Servant Leadership Research and Application Paper


The concept of leadership has been under study for several years, with the initial developments pointing to the fact that leaders were born and that their traits could be used to tell if one was a leader. However, as the field of organizational leadership grew, researchers realized the limitations of use of traits in determining leadership and subsequent models of organizational leadership were developed. As the organizational setting became complex, the application of initial leadership theories became insufficient, hence, there was need to develop more applicable models that could sufficiently describe the concept of organizational leadership. The modern organizational leadership models were developed in order to describe the changing organizational culture and the increase in desire for high performance (Melchar, & Bosco, 2010). As a result, modern leadership models, which include transactional, servant, situational and transformational leadership models have been developed.

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The Servant Leadership Model

            The increased need for organizations to adapt to modern economic implications and the increased competiveness requires that organizations position themselves better in the market through adoption of effective leadership models (Turner College of Business, 2015). According to (Brewer, 2010), there has been increased layoffs due to economic downturns and an increase in house prices (especially in the US). According to the author, these challenges points to the loss of good business ethics, which requires an effective leadership model to develop shared value creation and invest in the shareholders and organizational stakeholders. The authors asserts the need for every organization to adopt servant leadership within their organizational setting as it is the best leadership model that is capable of restoring ethics, creating shared value and investing in the interests of its shareholders and stakeholders. Therefore, servant leadership is a standout model for a modern organization that wishes to achieve high performance in the modern economic situations.

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The servant leadership model has been applied successfully in a number of organizations, such as in the Starbucks and The Western Airlines. According to (Brewer, 2010), the servant leadership model has been in practice from the fourth BC, having been practiced during the time of Jesus Christ. The model has a rich history of success and is ideal for increased organizational performance, especially in organizations that strive to achieve high performance. The concept of servant leadership can be defined as the form of organizational leadership that puts the service of organization and interests of the leader at the forefront and using such service get the inspiration to lead (Smith, 2005).

According to (Smith, 2005), a number of tenets, which distinguishes it from other organizational leadership models, characterize the concept of servant leadership. The author asserts that the servant leader embodies service to others and the realization that legitimate organizational leadership is attained by serving the interests of the followers, other than exercising self-interests and power. Moreover, the main motivation and objective behind servant leadership is to inspire the followers to achieve greatness. When a servant leader inspires others, by serving their interests, the organizational greatness is attained through an indirect personal growth and follower motivation.

In addition to selflessness and service to others, the author further identifies the holistic approach to work as another tenet embodied within the servant leadership model (Smith, 2005). While noting the work of Greenleaf (pioneer of servant leadership model) Smith notes that, there is often interdependence between the society, followers and the organization. He points that the followers continue to exist as long as the organization is operational. Therefore, he asserts that through servant leadership, a holistic approach could only be attained by encouraging the organizational employees to be themselves as they would be in real life. On the other hand, Greenleaf points the existence of evil and good, noting that the two exist side by side and that they are perpetuated by individual thoughts and that everything in an organization starts through personal initiatives (Hutchinson, n.d., p. 6).

The other tenet of servant leadership as noted by (Smith, 2005) in his article is the promotion of a sense of community. According to the author, Greenleaf bemoaned the loss of collectivism in the contemporary society. The author asserts that the early society promoted a collective service delivery and that the gap created through the current organizational framework can only be attained through the servant leadership. Through an organization of the institutions through a group of followers, the objectives can be attained through human service delivery. It is from the individual leaders that the idea of community can be developed.

Through servant leadership, followers will be empowered to exercise their talents though participative approach to leadership. These create an environment that empowers others and involving them in the process of decision making, which create high organizational performance. According to (McCann, Graves, & Cox, 2014), servant leadership creates increased follower motivation by create a shared decision-making approach amongst the leaders and their followers. The author further asserts that when the employees are motivated in their workplace, there is increased organizational performance, lower employee turnover and increased job satisfaction. When employees are motivated and stay long, they are able to work towards fulfillment of the organizational vision and mission.

According to (Vondey, 2010, p. 4) and (Spears, 2005), the servant leadership model emphasizes on the strength of beliefs and personal characteristics. The model authors assert that Greenleaf in his publications laid more emphasis on individual characteristics as being the core elements of servant leadership. As a result, recent researches about the model have led to identification of personal characteristics that describe the servant leaders. The author points that servant leaders often display empathy, awareness, healing, persuasion, listening, and stewardship, commitment to growth of people, foresight, conceptualization and building of community.

