positions the people being managed for success because the leader is there to teach, coach and assist, thus driving down the risk of failure for the participant.


I have adopted the Servant Leader style of Management as my method of managing people. The satisfaction of coaching, teaching and developing people is a wonderful feeling. Read up on Mr. Greenleaf’s concept of Servant Leader style and hopefully you will be impressed with the concepts. Servant Leadership is difficult to learn and implement into one’s style, but the rewards of goal achievement and development of people are well worth the effort. first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.” -Robert K. Greenleaf