Servant Leadership and the HR Leadership Role

Posted By: James Robinette AASPA Blog,

Servant leadership is a key component of educational leadership. Servant leadership is a key component of any type of leadership. It should be in the forefront of everything that a leader does. In the Human Resource realm, if you are not a servant leader, you are a leader. What is the true definition of a servant leader? Where better to go, than the dictionary itself.

Merriam-Webster doesn’t have a specific definition for servant leader. We will need to identify the definitions of both words to see how they work together.  Merriam-Webster defines a servant as a person who performs duties for others; a person who serves. A leader is defined as a person who leads: such as a person who has commanding authority or influence. So if you put those two together, you would have a servant leader as a person who performs duties for others, but also has commanding authority or influence. I am not sure if that is an accurate definition of a servant leader. 

Did you know that servant leadership actually started in the 1970’s? Robert Greenleaf actually had this idea way back in 1971 when he wrote a book called, “The Servant as a Leader”. This was groundbreaking stuff in the seventies. Unfortunately, over fifty years later, it is still groundbreaking to some leaders. 

The field of human resources has the humanistic vibe directly in the title. What could be more humanistic than serving others. Human resource leaders need to be servant leaders to be successful at putting the “human” back into human resources. Let’s take a look at some key components of servant leadership and how they interconnect to human resources. 

  1. Listening: servant leaders need to listen in order to know how to help. Human resource leaders need to be able to listen intently to others by making eye contact, avoiding distractions and asking probing questions. 
  2. Empathizing: servant leaders know how to empathize with others and to understand how others feel. Human resource leaders seek to understand people’s feelings about the situation and assume good intentions from all.

  1. Dedicating Time for Others: servant leaders sometimes, often much of the time, go out of their way to help others and make sure that they make time to do it. Human resource leaders need to actively look for ways to build relationships with others and foster a sense of community by spending time with whoever needs it, whenever they need it. 

  2. Empower Others: servant leaders bring out the best in others. They are the biggest supporters when necessary and the biggest help when needed. Human resource leaders hire capable people and show them the way. They also recognize these people and that we have surrounded ourselves with them for a reason.

  3. Interact with Integrity: servant leaders act with integrity to build trust and positive relationships. Human resource leaders when interacting with integrity will radiate openness and authenticity. Knows that how the outcome is achieved matters as much or more than the outcome.

These are just some of the many interconnections between being a servant leader and a human resource leader. It is definitely not an all encompassing list. 

If we look back at the combined definition of a servant leader, there is a component of commanding authority or influence. As a human resource leader, there needs to be some combination of the list above as well as authority or influence and that is called accountability. You can be a servant leader and hold people accountable. Being an effective servant leader is to actually hold people accountable for their positive and negative actions, but also for their personal development. A key point of servant leadership is lifting others and we become better leaders by doing just that. 

Being a servant leader is probably one of the most rewarding, non-specific job duties there is. When you combine servant leadership and human resource leadership, there isn’t a better job out there.