 (Spears, 2005, p. 3), in his work points the need for a true servant leader to listen and make regular reflections. In addition to identifying and attending to the will of the followers, the author says that the servant leader must help the followers through a clarification of their will. Moreover, the servant leader must listen to what has been seen and that which might not have been said and should be done with a huge sense of commitment. In addition, a servant leader must have the ability to listen and empathize with the followers. Since many people have broken spirits, the author points to the need for a servant leaders to help them to heal in order to attain transformation and integration within the organization.

The other most important element of servant leadership according to (Spears, 2005) is self-awareness. A servant leader, through self-awareness, possesses a good understanding of organizational ethics and values. Such a leader must rely on persuasion as a mean of leading, other than use of power. In addition, a servant leader must have the capability of foresight, in order to conceptualize problems, albeit with great discipline and practice. Similarly, they must serve interests of others at the expense of personal interests, just like stewardship demands.

In conclusion, servant leader must embody the concept of service to others and getting the inspiration from serving interests of others to lead. Such leaders must embrace intrinsic values that go beyond serving organizational employees to creating a community. In addition, they must have a good understanding of the recent historic developments in humankind and devise ways of breaching the leadership gaps that are evident in the modern organizational settings.  Moreover, the model according to its pioneer, Greenleaf, points the possibility of creation of a community within an organization and between organizations for the benefit of all people in the society.

A Comparison of Servant Leadership with Other Organizational Leadership Models

Transactional Leadership versus Servant Leadership

            The transactional leadership is built on the concept of rewards in return for follower motivation. This leadership model asserts that through rewards in form of improved competitive wages, the workers can be motivated towards achievement of the organizational objectives and goals. According to (Kolzow, 2014) the exercise of total power control is the identifying factor of transactional leadership. Under the transactional leadership, the followers must follow a chain of command and the status quo is maintained in the organization. Although the focus is on total power control, the transactional leadership model is more concerned with the completion of tasks and that the workers must follow the instructions from its leaders in order to ensure the production targets are met.

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            In contrast, the servant leadership model adopts a shared decision-making approach, where the followers are involved in the process of making specific directions for work. The transactional model focuses on total power control (Kolzow, 2014), while the servant leadership involves service to others and freedom of expression of opinions from the workers and incorporation of the same in the decision-making process. Moreover, unlike the transactional leadership model, the servant leadership derives motivation through encouragement of the followers and providing them with freedom to express their emotions. In doing so, the servant leader serves as a guardian, providing direction, motivation and encouragement to the followers.

Transformational Versus Servant Leadership Model

            The transformational leadership is one of the contemporary leadership styles that have gained great application and success in the organizational settings (Bolden, Gosling, Marturano, & Dennison, 2003). The transformational and servant leadership models have been hailed as the ideal contemporary models for creating effective organizational leaderships. Although the two models have been applied with great successes, they possess some distinctive characteristics. The transformational leadership model is characterized by its sense of purpose, where it aims at creating an organization with a shared vision, selflessness and follower motivation. The author points that the transformational leadership aims at creating a sense of ownership among the followers, where the organizational employees identifies with the organization thus creating a sense of meaning and responsibility.

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            In a similar organizational framework, the servant leadership model, just like the transformational model, has the interests of the organization in place of personal interests. Moreover, the servant leaders strive to achieve organizational motivation through listening, empathy and healing. The servant leadership model achieves organizational meaning creation through creation of a sense of community, listening, healing and persuasion. (McCann, Graves, & Cox, 2014), in their article showed that servant leadership is associated with high organizational performance, since the models creates an environment for high employee motivation. The authors point the increased motivation among employees as being reflected in increased job satisfaction and higher productivity among the followers.

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            However, the two organizational leadership models possess some contrasting features in the sense of the leader focus (Gregory Stone, Russell, & Patterson, 2004). In their organizational leadership research, the authors point that the two leadership models employ similar tenets in idealized influence, creation of motivation, individual consideration and intellectual stimulation. However, while analyzing the theoretical frameworks and the characteristics of the two models, the authors found that the two models differ in the focus of the leaders. The leaders in the servant leadership model places more focus on the followers compared to the transformational leadership. The transformational leadership is more concerned with the empowerment of the followers to achieve organizational goals, while the servant leadership strives to empower the followers in order to maximize their potential. Servant leadership attains high organizational performance by placing more emphasis on empowering of the employees to realize their potential.

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            In conclusion, servant and transformational leadership share many similarities and many researchers have termed the two leadership models as being analogous (Gregory Stone, Russell, & Patterson, 2004). Both leadership models employ vision, modeling, delegation, integrity, respect, employee motivation and influence in their organizational leaderships. However, it is the heightened focus on the service to the followers, through service of the employee interests, which distinguishes servant leadership from transformational leadership model.

