How Servant Leadership Can Transform Your School District From The Inside Out

How do you lead educators, students and administrators in today’s challenging environment? Does your leadership style help people to grow and become more autonomous?

Of all the different leadership styles, the servant leader is the one that is most likely to achieve this goal. Let’s take a deeper look at this remarkable leadership style.

As the term implies, a servant leader leads by serving others. Servant leaders place the interests and needs of their followers ahead of their own self-interests and needs. These leaders place a high value on the development of their team, work to build a community where members share power.

Professor of human resource management at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, Dr. Dirk van DierenDonck, says his research has found that the best leaders have six key servant leadership characteristics:

Empowering and developing people

This is about allowing everybody to take responsibility for their own actions. The leader recognizes the abilities and talents of those he leads and encourages them to run with it. The idea is to encourage the personal growth of everyone in the team.


With this basic attitude, the leader acknowledges that he/she doesn’t know everything, that employees also have valuable knowledge and experience to contribute.

According to Dr. Robert Hogan, founder and president of Hogan Assessments, research shows that humility predicts effective leadership. Humility is associated with minimizing status differences, listening to subordinates, soliciting input, admitting mistakes and being willing to change course when a plan seems not to work.


People trust authenticity and they instinctively reject fake behavior. A leader will be seen as authentic if he acts with integrity, follows through on undertakings, and shows consistency in his behavior. The leader must show that she is being true to herself and must encourage her followers to be true to themselves as well.

Interpersonal acceptance

A great leader has the ability to accept others and relate to their feelings and what motivates them. This is also a leadership culture in which empathy and forgiveness are practiced as it is understood that people can and do make mistakes. In spite of that, their behavior must not prevent them from being developed. By accepting everyone in the school, from the janitor, to every teacher and student for their unique perspectives, the leader lets each individual feel that they matter.

Providing direction

This is what leadership is about – providing direction. Everyone should know what is expected from them, what their particular goals are. Ideally, the servant leader will succeed in creating the kind of environment where participation is experienced as meaningful.

Dierendonck explains it like this: “To provide direction, the servant leader must make work dynamic and have it tailored to the abilities and needs of employees.”


Dierendonck sees stewardship as the willingness to take responsibility for the larger institution and to focus on service instead of control and self-interest. A servant leader sets an example for others to follow, and model how to act in the common interest.

This style of leadership is not easy. Those who have tried it, say it’s a difficult leadership style to follow, but it’s one that can transform an institution from the inside-out

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