Servant Leadership in Business: Ruling by Serving

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "First Things First" by Stephen R. Covey. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is servant leadership? What is the role of servant leadership in business?

Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy in which the leader’s main focus is on the growth and well-being of his subordinates. Leaders who employ servant leadership in business operations of their organization put employees’ interests before those of the company.

Read more to understand the philosophy of servant leadership in business.

Servant Leadership in Business

“Servant leadership” in business is the idea that you lead best by serving your subordinates. This only works if the four conditions for empowerment, detailed in “Creating Empowering Environments,” are in place. You can’t let go of control if doing so leads to chaos. But once you’ve created a high-trust environment, you should spend your time engaging in Quadrant II activities like creating a shared vision, building relationships with your staff, getting feedback, and mentoring others. Your goal is to help others develop the skills and knowledge to take initiative and work independently. In the long run, this is much more effective and much better for the company than telling employees what to do or doing things for them.

For many leaders, giving up control is the hardest part of empowering others.

Instead of telling employees what to do, ask them what you can do to help them achieve the desired results. Instead of giving instructions, make suggestions. Ask, “Have you considered X?” Don’t solve problems that employees can solve themselves — when someone has a problem, ask, “What do you recommend?” rather than giving a solution.

If you’re required to give performance reviews, you can give the review form to the employee ahead of time and have her fill it out herself. Then, you can review the form together and discuss your own performance as a manager.


If you’re a parent, consider taking your child to her next parent-teacher conference, allowing her to talk about the assignments and goals and respond to her teacher’s feedback. Ask your child what you and the teacher can do to help her reach her goals. This empowers her, reminding her that her education is her responsibility, not her teacher’s or parent’s.

Servant Leadership in Business: Ruling by Serving

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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