Description of the Organization

            The Houston Health Department is a public organization that seeks to provide traditional health services. The organization has a diverse workforce, thus can be described as a multicultural organization environment. Moreover, the organization has a number of departments, where every employee performs a specialized function as designated by their area of specialization. The organization is has top management that consist of the director and the heath authority. Moreover, various departmental heads and employees are attached to the various organizational departments. The junior organizational employees report to their departmental heads, who report to the organizational top management. The diverse workforce, who consists of over a thousand employees, allows the organization to offer health services to the neighboring communities.

How Servant Leadership Can Be Applied to the Houston Health Department

            The Houston Health Department can enhance its performance through the adoption of servant leadership model within its organizational framework. Although the organizational leadership can be considered effective, with well trained and highly experienced staff, higher organizational performance can be attained through the change of the leadership model from the bureaucratic to a flat organizational culture achieved through the adoption of servant leadership model. Most of the organizational duties are delegated and protocols are often observed. However, through servant leadership, a flat organizational leadership, which increases employee involvement and shared responsibility.

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            There is considerable employee turnover within the Houston Health Department due to the complex organizational culture, which has created low employee motivation. Through the adoption and integration of servant leadership model with the Houston Health Department, the employees shall be engaged in the decision-making process, thus increasing a sense of organization ownership and motivation levels among the employees. There is need for the organization to increase communication and employee involvement in making decisions as well as identifying and attending to their concerns.

            A multicultural environment can pose great challenge in creating a unified and motivated workforce (Hannay, n.d.). However, the author points that servant leadership has enjoyed great success in multicultural organizational environment. By adopting servant leadership within the organizational framework, the Houston Health Department shall create a workforce that is united towards achievement of a common purpose. Moreover, the leadership model shall ensure the appreciation of differences, the identification of the employee differences and capabilities and empowering them.

The Impact of the Implementation of Servant Leadership on the Organizational Ability to Realize its Vision and Goals

            The servant leadership model has far-reaching positive influence on the performance of any organization. In adopting servant leadership model, a sense of shared responsibility shall be ingrained among the Houston Health Department employees. The sense of shared responsibility is an important factor that creates an impetus amongst the employee in ensuring the organizational vision is achieved. Through servant leadership, the employee motivation is increased through involvement, provision of a healing and encouragement (McCann, Graves, & Cox, 2014). This has an effect of increasing organizational performance and reducing the turnover rates, thus ensuring the organization remains focused towards attaining its goals. In addition, through servant leadership, a sense of community shall be created and this shall ensure a holistic approach in organizational management and thus creating shared value.

Implementing Servant Leadership in Houston Health Department

            According to (Barry & Kunz, 2014, p. 509), some organizational members may show qualities of servant leadership. However, the authors point that such leaders do not offer reason enough to believe that the model of servant leadership may develop in itself, but instead argues that the model must be developed and implemented in entirety. In addition, the authors posit that servant leadership is an evolutionary process, which is influenced by the organizational structure.

            The implementation of servant leadership within Houston Health Department shall begin through the formation of an implementation team. The team shall be tasked with undertaking the organizational assessments in order to identify gaps and the leadership levels that shall be involved in the implementation of the model within the organization. The implementation team shall consist of groups and organization workers, who shall provide coaching process. It is worth noting that the groups will provide continuous motivation, coaching and mentorship, while addressing any challenges that the organizational workers may encounter during the implementation process. This will go a long way in ensuring that the new organizational culture is established in the organization.

Critical Implementation Challenges

            The adoption of servant leadership within Houston Health Department is like any other change process. According to (Kotter, 2007), there is need to conduct continuous evaluations in order to determine areas that need reinforcement in order to prevent the likelihood of announcing change too soon. Moreover, there is need to conduct effective communication of the change process. Therefore, the implementation challenges that are likely to be encountered are under communication of the change initiatives and resistance to change due to the organizational leadership expressing reluctance to relinquish their current organizational culture.

Stakeholder Involvement

In order to realize effective servant leadership implementation in Houston Health Department, there is need to involve all the stakeholders. The Houston Health Department stakeholders include the community leadership, government leaders, the health department heads and workers and its suppliers, partners and sponsors. The Houston Health Department stakeholders play an important role in provision of the necessary resources and moral support to ensure effective model implementation.


Through servant leadership, the organization can align its goals and objective with the responsibilities of its workers. The model has been applied in numerous organizations such as the Starbucks, albeit with great success. Although a number of leadership models have been advanced to explain the ideal organizational leadership models, the servant leadership stands out as the best model for modern complex organizational environment.

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