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Servant leadership is an approach to leadership development, coined and defined by Robert Greenleaf and advanced by several authors such as Stephen Covey, Peter Block, Peter Senge, Max De Pree, Margaret Wheatley, Ken Blanchard, and others. Servant-leadership emphasizes the leader's role as steward of the resources (human, financial and otherwise) provided by the organization. It encourages leaders to serve others while staying focused on achieving results in line with the organization's values and integrity.

The modern concept of Servant Leadership started with Robert Greenleaf, who published his essay, "The Servant as Leader" in 1970. This lead to further essays from Greenleaf, and further works from others, especially in recent years. However, the concept is thousands of years older than this and stems, at least partly, from Jesus' teachings on leadership. He sought to teach his disciples that in order to be first they must "wash each other's feet" (Jn. 13:14). In other words, they must seek to serve each other in order to be true leaders. And again, Jesus said that "many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first" (Matt. 19:30). meaning that true leadership, according to Jesus, was leadership based in servanthood.

It differs from other leadership approaches by eschewing the common top-down hierarchical style, and instead emphasizing collaboration, trust, empathy, and the ethical use of power. At heart, the individual is a servant first, making the conscious decision to lead; his drive is to lead because he wants to serve better, not because he desires increased power. The objective is to enhance the growth of individuals in the organization and increase teamwork and personal involvement.

Critics might dismiss Servant leadership as "yet another fad to line consultants' pockets", but its proponents counter that the ideals underlying it are timeless (witness its description in chapter 17 of the Tao Te Ching, ca. 6th century BCE), and the concept of Servant Leadership has been in development for over 40 years with involvement from AT&T and Harvard Business School.

Several companies have based or incorporated servant leadership into their corporate culture, including Herman Miller, Toro Company, Southwest Airlines, TDIndustries, Starbucks Coffee, Men's Warehouse, ServiceMaster, and others.

T.M.I.: The Episcopal School of Texas uses "educating Servant Leaders...." as a slogan.

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