Servant Based Leadership

By Cheryl Viola, Executive Director, MBA

A new year, with new goals. In 2017 Harvard Business Review shared a Gallop poll reporting 70% of the workforce is disengaged. Most people go to work out of obligation, as a means to provide for themselves and or family, but they get little to no joy from their work. Moreover, disengagement costs billions of dollars annually in lost productivity. 

Every business and organization is constantly looking for ways to improve retention and leadership. I recently spoke with a person nearing 25 years with the same company. This person’s leadership experience has been chiefly based on a hierarchy with the boss mentality and lots of micromanaging. They discussed how rare it is to find a leader who is a servant-based leader who truly cares about others before themselves and who strives to mentor and build others up. I shared my first experience with a servant-based leader and how he was a great example and mentored me. Some people in leadership positions as managers or bosses are disengaged and unseen, and others hover and micromanage. Finding a true servant-based leader is a rare privilege. The US Marines Corp exemplifies servant-based leadership.

The basis of Servant-based leadership is prioritizing your team’s needs before your own. In the Marine Corp, officers eat last, and these small actions send the message that the team’s needs come first. They also engage in training opportunities to broaden their skills during their downtime. A servant-based leader gets on the front lines with their teams and demonstrate that they are willing to do any job, care for their team members, and make others feel valued and supported. There is a big difference between service-based leadership and leaders that try to persuade employees by flaunting the perks and benefits of the job. Anyone can be a leader; you do not need the job title to be a leader. Every person should strive to improve and grow every day. If you stop and reflect on the skills and the person you were when you first entered the job force, you will see massive growth within yourself. Take a moment to list the skills you have gained since that very first job you had. Now take a moment and ponder what skills you want to achieve or improve.

Servant Leaders excel in soft skills; these are skills like accountability, integrity, communication, and empathy; they are observant of others and their surroundings, understand and invest in the value of the time, and follow-through.  

 It is not the job of the HR department; leaders need to know who their members are.


After being a stay-at-home mom for eleven years, when I re-entered the workforce, I started in banking. One morning, I was visiting with the Branch President; he asked to see my resume at the end of the discussion. I was surprised that he had not taken the time to review my resume as a new hire. I went to HR and asked for my resume to give to the branch president. After reading my resume, he realized that I was overqualified for the job I was doing. Later that day, he came to me and quietly said, “I won’t be keeping you long, will I?” to which I responded, “That depends on you; what can you do to help me grow?” He was a boss, not a leader.

Too many people think that the grass is greener somewhere else, but it is green where you water it. It is up to us to water our growth. We are not born being service-minded. The human instinct is to look after yourself and your needs first. When we develop serving others, we naturally become more aware of those around us. It is a deliberate choice to serve.


Many leaders desire to put their teams first but often feel they lack the time. As leaders, we need to change our mindset; we need to stop saying “I don’t have time,” but we need to be intentional by making your team your top priority. Block out time in your schedule each week for team engagement. Small actions could include discussing what is going on with them, their lives, and their projects. Have an impromptu lunch or coffee with them. Make it more of a routine to leave your office and walk in and among the team areas, the manufacturing floor, the open cubicle area. Engage them in short conversations, help them to feel valued, and that you appreciate them being there.


Servant-based leaders follow through. They do what they say they will do. Do not mistake following through and doing the job for someone. A servant-based leader teaches others how to do the job, enabling and coaching others to succeed. Leaders also need to show unfailing compassion. Then there are times that we need to issue direct challenges. People trust and naturally follow servant-based leaders. It is nearly impossible to say no to servant-based leaders.

I have had the opportunity many times over the decades to serve in volunteer leadership roles. As a young 18-year-old, I held my first leadership role in a women’s organization and learned invaluable lessons about leadership. I learned that minor acts of service could have the most profound impact on others. I learned when others saw me do the lowest of jobs that there more willing to pitch in and help. Being a servant-based leader is ongoing. A true servant-based leader is ready to commit the time for one more. One more question, one more conversation, servant-based leaders help others soar.