What Does Servant Leadership Look Like in Action?

The OLA model of Servant Leadership

The first of a seven-part series:

Can servant leadership be clearly observed and trained?

Can the concept be clarified such that its presence or absence can be assessed through an organizational survey tool?

The answer to both of these questions is a firm – yes.

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The OLA model was developed in 1999 as the first research-based conceptual model of servant leadership. Based on this model, the Organizational Leadership Assessment (OLA) was developed and used to help organizations and groups determine their level of organizational health from a servant leadership perspective. The OLA has also been used in over 85 research studies (to seek to understand the effect that this way of leading has on various organizational health factors (i.e. trust, team effectiveness, job satisfaction, performance, organizational climate).

The research that I conducted back in the late 90’s discovered six key disciplines of servant leadership. These disciplines are observable behaviors that can be assessed by those exposed to a leader’s behavior. These disciplines can be assessed to determine the level to which they are perceived within any organization.

These six disciplines give us a picture of what servant leadership looks like when lived out in organizational life.

Servant leaders Value People – Servant leaders believe in and trust the people they lead taking the bold step of trusting others first and seeing this as the best strategy for developing trustworthiness in others. They listen non-judgmentally, asking for the ideas and feedback of others and truly wanting to know what they think. Through this they accept and give value to their workers, not based on what they do but on who they are.

Servant leaders Develop People – Each person represents future potential not just present reality. Servant leaders are willing to let people grow and so they provide multiple opportunities to do so. Leaders develop others by providing opportunities to learn while providing encouragement and affirmation believing that each person can develop to their full potential.

Servant leaders Build Community – Servant leaders believe in the team. They work to build strong positive relationships and are willing to accept the differences of others as a strength for the collective. They encourage collaborative work over competition and are committed to building a sense of community throughout the entire organization.

Servant leaders Provide Leadership – Servant leaders provide vision, take courageous action, mobilize others to act and create positive movement and change. Yes, servant leaders serve, but they also lead providing clear direction and purpose for others.

Servant leaders Share Leadership – Servant leaders allow and expect others to lead. All can be effective leaders and effective followers. By sharing leadership, we empower others to step up and share their ideas (vision) to boldly act toward these ideas (action) to recruit others to the cause (mobilization) to create a new reality (change).

Servant leaders Display Authenticity – Servant leaders are real, honest, transparent and humble. They practice a bold style of authenticity that allows others to both follow and lead. Leadership begins with the individual leader, but is fulfilled in community. The leadership that the servant leader displays is one of authenticity and openness.


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Over the next six articles in this series we will dig deeper into each of these six key disciplines of servant leadership to better understand how they work, how they are perceived and how they are critical for developing organizational health and performance.

I welcome your thoughts and questions.

Your fellow servant,

Jim⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀


Laub, J.A. (2018) Leveraging the power of servant leadership: Building high performance   organizations. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave MacMillan.

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