What is a Servant Leader?

Hi, I’m Josh Barker, CEO of City Innovation Labs.  And this is another video in our series called Cultivating Innovation where we talk about the roles that an innovative leader plays in order to create an innovative team. In this video, I’m going to talk about the role of Servant leader.

We have already touched on the role of a Shepherd, where we talked about 3 Levels of Care they provide to their team, but it’s also a really great example of a Servant Leader.  The concept of Servant Leadership is so critical that it’s worth its own role outside that of a shepherd.

In this video, we’ll talk about 3 Analogies of a Servant Leader to better understand what it means and looks like.

1. Chief Bottle Washer

A Chief Bottle Washer is a term for someone that is the lowest in the kitchen.  Not the meal strategy, preparation, or execution, but the clean-up crew. They clean up after the meal is completed.  The idea behind this analogy is putting your team first and yourself, as a leader, last.

Another great way to visualize this is to think of an organizational hierarchy.  They’re typically drawn in the shape of a triangle, with leadership at the top-most position.  In a servant-leadership model, it should be drawn as an inverted triangle, with leadership at the bottom, elevating and lifting up the team.

2. The Gardener

Just like the Chief Bottle Washer, a gardener is one of the most basic and fundamental positions.  They work hard, are the first to rise, last to go to bed. They are proactive in planning their harvest and take care by plowing, pruning, and de-weeding.

It also requires patience.  An African proverb has said, “Grass doesn’t grow faster if you pull it.”  It requires the right sunlight, water, and cultivation. A good leader understands their team’s needs and how to cultivate, not force, the best in everyone.

3. The Squad Leader

Think back to any war hero movie.  Which is the typical hero: those sitting miles away from the battle in a “map room” deciding who lives and who dies, or a squad leader that is directly in the trenches with the team, leading them in a dangerous mission?  The obvious answer is the squad leader.

They go as far as sacrificing their own lives. That is the one that the team looks to as a servant-leader.  I often refer to the antithesis of a squad leader as not only a “map room leader” but also an “ivory tower” leader.  A squad leader is in close touch with their team in order to understand how best to move forward by receiving feedback and formulating a plan of attack together.

Servant leadership is an extension of being both a good shepherd and a follower.  It is elevating and lifting up the team, putting others’ needs first, setting a good example by working hard, and constantly sacrificing for the team.

Thanks for listening.  If you’ve gotten value out of this video or you have some other analogies you have used for a servant leader that I didn’t hit on, I’d love to hear them.  Also, visit our blog (blog.cityinnovations.com) to view a list of recommended readings to further explore the topic of Servant Leadership. Thanks and God bless.

Recommended Readings on Being a Good Servant-Leader:

  • Good to Great – A research team was shocked to discover the type of leadership required to achieve greatness.
  • The Servant – A great book for beginners on their immersion into servant leadership.
  • 5 Levels of Leadership – Explains true leadership isn’t a matter of having a certain job or title.
  • Delivering Happiness – A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose – The Zappos.com story
  • Many More – This is a Inc.com list with some other great reads on Servant Leadership. Disclaimer: I have read most of these, not all

Read and Watch the First Three Videos in this Series

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