Five Practices Of Servant Leaders

The true heroes of the new millennium will be servant leaders, quietly working out of the spotlight to transform our world.
— Ann McGee-Cooper and Duane Trammell

Have you had your annual physical? Regular check-ups catch little problems before they become life-threatening issues. The same is true with leadership. When leaders invest time to assess their leadership, then couple that assessment with practical follow-up, both the leader and the organization win.

How’s YOUR Leadership?

In the book Focus On Leadership, Ann McGee-Cooper and Duane Trammell identify five practices of servant leaders.

1. Servant leaders listen without judgment.

Servant leaders listen when team members come to them with concerns. First, they listen to understand. They listen for feelings as well as for facts. Before giving advice or solutions, they repeat back what they thought they heard and state their understanding of the person’s feelings. Second, servant leaders ask, “How can I help?” Servant leaders want to know if the individual simply needs a sounding board or more extensive help to brainstorm solutions.

2. Servant leaders are authentic.

Servant leaders admit mistakes openly. At the end of meetings they discuss what went well and what needs to change. They are open and accountable to others for their role in the things that were not successful.

3. Servant leaders build community.

Servant leaders show appreciation. They know the importance of a handwritten "Thank you" for a job well done. Servant leaders find ways to thank team members for everyday, routine work that is often taken for granted. They celebrate achievements and reward progress.

4. Servant leaders share power.

Servant leaders seek feedback. They ask their associates and work teams: “What decisions am I making or actions am I taking that could be improved if I had more information or input from the team?” They make plans to incorporate this feedback into their decision-making process.

5. Servant leaders develop people.

Servant leaders help improve the leadership of others. They provide opportunities for a seat at the decision table. They provide time for conferences and coaching. Servant leaders find projects they can co-lead, then coach their protégés as they work together. They develop people weekly!

Improving YOUR Leadership

Cooper and Trammell identify some “best practices” that mark servant leadership. While their information is excellent, great information does not make a great leader.

Moving from knowledge to action to transformation takes honest assessment and careful effort. Here are four ways to act on the information provided above:

1. Grade yourself.

Review the list above and give yourself a letter grade (A, B, C, D) for each of the five practices. Be honest in your assessment. If you cannot identify specific instances in the last 30 days in which you practiced a given characteristic, there may be work to be done.

2. Play to your strength.

Pick your strongest characteristic. Why is it strong? How could you build on this strength in the next 30 days? What team member or leadership situation needs the application of this characteristic?

3. Coach to your weakness.

Pick your weakest characteristic. Why is it weak? What needs to change? Who could coach you or hold you accountable to improve? When will you ask this person for help?

4. Invite your team to assess you.

Take time for a mini-evaluation with your team. Ask them to take 15-20 minutes to come to a general consensus as to your grade for each characteristic of servant leadership and why. Appoint a spokesperson to share the scores and speak on behalf of the group. Walk out of the room and let the team talk it out. After you return, discuss their findings and seek their suggestions to improve.

Obviously, this exercise takes humility and authenticity, but it will yield great rewards for you and the team. As Ken Blanchard has noted:

Feedback is the breakfast of champions.

Periodic check-ups save people from potential life-threatening problems. Regular evaluation of one’s leadership can perform a similar function. It wards off debilitating habits and team-demoralizing actions — when leaders take action on what they discover. Take action!

The greatest among you will be your servant.
— Jesus (Matthew 23:11)


  • This post was drawn from the great work of Ann McGee-Cooper and Duane Trammell in “From Hero-As-Leader To Servant-As-Leader” in the book, Focus on Leadership: Servant Leadership For the 21st Century. Edited by Larry C. Spears and Michele Lawrence. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., pages 150-151. The “five practices of servant leaders” are recorded with slight modifications from the original text.
  • Originally, I wrote this post for The World Leaders Conference Blog. I have have re-posted it here with modifications.