To Serve or not To Serve – Transformational Leadership

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Servant leadership is not a new concept, the phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.” Wise words and words that are been adopted more and more as organisational look at positioning project leadership. The conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The idea of servant leadership is to serve those and allow them to lead. So why don’t we do this more and serve those that we lead rather than manage those that we lead? There are a few factors that we, as project practitioners, need to take on board to make this a reality

Become a transformational leader

Rather than act in a certain way in order to gain the trust and avoid the pitfalls of human nature, why don’t we tap into the needs and values of people and inspire them with new possibilities that raises confidence, conviction and desire to achieve a common, moral, motivating purpose. This is commonly referred to as a ‘transformational leader’ and is an core element of servant leadership

Is this a risky method of leadership … of course it is but the value and result is one of empowerment rather than management. Is this worth doing? That question is answered based on the 3 characteristics of leadership:

  • Will your Work Environment support an more importantly sustain the transformational leadership ethic?
  • Will the people that you manage and attempt to lead respond positively to transformational leadership?
  • The most important question is YOU. Will you embrace transformational leadership and support its positive qualities?


One of the key objectives for any project manager is to attempt to answer these questions and then focus on the servant leadership and develop these skills to become a leader within projects.

Create the Vision for Others

To be a servant leader, there must be a direction for people to follow. Does lack of vision mean lack of leadership? Is it because we lack vision? The reason is not because we don’t have a vision, it is because the vision not focused on those we lead. The vision needs to be exciting, adapted and most importantly it can be connected with. If not, we become a ‘transactional transformational leader’ in a management world. Yes this is a sentence full of words, but what it means is that we may talk the talk but not walk it.

Servant leaders understand the importance of clarifying and reinforcing the vision for their team because they know that vision is not about them. It is about using an organisation culture and its people and capturing this in a way to make an impact on the lives of others. When servant leaders courageously declare and pursue a vision that can only be accomplished with the organisation help, other people become inspired and motivated to participate in pursuing the vision as well. The vision can be “being an excellent team” or just simply “have fun”.

Make an impact on your project and become that transformational leader you always want to be. But do this within the constraints of what your organisation can allow you to.

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