Greenleaf (1977) coined the term servant as leader out of reading Herman Hesse’s Journey to the East.

In this story, he found a band of men on a mystical journey, probably also Hesse’s own journey. The central figure of the story is Leo who accompanies the party as the servant who does their menial chores, but who also sustains them with his spirit and his song.

To him, the story clearly said that the great leader is seen as servant first, and that simple fact is the key to his greatness.

He suggested that a new morale principle shall emerge which holds that the only authority deserving one’s allegiance is that which is freely and knowing granted by led to the leader in response to, and in proportion to, the clearly evident servant stature of the leader.

Those who choose to follow this principle will not casually accept the authority of existing institutions. Rather they will freely respond only to individuals who are chosen as leaders because they are proven and trusted servant.

The servant leader is servant first and then leader.

It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. He is sharply different from the person who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions.

For such it will be a later choice to serve – after leadership is established. The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.

The natural servant, the person who is servant first, is more likely to persevere and refine his hypothesis on what serves another’s highest priority needs than is the person who is leader first and who later serves out of prompting of conscious or in conformity with normative expectations.

What do you think? Are you servant first or leader first?

Dr. Shital Badshah works as Leadership Coach. He can be reached at or +91 94284 19021. Give us your details, we will get in touch with you soon.

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