Servant Leadership: Humility, Service, and Christian Discipleship

October, 2015

Humility and service are two key dimensions of servant leadership. When combined with Christian discipleship, they yield a spiritually potent form of leadership that can yield positive results in businesses and other organizations. This thread will briefly explore these three aspects of leadership in turn.

Humility as a Path to Successful Leadership

Simmons (2012) described servant leadership as “a follower-centric rather than leader-centric philosophy that results in leader behaviors focused on follower development rather than leader glorification” (para. 1). While this description does not explicitly mention humility, the concept is certainly implied. The servant leader avoids dwelling on self, and does not merely do so in order to focus on organizational vision and strategy, but to attend deliberately to the interests of the people that make up the organization. Employees who are treated with fairness, support, and empathy tend to reciprocate “with behaviors that benefit the leader, coworkers, the organization, and the community in which the organization is embedded” (Liden, 2013, p. 699).

Service as a Critical Leadership Trait

The introduction of servant leadership as a formal theory can be traced back nearly half a century to the work of Robert Greenleaf (Liden, 2013). The empirical study of servant leadership has emerged much more recently, with research results tending to confirm the tenets of the theory. According to Simmons (2012), servant leadership appears to breed employees’ trust in a leader, and this ultimately motivates them to achieve excellence by going beyond the minimum expectations laid out for their positions. Similarly, Liden (2013) reported that servant leadership is not only associated with healthy outcomes for individual workers and teams, but also the customers that they serve: “When leaders nurture self-efficacy and self-motivation, employees become more committed to organizational values and become more inclined to ‘go the extra mile’ in serving the organization’s constituents” (p. 701).

Christian Discipleship as the Basis for Leadership

In light of the preceding discussion, it is apparent that servant leadership has the potential to enhance business operations and enable superior organizational performance. This is not to imply that it is an easy path. According to Liden (2013), “it is considerably more difficult to be a servant leader than a ‘traditional’ leader” (p. 700). However, the Christian professional is equipped with both the motivation and means to become an effective servant leader. First, he or she confesses that Jesus accomplished the salvation of the world by living and dying in selfless service to others (Matt. 20:28). Second, he or she is empowered by the Holy Spirit to follow the teaching of the apostles, who clearly advocated for servant leadership (see, for example, 1 Peter 5:1-3).


Liden, R. (2013). Servant leadership. In E. H. Kessler (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Management Theory. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications. Retrieved from

Simmons, B. (2012). New evidence of servant leadership’s efficacy as a managerial approach. In L. Haneberg (Ed.), The ASTD management development handbook: Innovation for today’s manager. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press. Retrieved from

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