Project Management

The Servant Leadership Way: Virtues that bring Results

From the Servant Leadership: Serve to Be Great Blog
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This blog is about leadership as it applies to projects and project management, but also as it applies to society in general. The bloggers here manage projects and lead teams in both business and volunteer environments, and are all graduates of PMI's Leadership Institute Master Class. We hope to bring insight into the challenges we all experience in our projects and in our day-to-day work, providing helpful tidbits to inspire you to take action to improve—whether in your personal life, your business/work life or on your projects. Read, comment and share your experiences as we share ours. Let’s make the pie bigger! Grab a slice!

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Categories: servant leadership

Servant Leadership is not a leadership style; it is a way of life, with genuine and generous heart and strong commitment to the humility that puts the benefit of others before self.

Sharing with you Fortune’s The World’s most Admired Companies to start our conversation today. The oxymoron term of Servant Leadership has become better known because of the internationally recognized and respected success of the mega companies such as Starbucks (ranked 3rd in 2017, 5th in 2014) and Southwest Airlines (ranked #8 in 2017, #9 in 2014). Both deliver business excellence through the culture of trust and compassion.

Many people must think that Servant Leadership only works well in small teams or small organizations, such as the Scrum Master role in the software Agile development projects. However, size really doesn’t matter. Servant leadership is a way of creating human connections of virtuous cycles and building communities that outperform, as is the case with the examples above.

The path of finding or being a person with passion and passionately committed to a cause is not an easy one nor is it straightforward. For individuals, it is important to start from becoming self-aware, recognizing one’s strength or weakness and using that to benefit others without saying it (being humble). We are shaped by our experiences as a result of our actions. So, keep going!


Imagine if we continue to practice Servant Leadership from the heart with discipline, the virtues will expand and become a multiplier for the domino effect of the universe. Imagine the world operating in resonance with much success!

Everyone can be a leader with influence. A servant leader communicates well to inspire openness and trust. A servant leader cultivates a great emotional quotient to support others and help them thrive in doing and finding meaning and purpose in life while jointly advancing corporate goals. I think a good daily measure is  to examine how much time you spend polishing and re-polishing to show your manager's position and control vs. working on improving the content to further develop ideas and execute to bring great results as a team.

Are you an entrepreneur who already embraced it and leading by example? If you have an opportunity to seek your company’s executive support for the servant leadership, what would be your "ask"? What will be an effective way to shift the corporate culture paradigm?

Posted by Suzan Cho on: January 10, 2018 11:46 PM | Permalink

Comments (17)

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Suzan, I like ur idea and post about the servant leader and agree it works in small and large teams.

I agree this works with almost any institution, except perhaps for the military.

Thank you, Suzan. It is a way of thinking and how some see things around them, to remain open, optimistic, and empowered to build up those around them and to motivate them to do the same. It can take time, but then it can become contagious and begin to spread throughout the organization, large or small.

Thank you Suzan for a wonderful article.

@ Sante, I would disagree here that military doesn't have servant leaders. In fact military can not operate if they don't have servant leaders. It is embedded in the military values of selfless service and that means putting others first. In managing a project in an organization role of servant leader may be limited to an individual's work life and maybe a little more in his personal life too. But for a military leader it encompasses the whole life of his soldier because to train a soldier to fight and serve his nation/ country till his last breath requires much more than just comforting words and few rewards.

Informative article and thanks for sharing.

Hi Najam, let's first look at the Servant Leader:

"As a servant leader, you are a servant first focuing on the needs of others, especially team members, before you consider your own. You acknowledge other people's perspectives, give them the support they need to meet their work and personal goals, involve them in decisions where appropriate, and build a sense of community within your team. Servant leadership is not a leadership style or technique as such. Rather it's a way of behaving that you adopt over the longer term. It complements democratic leadership styles...which is where leaders demonstrate humility in the way they work."


A military commander is anything but democratic, does not acknowledge a subordinate's perspectives, does not involve them in decision making, and certainly does not display humility. If anything they are the complete opposite, and dictatorial.

