Servant Leadership in Nursing

servant leadership jesus

Servant Leadership is not a new concept. It has been around a while now. While many companies try to emulate it, few succeed. Robert K Greenleaf in 1970 coined the phrase in his essay The Servant as Leader.

“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.” –

I believe this is an important concept for Nurse Leaders. Many times I think we tend to go to the extremes. I have said it here before “not all Nurses naturally make great managers.” Nursing in itself is about service to others. It’s showing compassion and caring to those in need and those in pain and doing everything in our power to bring relief and promote healing.

In the first extreme, we focus so much on serving others it’s difficult to take a step back look at the big picture or the long-term goals. These nurses find it difficult to make tough choices and manage personnel.

In the second extreme, we focus on being a “boss” and forget to step into the much and get our hands dirty. These leaders often find themselves caught up in power trips, always fighting to get ahead and prove their worth.

“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived? “

Finding the balance I believe is important. To be a servant leader, you must put others first and build up your team. In doing so, you will also build yourself up, not an easy task in corporations who don’t value the employees.

“However, servant leadership is problematic in hierarchical, autocratic cultures where managers and leaders are expected to make all the decisions. Here, servant leaders may struggle to earn respect”

I get it. I work for a large corporation who values the servant leadership model, but that has not always been the case. As a nurse, you will find many varying degrees of leadership styles. However, what I have found is sometimes the companies that don’t value this type of leadership are the ones that need it the most.

When looking at leadership models for many years, a pyramid has been used to describe the hierarchy and reporting structure.

Servant Leadership Wrong Pyramid model
Copyright: koya79 / 123RF Stock Photo

Now many companies are making the switch to turn this pyramid on its head. In this way, the focus is to support those supporting the customer and improve employee satisfaction and retention.

Three quick tips to becoming a better servant leader.

Listen to your team.

I often think of a servant leader as a moderator. When someone has an opinion, a servant leader will listen. If the opinion is right and has credence, they will be humble enough to accept it and move forward. If the opinion is missing the mark, they will take the time to mold the thought process and help teach the person why it doesn’t work, instead of shutting them down.

Every moment is a teachable moment for the servant leader.

Every servant leader must teach and be able to learn. Don’t let mistakes go unnoticed. It doesn’t matter if the mistake was made by you or someone on your team. This is an opportunity to learn and grow.

Invest in others.

“That means the leader is not always leading, but instead giving up power and deputizing others to lead.” Skip Prichard

If you have never read the book The Dream Manager I highly recommend it. In this book, Matthew Kelly and Patrick Lencioni speak about creating an environment that invests in the employees and helps them fulfill their dreams, dreams like buying their first house, going back to school, learning a new language and many others.

If you want more tips on being on being a better nurse leader with a servant’s heart follow us on facebook and twitter.


Author: Derek Di Camillo

I have been a nurse since 2010 and come from a variety of fields. CPR Instructor, Customer Service, IT/Technology to name a few. Through my travels I have learned many lessons that have prepared me for leadership roles in the Assisted Living industry. I am constantly seeking to better myself and share what I have learned and am learning along the way.

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