Police as Servant Leaders


Robert Greenleaf was a major influence on my leadership style. He was partly responsible for the creation of my Twelve Principles of Quality Leadership in the 1980s.

I wrote the following in Arrested Development:

“Robert Greenleaf. Greenleaf first used the term servant leadership in 1970:[1]

The servant-leader is servant first… That person is sharply different from one who is leader first… The leader- first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends…[2]

 “According to Greenleaf, servant leadership is primarily having a focus on others, not oneself. It is that focus on others that makes a talented leader. The preeminent leadership test, Greenleaf noted, is for leaders to be able to ask themselves three questions:

  • Do those under my leadership grow as persons?
  • Do they become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servant leaders?
  • What is the overall effect of my leadership on those who are under-privileged and will they benefit by my leadership or not?

“These three questions can, of course, be used to evaluate our leaders—but first they should be used to evaluate our own leadership style. Most all of us will, one time or another, be put into some kind of leadership position where others will be dependent upon our direction. This may be in our home, work, or in a volunteer community group.

“According to Greenleaf there are also two other serious maladies that confront our society: widespread alienation and the inability or unwillingness of persons to serve. No two attitudes could be more disastrous to any society than these two—a sense of disconnection and the avoidance of serving others. I sense that even today those two maladies continue to confront our society as our economy and place in the world falters.

“Greenleaf also foresaw the chief institutional problem of most of our public and private organizations, too high a priority on telling others and too low a priority on doing.

“I came to find that these ideas of leadership were not new… An essential aspect of the concept is that people who wish to lead must first serve—that is, they must know what it is like to serve others rather than increasing their own wealth or power. The benefit of servant leadership is that those who receive it experience personal growth as they become involved in the working and decisions of the organization, are listened to, and consulted as to what can be done to improve the work they do.

“Many of today’s management consultants, like Stephen Covey, build on Greenleaf’s concept when they highlight the important characteristics of good leadership. These kinds of leaders:[4]

  • Inspire trust by building relationships.
  • Clarify purpose by creating goals to be achieved.
  • Align systems so that there is no conflict between what they say is important and what results they measure.
  • Able to unleash talent in other people.
  • The world is vastly different today and ever-changing. If we can develop leaders who can withstand and embrace the changing times by deeply rooting themselves in these principles of great leadership, then we can develop great people, great teams, and great results.”[5]

[1] For more about Robert Greenleaf’s work see http://greenleaf.org. [2] Robert Greenleaf. The Servant as Leader. An essay. 1970. Larry Spears, ed. and R.K. Greenleaf. Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness (25th anniversary edition.). New York: Paulist Press. 2002. [4] http://www.stephencovey.com/blog/?p=6 May 28, 2011; 1124 hrs. [5] Steven Covey. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1992.