Leadership Through the Service of Others

business woman leading discussion with small group of workers

With their emphasis on collaboration, trust, empathy, and the ethical use of power, servant-leaders are bringing critical skills to the rapidly evolving and diverse professional environment.

Research recently conducted by the Harvard Business Review indicates that we like leaders who underrate themselves. In fact, we perceive leaders who underrate themselves more highly than those who accurately assess their skills, and much more highly than those who consider themselves superior.

“Indeed, the more they underrated themselves, the more highly they were perceived as leaders,” the study said. “We assume this is caused by a combination of humility, high personal standards, and a continual striving to be better.”

These servant-leaders gain contacts, context and insights that make them more effective because they spend a great deal of their time listening, sharing, and working alongside others.

Here are three tips for anyone interested in improving his or her leadership skills:


Communication is essential in a healthy organization. But all too often when we interact with people—especially those who report to us—we simply tell them what we think they need to know. This shuts them down. To generate new ideas and better understand our employees, we need to practice Humble Inquiry. For more on this topic, listen to Ask, Don’t Tell: The Art of Humility in Leadership with guest Dr. Ed Schein on Georgetown University’s Inside Transformational Leadership podcast.

Be a Mentor

Servant leaders know that by helping to guide the people who work for them, they will help their employees learn vital skills that will improve their performance and strengthen the lessons they have already learned. When we have a chance to teach something to someone else, we learn it better ourselves. Being better at collaboration is one of the soft skills that can elevate us as leaders. For more on this topic, read our post on Creating T-Shaped Professionals.

Make Mistakes

If we aren’t making mistakes, then we likely aren’t taking initiative or trying new things, which is a mistake itself. Letting employees make mistakes and solve problems themselves helps them learn how to be better at their jobs and develop a greater sense of responsibility for their work. As Georgetown student Nancy Belmont explored in her nationally acclaimed project, The Courage Wall, fear can hold us back from bigger, bolder ideas.


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