Characteristics of a Servant Leader



Commentary by By Chief Master Sgt. Gerald Vallow
48th Intelligence Squadron


11/16/2012 - BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.  -- As an Air Force member we are taught from early on in our careers about leadership, its concepts and what makes a good leader.

We're taught that leadership is the art or skill to influence people to accomplish the mission. Hundreds of books have been written on the subject of leadership, yet it is still a somewhat nebulous concept that can be difficult to put into practice.

A little different concept from the normal discussions on leadership is the idea or practice of Servant Leadership. Although many people have not heard of this concept it is unknowingly practiced by leaders every day. So, what exactly is a Servant Leader?

The two words almost seem to contradict each other, but simply put, it is the skill of influencing people to enthusiastically work toward goals for the common good with character that inspires confidence. A servant leader views leadership as a form of service to other people and does not consider the position of leader as a reason to adopt the attitude of being superior to those being led.

With that definition in mind I would like to point out a few characteristics or principles of a servant leader.

The first characteristic is patience. A servant leader shows self-control in dealing with his or her subordinates. As you know, things don't always go to plan, and when something goes wrong, a servant leader will not lose control. He or she will take that particular opportunity when there is a difficult situation and, with patience, take time to train, mentor or guide the group or individual.

The second characteristic a servant leader should have is humility. I feel this trait in a leader is one of the most important. If you are humble, you are authentic, not boastful or arrogant. The quickest way to turn a subordinate or group you are leading away is to be arrogant. Humility shows that you have a true concern for the people you are leading and that you are not "better than they are." Don't mistake humility for weakness; a leader can be humble but confident in his or her actions.

Respectfulness is another characteristic that a servant leader should possess. If you treat others as important people, you are showing them respect which will earn you respect. The respectful leader has a tremendous advantage to complete the mission; a group with high morale and enthusiasm.

Selflessness is one of the most difficult characteristics for a servant leader, but it's one of the most rewarding. To be selfless in this context, the leader aims to meet the legitimate needs of others. You must honestly know the people you lead. A leader cannot lead from behind a desk. He or she must get out and know what is going on within their group to see and hear concerns and issues and be in a position to take care of those needs.

To be a good leader you must also serve. Patience, humility, respectfulness and selflessness are not as foreign to us as one may think. By putting these characteristics into practice, you are actually following the concept of servant leadership.