The concept of a servant leadership style in business management was first articulated in modern times by mathematician and AT&T management trainer, Robert Greenleaf. Though articulated by Greenleaf for modern business management in 1970 in his essay "The Servant as Leader," the idea of a servant leader is an ancient one, with the earliest recorded roots in the thinking of the Indian and Chinese leaders Chanakya and Lao-Tzu. Jesus of Nazareth followed later in expressing the same concept of the servant-leader, a concept powerfully illustrated in the New Testament in Mark 10.
The power of servant leadership is that it is focused on caring about and attending to the needs of employees as much as on executing the goals and needs of the business. Greenleaf described this concept of mutuality by saying: "The organization exists for the person as much as the person exists for the organization." With this understanding of the servant leadership style, the ten characteristics of a servant-leader, as identified by Larry Spears, can be applied to management variables to predict positive impacts.
The ten characteristics Spears extracted from the writings of Greenleaf are:
listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of others, and building community. (Larry Spears, "Character and Servant Leadership: Ten Characteristics")
Managers behavior towards subordinates: The positive impact of servant leadership on managerial behavior will, ideally, be that managers act with understanding and compassion, listening with empathy, resolving negative issues with even-handed interventions instead of retributive or punitive interventions; and certainly all managerial interactions with subordinates will reflect respect for the other's dignity and humanity (which will be reciprocated by the subordinate to the manager because of the absence of intimidation or careless disregard of human or personal needs).
Communication: Communication will be a fruitful exercise in listening to a genuine exchange of ideas, opinions, concerns, goals and objectives with a mutual aim expressed and sought after for the positive impact of the advancement of the business (which provides employment, inspiration and opportunity) through the development and growth of all parties communicating.
Motivating subordinates: A combination of employee aspirations plus persuasive goals and aims for the business, the department and the individual employee, serves as the optimal motivational factors when augmented by foresight and by caring stewardship of resources and relationships. The positive impact of motivation stemming from servant leadership is that individuals and the company mutually reach goals and achieve aspirations.
Group and team behavior and culture: Group and team behavior are integrally related to the company culture. The best of collaborative cooperation derives from servant leadership because respect and caring through empathetic understanding and insightful listening provides the positive impact of efficiently, creatively and effectively run and completed projects. These dynamics are the result of a culture of acceptance, tolerance, patience, forgiveness (who doesn't make mistakes or where are there not personal conflicts?), respect and acknowledgement of human dignity that derive from a servant leadership style.
Decision making: When company culture, group and team behavior, goal and project dynamics, motivation and communication are optimally operating under the insightful, intuitive care of a servant-leader, then decision making can develop more efficiently and effectively because not distracted or disturbed by miscommunication, contentiousness, self-serving rivalry, under-appreciation, disrespect, hostility or disregard. Decision making can proceed along ethical lines that are defined by a servant culture and that, ideally, envision an expansion of the company culture to encompass the larger consumer culture affected by the company.