The Grey Chronicles


Understanding Servant Leadership: Good To Great

Robert K. Greenleaf (1977) The Servant as LeaderRobert Greenleaf’ essay, The Servant as Leader (1977) differentiated “servant-first” and “leader-first” leaders. The “servant-first” leader seeks to ensure the needs of others are met, whereas the “leader-first” leader strives for personal power and possessions. Greenleaf clarifies elements of servant leadership in his revised The Servant as Leader (1991) book and subsequently expanded by Larry C. Spears (2000) as the ten characteristics critical to servant leadership. These behavior create the practice of principled leadership, the kind of leadership capable of transcending human misery by enabling creativity to blossom (Culver, 2009).

Parallels have been drawn between transformational leadership and servant leadership. Stone, Russell and Patterson (2004) identify numerous analogous characteristics between the two theories including: influence; vision; trust; respect/credibility; risk-sharing/delegation; integrity; and modeling. They posit that this is because both transformational and servant leadership are attempts to define and explain people-oriented leadership styles. However, they identify one essential element that differentiates the two theories. Stone et al. state that,

“While transformational leaders and servant-leaders both show concern for their followers, the overriding focus of the servant-leader is upon service to followers. The transformational leader has a greater concern for getting followers to engage in and support organizational objectives” (Stone, Russell and Patterson, 2004: 354)

Thus, Stone, Russell and Patterson (2004) conclude that “the focus of the transformational leader is directed toward the organization and building commitment to organizational objectives through empowering followers, while the servant-leader focuses on the service itself.”

The differences between the transformational and servant leadership models have significant implications concerning organizational change management. Tim Lowder (2009) differentiates:

“First, transformational leaders have a stronger focus on intellectual stimulation than servant leaders. Servant leader emphasize developing their followers’ personal potential and facilitating their personal growth whereas, transformational leaders emphasize enhancing employees’ innovation and creativity. This concept is important because it illustrates the servant leader’s focus on individual development and the transformational leader’s focus on organizational development.”

“Second, servant leaders place greater emphasis on behaviors associated with valuing individuals at an emotional level and learning from others.”

“Third, transformational leader are more willing to take risks to attain organizational success and eliminate ineffective processes and systems. The servant leader is willing to take initiative but only in the sense of initial strategic planning, new programs for added efficiency, and ultimate responsibility for the company’s success. The transformational leader’s focus on risk taking as an essential component of leadership is significantly greater than that of the servant leader.”

“Fourth, the servant leader is more will to forsake self-advancement and rewards toward the betterment of followers.” (Lowder, 2009) [Emphasis added.]

Moreover, Lowder (2009) concludes that transformational leadership model is the best alternative for developing followership and dealing with change management in today’s dynamic business environment. The servant leader focuses on overcoming this fear of change by creating shared meaning throughout the organization.

Another similar study by David T. Chin & Wendy A. Smith (2006) initially finds that “dominant theories like transformational and charismatic leadership do not explain the nature of servant leadership as modeled by historical servant leaders, with its central characteristics spirituality,altruism, and servitude although there are some overlapping attributes in the paradigms such as vision and inspiration.”

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’tIn Jim Collins’ book: Good to Great (2001), an empirical research which studied companies categorized as transitioning from good to great companies, identified the first distinguishing factor as Level 5 Leadership. Collins defined the Level 5 leadership for the CEO of the good-to-great companies as personal humility plus professional will. To qualify as a company that moved from good to great, the Collins research team used the following measurable criteria:

“The company’s fifteen-year cumulative stock returns had to be at or below the general stock market, punctuated by a transition point, and then cumulative returns had to be at least three times the market value over the next fifteen years.”

The good-to-great company performance had to be independent of its industry.”

Below is a table comparing the two levels of leadership.

Level 4 vs. Level 5 Leaders

Level 4 vs. Level 5 Leaders

Kathleen Patterson, Timothy A. O. Redmer, and A. Gregory Stone (2003) find:

“Both servant leaders and Level 5 leaders are visionaries, generate high levels of trust, serve as role models, show consideration for others, delegate responsibilities, empower followers, teach, communicate, listen, and influence followers. Certainly, servant leaders and Level 5 leaders are not antithetical—in fact, they may be the same leaders. … Both servant leaders and Level 5 leaders offer the conceptual framework for dynamic leadership. … Servant leaders and Level 5 leaders can bring about real change in organizations. … [B]oth servant leaders and Level 5 leaders offer valid, practical application paradigms for contemporary leadership in all types of organizations and for leaders who are willing to swim against the stream of prevailing thought and practice to move to the next level of performance in their organizations.” [Emphasis added.]


Chin, David T. & Smith, Wendy A. (2006). An Inductive Model of Servant Leadership: The Considered Difference to Transformational and Charismatic Leadership. Working Paper 43/06. Monash, Australia: Monash University, November 2006. back to text.

Collins, Jim (2001). Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t. New York: HarperBusiness, 16 October 2001. pp. 6, 22. back to text.

Culver, Mary (2009). Applying Servant Leadership in Today’s Schools: Why We Can’t Lead Alone. Larchmont, N.Y.: Eye On Education, Inc., 2009. p. 3. back to text.

Frick, Don M. & Spears, Larry C. (1996). On becoming a servant-leader: The private writings of Robert K. Greenleaf. D. M. Frick & L. C. Spears, [eds.]. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1996. 37pp. back to text.

Greenleaf, Robert K. (1977). The servant as leader, Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. Larry C. Spears [ed.]. New York: Paulist Press, 1977. pp. 21—44. 25th Anniversary (Deluxe) Edition (2002).back to text.

Greenleaf, Robert K. (1982). The Servant as Leader. Robert K. Greenleaf Center, June 1982. 37pp. back to text.

Greenleaf, Robert K. (1991). The servant as leader. Revised ed. Indianapolis, Ind.: Robert K. Greenleaf Center, 1991. pp. 9—20.back to text.

Lowder, Tim M. (2009). The Best Leadership Model for Organizational Change Management: Transformational Versus Servant Leadership. Social Science Research Network [SSRN], 14 June 2009. 26pp. back to text: 1 | 2.

Patterson, Kathleen ; Redmer, Timothy A. O. & Stone, A. Gregory (2003). Transformational Leaders to Servant Leaders versus Level 4 Leaders to Level 5 Leaders—The Move from Good to Great. Proceedings of CBFA Annual Conference, October 2003. pp. 18—19. back to text.

Spears, Larry C. (2000). Character and Servant-Leadership: Ten Characteristics of Effective, Caring Leaders, Concepts & Connections. 8: 3. Maryland: National Clearninghouse for Leadership Programs, University of Maryland, 2000. back to text.

Stone, A. Gregory, Russell, R.F., & Patterson, Kathleen (2004). Transformational versus servant leadership: A difference in leader focus, Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 2004. 25:4. pp. 349—361. back to text: 1 | 2.

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 LicenseDisclaimer: The posts herein do not necessarily represent any organization’s positions, strategies or opinions. Read the full version of self-imposed rules for this blog: A New Year; New Rules. Unless otherwise expressly stated, the posts are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
Comments are moderated to keep the discussion relevant and civil. Readers are responsible for their own statements.



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  4. […] Understanding Leadership: Good to Great […]

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  5. […] Read the original here: Understanding Servant Leadership: Good To Great « The Grey Chronicles […]

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