How to Develop the Leadership Skills Servant Leaders Have

By David McCuistion

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

“I don’t care what you know until I know how much you care.”

I’m sure many readers have either heard or read that statement about what employees think of leadership. But do people actually care about what team members say or believe as long as they are doing their job?

Consider the following situation:

You are sitting in your office, deeply engrossed in what you are doing, when one of your employees knocks on your door and asked to speak with you. You can tell that she is visibly distraught as you tell her to come in and sit down, even though you’re thinking, “I’m not sure I want to hear about this,” or “I really don’t have time right now to deal with a problem.”

The employee says, “Mr. Mac, my boyfriend just kicked me out of our apartment, took my keys, and left me with just the clothes on my back and my purse. I have no place to go and don’t know what to do.”

Would you really care? What would you do?

Taking Time to Care

I asked some clarifying questions that revealed no immediate solution. I called another employee whom I knew would provide some help. I also researched some legal assistance for her and gave her directions about who to call. The next day, I followed up with her to see how it was going, telling her to keep me appraised of her situation, which she did.

I cared. All I really did was make a few telephone calls. However, because I cared enough to follow up, I felt good about my actions, and the young lady never forgot. She became a strong leader in her unit and exhibits caring leadership to those she serves.

Servant Leaders take the time to care! Servant Leaders are empathetic, compassionate, and caring. Their first interest is the welfare of those under their charge. Greenleaf says, “Servant Leadership is a calling” to those who desire to make a difference in the lives of those whom they lead. The motivation for making a difference provides an intrinsic reward that Greenleaf calls a “healing” for the leader as well as the leader.

Intrinsic Values

Greenleaf tells the story of twelve ministers and theologians of all faiths and twelve psychiatrists of all faiths that convened for a two-day informal seminar on healing. The Chairman asked, “What is our motivation for what we do in our business?” Following a period of intense discussion that took a whopping ten minutes, they all came to the same conclusion:

“For our own healing.”

These were doctors and ministers, Catholics, Jews, and Protestants, professing that healing — to make whole — was the base reason they did what they did.

What this says for the leader, especially for a Servant Leader, is that the intrinsic reward of helping others to heal is the foundational value for what they do as serving professionals. This sense of healing motivates leaders the help others, enabling them to grow personally and professionally to levels they themselves might not achieve on their own.

Make a Difference

From personal experience, I can tell you that it is a humbling feeling when others tell you that what you did for them made a difference in their lives and that it will never be forgotten.

One such incident in particular that I always remember happened when I was being transferred from the USS New Orleans in San Diego. Traditionally, there is a ship-wide announcement when someone is being transferred, never to return. A young sailor came running across the Hanger Deck, yelling my name. I stopped and listened as he told me how much he appreciated me setting him straight one day and that he would never forget it.

So how does a leader create and build the kind of relationships that motivate others to exhibit like behavior at some future time? How does one know if they truly have a “calling” to serve others in their leadership role?

Leadership Practices

The following is a partial listing of leadership practices taken from various sources on the subject of healing and caring about others in Servant Leadership. Leaders need to ask themselves about their leadership practices: “Do I…..”

  • Exhibit a willingness to sacrifice my own self-interest for the good of others.
  • Build relationships to understand what is happening in the lives of others and how it affects them and their performance.
  • Maintain an openness to allow others to come to me when the chips are down due to trauma in their lives.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to helping others develop and grow.
  • Allow inclusiveness in the change process and consider how it affects their performance and productivity.
  • Demonstrate a humble attitude that says, “It’s not about me; it’s about others.”
  • Listen, counsel, and mentor with a “caring, heart-felt, and empathetic” attitude that says, “I care and want to help you grow and overcome.”

Caring and Compassion

The process of leading with empathy, caring with compassion, and mentoring with deep-seated concern for the well-being of others provides an emotional sense of comfort and fulfillment — not only to the leader but, more importantly, to the leader.

I am reminded of a quote by a famed Indianapolis Colts football coach, who, in his book The Mentor Leader, asks, “Whose feet in the organization will you wash?”

The questions every leader must ask themselves and then reflect upon:

  • “Do I truly care about those under my charge?
  • Am I committed to their growth personally as well as in the organization?
  • Do I lead from the heart when it comes to listening to and empathizing with others during periods of stress that affect their performance and productivity?”

How Do You Develop Servant Leaders?

If you have ideas about how to develop the leadership skills of servant leaders, needs that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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David McCuistion
David McCuistion
David is a retired Naval Officer with extensive leadership and management experience including Officer-in-Charge of a major communication facility, in secondary education teaching leadership, and over five years public speaking on Servant Leadership and organizational development topics.
  • Thank you for educating me and laying a foundation for me to start. Recently i was made the Youth leader of my church and your write will go a long way in guiding my steps as i take up this task.

    Thank you and Godbless

  • David McCuistion says:

    Thank you Kenneth for your comment. I am glad you can use the information in your new position.

    Please contact me at my email: if I can assist in any other ways.

    I would like more information on your church and its location. I have other leadership information you can use.

  • Ernie Pettengill says:

    Brilliant read. Thank you for sharing the qualities of servant leadership, the golden rule prevails.

  • David McCuistion says:

    Thank you Ernie. Appreciate the comment. You are spot-on about the Golden Rule – I believe in it and practice it daily.

    As some would say with something is good — Servant Leadership Rocks!

  • Christian Spoerl says:

    Very good article. Investing in people is your company’s greatest asset. If your employees respect and trust you, they will go the extra mile.

  • David McCuistion says:

    For sure Christian. And if you go the second mile also, they will follow you forever.

    Thanks for your comment.

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