To Lead is to Serve…Characteristics of a Servant Leader – Part 2

Welcome to the third blog in our Servant Leadership blog series, To Lead is To Serve! The first two blogs in this series can be found here and here.
What do servant leaders do differently? What makes servant leaders unique? Based on the profound writings of Robert Greenleaf, Larry Spears developed a list of ten characteristics of servant leaders: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of others, and building community.
Today we will explore the first two characteristics: listening and empathy, which go hand in hand.
1. Listening
As a servant leader, you are a good listener. All leaders are called to be effective communicators with strong decision-making skills. However, not all leaders listen well. In fact, many create the illusion of listening without hearing a word that is said. What sets you apart as a servant leader is a deep commitment to listening with an open mind and heart to what is being said. As a servant leader, you also have a keen ability to “hear” what is not being said because you become deeply engaged in conversation and pay careful attention to body language and other nonverbal cues.
Servant leaders are not only skilled at listening to others; you also listen to yourself. You make time for personal reflection often in order to facilitate growth and lifelong learning.
2. Empathy
You strive to understand and empathize with others. Empathy is defined as the ability to identify with the feelings of others. As a servant leader, you consider it important to “walk a mile in another person’s shoes” so that you can fully appreciate what they are experiencing. According to Steve Hein (, “the ability to empathize is directly dependent on your ability to feel your own feelings and identify them.” Again, this showcases the need for self-reflection so that you can acknowledge, identify, and accept your own feelings.
You know all too well that people do not always articulate their feelings well. Thus, servant leaders must ask the right questions, observe behavior, and sometimes read between the lines in order to come to an understanding of another’s feelings. Your empathy comes alive when you are aware of the person’s feelings, you acknowledge them, and you actively listen to what is spoken and unspoken.
Haim Ginott once said, “It takes time and wisdom to realize that the personal parallels the universal and what pains one man pains mankind.” Ultimately, servant leaders know that we are all connected; you take that human connection seriously and seek to show empathy rather than cynicism.
Reflection Questions:
  • In what circumstances do you struggle to be an effective listener?
  • How do you minimize distractions so that you can listen and hear all that is being said (and not said) by those with whom you interact on a daily basis?
  • How often do you spend time in quiet reflection to listen to yourself?
  • In what ways do you show empathy for others?
  • When have you struggled to understand and empathize with someone?
Stay tuned for the remaining blogs in our “To Lead is To Serve” series, where we will explore the remaining eight characteristics of servant leaders. Have a great weekend!

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