Servant Leadership: Probably a way to lead Millennials

The words servant and leader are usually thought of as being opposites. In deliberately bringing those words together in a meaningful way, Robert Greenleaf gave birth to the paradoxical term servant leadership. In the years since then, many of today’s most creative thinkers are writing and speaking about servant leadership as an emerging leadership paradigm for the 21st century.

Servant Leadership was coined by Robert Greenleaf in 1970. He defined Servant Leadership as a recent theory of leadership that argues that the most effective leaders are servants of their people. Servant leaders get results for their organization through whole-hearted attention to their followers and followers’ needs. Unlike many approaches to leadership, which offer suggestions on how top-level leaders can influence and motivate those further down the hierarchy. Servant leadership puts its emphasis on collaboration, trust, empathy, and ethics. The leader should be a servant first, leading from a desire to better serve others and not to attain more power. The assumption is that if leaders focus on the needs and desires of followers, followers will mostly reciprocate through increased teamwork, deeper engagement, and better performance.

As world is progressing into rapidly changing environment in terms of Millennials joining workforce and disruption in many traditional forms of businesses, there is an absolute need for re-look at the leadership strategy for many businesses and organizations. Servant leadership could be one of the ways to go forward in leading Millennials in your organisations.

Recent research from various organisations and thought leaders have penned down “Ten Characteristics of a Servant Leader”. After going through numerous research papers, blogs and observing lots of leaders in my professional and personal life. I feel these few traits are essential to the emerging thoughts on leadership for 21st Century. I have mapped each these quality to the way current Strawberry Generation or Millennials might understand and assimilate.

The few characteristics are following:


Listening What it means?

Leaders have traditionally been valued for their communication and decision-making skills. Although these are also important skills for the servant leader, they need to be reinforced by a deep commitment to listening intently to others.

He or she listens receptively to what is being said and unsaid. Listening also encompasses hearing one’s own inner voice. Listening, coupled with periods of reflection, is essential to the growth and well-being of the servant leader.

What it means for Millennials?

We all have been in numerous situations where younger generation has complained to their peers and elders about “Not Listening” to them. This not only creates discord in relationships but also levels of commitment one may have in those relationships. This is equally valid for personal and professional space. With current, all of us experiencing increase in divorce rates, increased attritions in teams, increased discord between departments of organisation.

Listening is a skill we all can develop be it Experienced generation or Strawberry generation. And come to a common ground of understanding and co-existing with each other ideas and experiences.


Empathy What it means?

The servant leader strives to understand and empathize with others. People need to be accepted and recognized for their special and unique spirits. One assumes the good intentions of co-workers and colleagues and does not reject them as people, even when one may be forced to refuse to accept certain behaviors or performance. The most successful servant leaders are those who have become skilled empathetic listeners

What it means for Millennials?

I think, this trait is agnostic to generations. Empathy is something which each and everyone needs to imbibe to be better human beings building better families and communities


Healing What it means?

The servant leader strives to heal the broken relationships. Many people have broken spirits and have suffered from a variety of emotional hurts. Although this is a part of being human, servant leaders recognize that they have an opportunity to help make whole those with whom they come in contact.

What it means for Millennials?

The millennials today have experienced extreme competition and broken relationships very early in their lives. Those experiences have not only made them susceptible but also slightly impersonal or insensitive. Hence, a leader who has a healing aura does help to associate one-self with them more than an autocratic leader.


Awareness What it means?

General awareness, and especially self-awareness, strengthens the servant-leader. Awareness helps one in understanding issues involving ethics, power, and values. It lends itself to being able to view most situations from a more integrated, holistic position.


What it means for Millennials?

Awareness comes with experience and experience comes with exposing oneself to various situations which comes with passage of time, which millennials have not either faced or are too young. As a leader, one should come across who can connect and influence the younger generation and be aware that there are people who might not be aware of many aspects of their own lives.


Persuasion What it means?

The servant leader seeks to convince others, rather than coerce compliance. This element offers one of the clearest distinctions between the traditional authoritarian model and that of servant leadership. The servant leader is effective at building consensus within group.

What it means for Millennials?

Millennials are characterised by the generation who gets bruised easily. Hence, the name Strawberry generation. Persuasion is key in managing this generation. The leaders need to incite the young team members to take charge and deliver the goals, this can only happen if leaders play an influencer role.


Conceptualization What it means?

Servant leaders seek to nurture their abilities to dream great dreams. The ability to look at a problem or an organization from a conceptualizing perspective means that one must think beyond day-to-day realities. The leader who wishes to also be a servant leader must stretch his or her thinking to encompass broader-based conceptual thinking

What it means for Millennials?

For Millennials, conceptualization helps a lot of young people to achieve and scale successes. This is more relevant in start-up kind of environments, where building the initial team is purely based on a concept or a vision. The leaders who are able to grab attention of younger team members by giving them concepts or a dream and enable people to deliver the dream. This gives satisfaction to oneself of the pride in the achievement. Personally, I had opportunity to interact with global leaders where I have tried to translate their vision into realities. Personally, it has given great amount of satisfaction.


Growth of People What it means?

Servant leaders believe that people have an intrinsic value beyond their tangible contributions as workers. As such, the servant leader is deeply committed to the growth of everyone within his or her organization. The servant leader recognizes the tremendous responsibility to do everything in his or her power to nurture the personal and professional growth of employees and colleagues

What it means for Millennials?

Back in the olden days, people used to commit to an organisation for an entire lifetime. The underlying reason for that was less options available in the market and later it became the comfort zone for them. However, in today’s world there are various avenues where one could engage, earn and evolve as professionals. Hence, Leaders needs to realise the fact that growth of the leader is supremely dependent on the growth of the team.


These characteristics of servant leadership are by no means exhaustive. However, they do serve to communicate the power and promise that this concept offers to those who are open to its invitation and challenge.

Interest in the meaning and practice of servant leadership continues to grow. As more and more organizations and people have sought to put servant leadership into practice, which will eventually breed commitment, enjoyment and performance in individuals to deliver bigger agendas and bigger goals.

Servant leadership characteristics often occur naturally within many individuals; and, like many natural tendencies, they can be enhanced through learning and practice. Servant leadership offers great hope for the future in creating better, more caring, institutions for more Millennials to happily work in them.


Nihit Mohan


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Who is Nihit Mohan?

Nihit Mohan is a banker, author and a TEDx speaker. He was born & raised in the cradle of cultural diversity of India, & currently resides in Singapore. He did his education from seven schools spread across multiple cities & cultures. He is an engineer by education & has made a successful career in the financial services industry. He hails from a family of engineers, bureaucrats & academicians.

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