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Pairing Servant Leadership and Coaching

I have been blessed over the past 6 months to dive deeper into applying servant leadership to my personal and professional life. During the day, I have had the pleasure of building a Servant Leadership development program for my organization. This has been something I have wanted to do for some time - but ultimately, needed the right environment for it to stick. We ran the first session and had the highest engagement of ANY leader development program offered within the organization. Outside of my day job, I have made some amazing coaching connections with the leadership team at GoCoach. These relationships have inspired and energized me to keep spreading the message of servant leadership and how it can provide significant value to leaders and their teams.

One of the key discussions I have been engaged in recently has been around connecting servant leadership to coaching. Some have stated they don't believe they can be connected as servant leadership is an innate and personal method of leadership. Others have said that these two can pair really well as the foundational purpose of servant leadership and coaching are similar. For me, I am aligned with the second group as I believe there are a number of connections that should be considered for those who coach and believe in the power servant leadership can have on those we interact with.

Don DeGrraff, Colin Tilley, and Larry Neal wrote an essay for the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership (Booklet 6) where they discussed servant leadership characteristics in organizational life. According to Larry Spears, servant leadership is an approach that "attempts to simultaneously enhance the personal growth of workers and improve the quality and caring of our many institutions through a combination of teamwork and community, personal involvement in decision-making, and ethical and caring behavior." Coaching, according to the International Coaching Federation, is "partnering with Clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential."

Let's explore this...

  • Servant leadership is intended to help individuals and organizations identify their higher purpose. Providing a relationship with others that challenges, empowers, and fosters curiosity.

  • Coaching is intended to partner with clients to help them realize their maximum potential. A coaching relationship is based on questions designed to support and challenge a client's thinking and action.

  • Servant leadership is not a style of leadership where you 'tell' those in your care and influence what to do; instead, you ask them what they think they should do and you allow them to experience the world around them.

  • Coaching is focused on helping the client define how they want to interact with their map of the world. Coaching operates with the understanding that the client is the expert of their world and that they are fully capable of identifying the best route for their situation.

As a coach, I believe it is my role to live Robert Greenleaf's best test: "The best test [of a servant-leader], and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?"

While some may say servant leadership is an individual desire, I would argue that we are being too narrow in our view if that is all the credit we will give to servant leadership. I strongly believe there are many lessons we can learn from Greenleaf and so many others that came before and after him as to how we can lead those in our care and influence.

There are SO many more points I want to and will make with this pairing of coaching and servant leadership. While I gather those thoughts, I would love to hear from you! What do you think about the pairing of servant leadership and coaching?

Until next time, take care.


Jason is an Executive and Professional coach with SLI Coaching and Consulting. To learn more, visit

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