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Servant Leadership: Step Back and Grow Your Influence

22nd June 2015 | Jonathan Passmore

On the publication of the second edition of Leadership Coaching, Association for Coaching series editor Jonathan Passmore reflects on the importance and value of developing others, not just to create benefits for the individual and the organization, but their community.

Servant Leadership: Step Back and Grow Your Influence

The first three themes in Figure 1.1 of team development, stewardship and community building reflect the outward-facing approach of the leader towards stakeholders and employees. The last of these building blocks, stewardship, is the recognition that the chief executive and senior managers are not the organization, but simply hold the organization in trust for future generations.

The next set of four themes, listening, awareness, empathy and persuasion, are the core skills of effective interpersonal behaviour. Listening is often an underused skill. Leaders in Western culture, as contrasted with Japan for example, are more used to expressing their opinions in the hope of influencing the debate. Like many of us, leaders when listening can be just waiting for their turn to talk.


Real listening involves not just hearing the words but paying attention to body language, including changes in breathing, skin colouration and body animation. It also involves aiming to listen beyond the words into the context of what the speaker really means.


Leaders also benefit from awareness both of others and themselves. This may draw on awareness of their personality, their preferences, their changing emotions and a recognition that others are different. Managers are often conscious of days when they feel sad or happy, and this, along with other factors, can be managed as part of their interactions with others.

The two elements described above lead towards the third element in this set: empathy. This is the ability to understand the world of others ‘as if it were our own.’ Empathy can be easy for those we are close to or relate to, but we can take effort when we do not know someone or when we recognize wide differences between them and us.

The last element is the skill of being able to persuade. Servant leaders need to be able to listen, empathize and maintain personal awareness, and these skills can be used to influence others. Empathy contrasts with a more directive or commanding style, which instructs and gives out orders. In this element the servant leaders is seeking to gain the commitment of others, through reflecting back their values, concerns and views in the communication to produce a win-win outcome. This may come, for example, through consulting staff and including their views in decisions, and linking back to staff feedback when communicating these decisions.

The final set of three- foresight, vision and transformation- is about longer-term relationships. Leaders need to be able to scan into the environment, make sense of the mass of information and translate this into useful information for their teams. They need to hold to a clear vision about where they and the organization are going, and most importantly communicate this in a language that staff can understand.

Finally they need to be able to bring about transformational change, responding to the environment and taking their vision forward.

This article is based on the foreword to the new edition of Leadership Coaching: Working with Leaders to Develop Elite Performance, edited by Jonathan Passmore. Leadership Coaching is endorsed by the Association for Coaching. You can order Leadership Coaching at a 25% discount when you enter the code LEADCO25 at checkout on www.koganpage.com.

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