People claim to be servant leaders, but are they? Here are five traits servant leaders share.

I have written before about what it means to be a so-called “transformational leader” and how that helps drive results. But there’s another leadership style, the “servant leader,” that also leads to incredible results. Being a servant leader has become popular lately as it is a highly humanistic approach. The catch is that while many people self-identify as servant leaders, they don’t really qualify for the title. So the question becomes: How do you know if someone is a servant leader or not?

It turns out there is a five-question quiz you can take to help you recognize the true servant leaders from the pretenders.

The History of Servant Leadership

The idea of servant leadership dates back to 1970 when it was coined by Robert Greenleaf in his essay The Servant as Leader. Other researchers followed in Greenleaf’s footsteps in the decades that followed and built on his research. The Greenleaf Center continues promoting and researching servant leadership to this day. One of the products of that research was the identification of five critical factors that all servant leaders share–and where other leaders fall short.

So if you want to find out if you match the criteria of a servant leader, ask yourself if you match up with the following five criteria.

1. Moral Love

What we mean by moral love is if you have a deep caring for your employees. Do you feel their pain? Do you celebrate the same kind of joy with them? Do you love them the same way you might love a friend? The point is that servant leaders care very deeply for their employees. This concept was promoted in Radical Candor by Kim Scott. It’s easy to contrast this vision with the stereotypical Hollywood CEO who cares only about profits over people.

2. Humility

A humble person doesn’t need to act like a doormat. This is about someone who can keep their ego in check and not get in the way of using data and facts to make decisions. When the organization has success, it’s also not a credit solely to the leader–it’s about sharing the success with the entire team. I have written about the difference between confidence and arrogance before, and humility is the key differentiator.

3. Altruism

Servant leaders are givers and they put the needs of others before their own needs. There’s a phrase from the military that says, “Leaders eat last.” Servant leaders prioritize their people as well as the needs of the people in the communities in which they operate. They’re also willing to share the rewards, perhaps through generous donations inside the community or by sharing a generous portion of the company’s profits as a bonus with the employees. One firm I worked with had the employees donate 10 percent of company profits to charities they thought were important every year.

4. Vision

A servant leader has a clear vision of the future and where the organization is headed. They are also able to get everyone inside the organization aligned with that same direction. They communicate an exciting and powerful vision that makes people want to participate and make it happen. That’s how they can help ensure that everyone reaches the same destination, together.

5. Trust

Servant leaders are deeply trusted by others inside the organization. They have a strong moral and ethical compass. They will never violate ethical standards with the goal of simply increasing performance. People trust that when a servant leader says something, their word becomes their bond.

How did you score? How would you score if your team rated you?

Servant leadership is a powerful concept, and it generates results. But it’s not an approach that works for everyone. It’s hard to be consistent, for instance, on all five of these characteristics. But for those of you who can embrace these five aspects and remain comfortable in your own skin, you will find people who are ready to follow you into the future, and find success along the way.

Jim Schleckser

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