Dear All, really appreciate your taking time and the feedback!

@Sante, I have to say that I agree with Najam whole-heartedly. Servant Leadership actually comes up often when it come to veterans and military discussions. Let's not mistaken management style/approach with leadership. Veterans/Military serve their brethren and country next to no one (salute!). I will also share that veterans are among the top-ranked project managers because of their training - a natural fit.

Sharing an article:

Suzan, I applaud those in Military service. They certainly make great leaders. We will however have to agree to disagree :-)

Below is another excellent write-up from Penn State that explains military leadership really well:

Military is very structured and strict, but the servant leadership principles and relationships developed with the disciplined approach among the leaders and the followers are admirable. Leaders growing future leaders.

Please read on:

While there are certainly many who believe that servant leadership can be "adapted" to the military as this article suggests, there are also many others who don't; more importantly Generals. Certainly when it comes to the battlefield, I would contest and nearly all Generals would concur that you would need to throw servant-leadership out the windows. For training, discussions, theorizing, and peace-time, it sounds like a good idea, but when it comes to war, the only system that will win is hierarchical chain of command and control structure, where every person knows their jobs, does not question the superior, and blindly follows the leader without negotiation or questioning, provided it's ethical (and even then ethics is often thrown out of the window). This is how military engagements will always be. The danger in the servant leadership model in the military is the "softening up" of battle-ready personnel, that become use to democratic inclusive negotiation pandering. I would be nervous if we were at war and the generals needed to have a team hug and then go around the room and ask how everyone (including the lower ranks) feels about attacking the enemy, and should we have a group vote whether to go in or not. I will concede there are some traits of servant-leadership in the military, but the theory as a whole is not adopted there.


I've always believed that everyone is a leader! You should always strive to do your best. There are all kinds of modes to contribute to the well being of your company.

Thank you

Susan, et al, ‘in my (maybe?) humble opinion’, “Servant Leadership” has become a buzzword and maybe a fad. When reflecting on the PM’s roles (plural for emphasis) across the PMI® Process Groups, ‘leadership’ does not apply to all five groups. I’ll draw three parallel scenarios, “A” for Susan, “B” for Sante and “C” for Najam.

During Initiating, the (“A” Sponsor – “B” Concert Promotor – “C” Officer) communicates to the (“A” PM – “B” Symphony Director – “C” Deputized Officer) the authority appropriate to the project / situation.

During Planning, the (“A” PM – “B” Symphony Director – “C” Deputized Officer) leads (servant-leadership role) the (“A” project team – “B” musicians – “C” assigned military personnel) to understand the nature of the (“A” project’s Scope, etc. – “B” Theme of the concert & ticket sales goals, etc. – “C” mission’s KPIs). Following this, the servant leader leads in the development of (“A” PM-Deliverables – “B” Rehearsals – “C” action and contingency plans).

During Executing and Monitoring & Controlling, the (“A” PM – “B” Symphony Director – “C” Deputized Officer) manages by giving (“A” work authorizations – “B” waving arms in the air to pace the music, volume, tone, etc. – “C” orders, as planned or modified by mission conditions).

During Closing, the (“A” PM – “B” Symphony Director – “C” Deputized Officer) servant leader completes (“A” closing contracts, archives, & Lessons Learned – “B” bows and asks the musicians to ‘take a bow’ – “C” records “After Action” report, among other ‘paperwork’).

You will never see a Symphony Director throw the baton on the stage, jump off the podium, grab an instrument out of someone’s hands and start playing someone’s part! Why should a PM do that? The point: servant-leadership constitutes one of several roles assigned to PMs and others “in charge”, including 4-star Generals. ;-) Jim

The article and the discussion are amazing..

Great article and lot of awesome compliments from all! Thanks for sharing!

Dear Suzan
Interesting perspective on the theme: "The Servant Leadership Way: Virtues that bring Results"
Thanks for sharing

Very interesting the virtuous circle:

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