Becoming a Servant-Leader

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Over the past few months I’ve been thinking about my leadership style, and after reading an article my husband plucked from his files and gave to me, I’ve figured out I aspire to be a servant-leader. 

Servant leadership was coined by an author and business consultant named Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970. He first began formulating the idea after reading a novel about a mystical journey by a group of people on a spiritual quest. A servant-leader is one whose primary motivation is “a deep desire to help others.” 

Here are 10 characteristics of a servant-leader: 
  1. Listening intently to others. 
  2. Having empathy
  3. Helping oneself and others to heal
  4. Awareness in understanding issues involving ethics and values. 
  5. Using persuasion rather than positional authority when making decisions. 
  6. Balancing conceptualization with a “day-to-day” focused approach. 
  7. Using foresight to understand lessons from the past and realities of the present. 
  8. Practicing stewardship and serving the needs of others. 
  9. Commitment to the growth of people. 
  10. Building community.  
Here are ways I consider myself a servant-leader. I try to be more than an editor to writers I work with. With new writers who are interested in contributing to the magazine, I let them know specifically what we are looking for with a detailed set of departments and article topics our magazine seeks. I created this guide myself when I found out we didn’t have one for the magazine. I try to let each writer know something specific I learned or enjoyed from their articles once they’ve been turned in. I also try to match writers with assignments I know they’ll enjoy working on—and they are appreciative. When they ask me if I have other suggestions of publications they can write for, I send them my ideas, along with market resources I think could be helpful. If I sense someone is unhappy, I get to the root of the issue and try my hardest to help solve the problem, whether asking the publisher to track down a missed payment or finding more money in the freelance budget to increase the pay of longtime writers. When I visit local businesses to take photos or get information for an article, I also try and make a small purchase before I leave (see photo above). I can support our economy that way, create goodwill with our publication and forge positive relationships with business owners. 

Sometimes being a servant-leader can be hard, because it’s a lot to take in and I worry about doing things perfectly and making sure I’m treating others fairly. But I also know it’s worth it to nurture a group of writers so that they can create their best work possible. 

As I was writing this post, it occurred to me that this philosophy is one of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed working with WOW! Everyone I’ve ever worked with here has a giving heart and a true desire to see other writers learn and succeed. Every day we see servant-leader editors and writers lifting one another up in these blog posts and in the comment section. 

 In the article I read, Practicing Servant-Leadership,” by Larry Spears, I found the following quote: 

"Servant-Leadership is providing a framework from which many thousands of known and unknown individuals are helping to improve how we treat those who do the work within our many institutions. Servant-leadership truly offers hope and guidance for a new era in human development, and for the creation of better, more caring institutions.”  

How have you been a servant-leader, or been served by one of these types of leaders? 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and magazine editor who also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. Learn more at


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--The writers that work for you are lucky. My principal is a servant-leader, making her a joy to work for. I've worked for principals who are the opposite (antagonist-leader? "thorn in the side"-leader? terrorist-leader?) so I appreciate working with someone with her skills and compassion.

Leaders who nurture, who care--they get more productivity out of their people, and the resulting work is of higher quality.

Renee--You're a gift no matter where you are. As a leader. As a colleague. As a parent. As a spouse (I imagine ;)

And of course as a Butt-Kicker...

Cathy C. Hall said...

I had not heard that term "Servant Leader" but I've known many and I like to think that is my style as well. It's the "lift as you climb" philosophy and there are many writers who may be in leadership positions (or at higher levels of success) who are willing to help--you just have to reach out!

Thanks, Renee, for being one of 'em!

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Thanks also for this post Renee. When you show that you care about your writers and reach out to them to meet their needs, that helps them show up with their best selves as not only writers but also personally. They are fortunate to have that in you. As for me, I try to empower and uplift others as much as I can and I definitely have had so many servant leaders in my life, especially at WOW.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...


I'm lucky to have worked with several servant leaders. That is definitely the philosophy at WOW with the emphasis on community. And thank you for being part of it!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Renee! I LOVE the term "Servant Leader"! Thank you for sharing that list, too. I'll print it out. I think the literary community is based on this type of leadership. We all are striving for similar goals and want each other to succeed. And at WOW, we are all servant leaders. :) I also adore those tees you purchased to support your local businesses. You're doing an amazing job, Renee!

Renee Roberson said...

Sioux--Thank you for your kind words! I like your description of a terrorist-leader. It made me laugh, but I know what you're talking about. I'm so glad to hear you are now working with someone with a kind heart who understands how to nurture educators.

Cathy--Yes, I have also been blessed along the way to meet some of those "lift as you climb" mentors and I was so appreciative of their wisdom/advice. I can also see you as a servant-leader!

Jeanine--I agree! I get great pleasure out of seeing writers grow and mature in their work and when they send me good pitch, I tell them how good it is and how much I appreciate it! I explain to people who may not be familiar with the magazine industry that an editor is only as good as the stories she is pitched. You can't create a good issue in a vacuum, with no input from others. Thank you for also choosing to empower others!

Sue--I can't think of a more inspiring community full of servant-leaders than WOW!

Ang--Aren't those t-shirts cute? They have some really cool rock band t-shirts that I want to go back and get (have my eye on a Stevie Nicks one). I hesitated about putting together this post because I feel like saying that I'm a servant-leader may come across as a humble brag, which I absolutely did not want to do. But I do think more and more people are gravitating towards this type of leadership style, and I wanted to talk about its roots and how we can all find these types of leaders all around us. Thank you for being the ultimate servant-leader for all of us!

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