How do you know if you are becoming a servant leader? By asking the right questions.

"I Keep Six Honest..."

I keep six honest serving men

(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

Rudyard Kipling

Being a healthy servant leader requires honest self-assessment. I’ve compiled this list of simple but profound questions to help you grow as a servant leader.

Start with answering these big picture questions:

  • Do those I serve grow as persons?
  • Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, and more autonomous?
  • Are those I lead more likely themselves to become servants?
  • Do those who can give me nothing back benefit from my leadership (or at least not feel further deprived)?
  • How well do I exhibit these characteristics?
    • listening  & understanding
  • acceptance & empathy
  • foresight
  • awareness & perception
  • persuasion
  • conceptualization
  • self-healing
  • rebuilding community

At the end of the day, the way forward in any business, challenge, or situation is to have the right empowered people on the team who are willing to serve. Doing this requires SERVANT LEADERSHIP.

Servant Leaders Shape

Servant leaders are the shapers of history and the catalyst of others’ life significance. “Good” history is the story of the leader serving others in a sacrificial manner (Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. et al.). “Bad” history is the story of the leader expecting others to serve the goal regardless of their personal health (Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, et. al.).  In the bad sense, leadership has a long rap sheet--sex scandals and embezzlement, power hungry monsters and the inept bureaucrats. We are having a more difficult time putting faith in our leaders, and trusting them to work with us as we reach shared goals. This is why servant leaders stand out. They are swimming against the current and fighting our natural bent to be self-seeking.

  • If a biography were to be written about me, what would be my most kind, selfless acts towards others? Most cruel, selfish or or disinterested acts?

It Happens In the Little Things

Even the great visionary leaders who provided “I Have a Dream” type inspiring addresses and speeches knew the day-to-day was more important. Speeches make up a very small activity of good servant leadership. The true servant activity centers around one-on-one discussions and in taking care of their team every day. Servant leaders spend the majority of their energy pouring into individuals.

  • Have I exhibited the H.O.P.E. acronym today (Help One Person Everyday)? Who? What? When? Where? How? Why?

State of Mind Questions for the Servant Leader

Robert Greenleaf, originator of the business usage of servant leadership, says becoming a servant leader is more a state of mind than a set of directions. Outward actions without the inward desire to serve are quickly recognized for what they are, attempts to manipulate through false appearances. Your team members will have an innate sense of whether you truly care about their personal wellbeing. They’ll pick up on this by subtle actions.

Here are some questions to ask yourself regarding your state of mind:

  • How conscious am I of a desire or lack of desire to serve others today?
  • What fuels that desire?
  • How well do I listen?
  • Do I blow by others in a rush?
  • Do I put on airs or a pretense of being better than others?
  • Do I seem aloof?

Self-Health Questions for the Servant Leader

But being a servant leader doesn’t mean you become a servile doormat. A good servant leader realizes that if he or she is unhealthy, this unhealthiness will seep into to the team. Self-awareness is key.

Ask yourself these questions on a recurring basis:

  • Is fatigue or sickness shaping my responses to others?
  • Are there external personal factors shaping my response?
  • What are my chief frustrations?
  • How much time have I given to reflecting on the past to help clearly declare the future? Or am I so bombarded with tasks I have failed to take the longer       look forward so needed by a leader?
  • Do I have scheduled down time which I treat as sacred?
  • Do I have a mentor speaking into my life who is himself or herself a servant?
  • What emotional and spiritual life-giving activities do I participate in?

As you maintain your self-health, you will better able to serve your team and constituency.

Decision Questions for the Servant Leader

Decisions don’t happen in a vacuum. Every decision typically affects others. A simple decision in the boardroom can mean derision in the mailroom. In addition, most decisions affect others personally.

Here are the questions to ask yourself when facing a decision:

  • Am I teaching my team members to consider whether any moral or ethical component underlies a decision?
  • What framework do we have in place to determine how to handle an ethical decision?
  • Do I promote the-ends-justify-the-means or people-first perspective? How is this perspective clearly demonstrated to others on the team so they will adopt this people-first mindset?
  • When we come up with a possible solution, have we taken the time to think who does this affect and how? Are we able to bring those affected additional resources in line with the importance of this solution?
  • Are we making this decision because it is simply the easiest and most self-serving or is this truly the best end-game decision for all parties involved?

Team Member Questions for the Servant Leader

Do not be the only one in the room practicing servant-leadership. Expect teammates to display servant-leader qualities. If you’re the only one in your organization or team dedicated to servant leadership, you’re frustrated, frazzled, and ineffective.

 “The most important thing about us is the way we treat each other while we do the work!” –Dan Rockwell

Here are some questions to ask yourself reflecting on your team:

  • If asked, how well would each team member reiterate that statement? How well does each individual’s behavior match that statement?
  • If they are not matching that statement, can they be trained and equipped to shift their mindset?
  • Who do we need to release because they fail to understand this concept?
  • Who do we need to celebrate because they best practice this concept?

Here is a simple question to ask your team:

  • Whom have you served that could give you no practical, tangible benefit in return?
  • Who do we need to celebrate because they best practice this servant leadership?

Take some time this week to reflect on these questions. It will be the most important thing you do all week! If you are truly daring, asking those you lead and peers to answer them with you about you. If you to go to an even deeper level of effectiveness, consider taking the Keller Influence Indicator® for a proven assessment of your influence strengths and deficiencies.

Part Two in our Series on Servant Leadership 


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From regional manager to international executive with quadruple the pay, Karen Keller’s unique blueprint carefully outlined the step-by-step process for creating high-impact influence and let me know when I was being influenced in a way that didn’t serve me.
Lloyd Moore
Global Director Supplier Quality & Development - Lear Corporation – South Carolina