Six Levels of Servant Leadership

As a leader, what do you consider your purpose? What guides you to make the decisions that you choose? One style of leadership is servant leadership; servant leadership is characterized by achieving results by putting attention on those who you serve first. But who do you serve?

In Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge article, Modesto Maidique, Professor of Management and executive director of the Center for Leadership at Florida International University, provides a neat framework for thinking about leadership—with a hierarchy based on who you serve.

He defines six levels:

Level 1: Sociopath

The Sociopath serves nobody; not himself, not his team, not his customers, and not his organization. They create destruction and have no guilt or remorse for their actions. Thankfully, they are less than one percent of our population, but unfortunately, they do exist in our business world.

Level 2: Opportunist

The Opportunist serves himself. He or she is selfish, and is driven primarily by increasing their own wealth and power. The Opportunist helps themselves, often at the expense of others.

Level 3: Chameleon

The Chameleon serves whoever it is convenient to serve. They will change their loyalties often, fail to build trust, and hold little to no convictions of their own.

Level 4: Achiever

The Achiever serves their boss and the current strategy of their organization. The Achiever is driven, and perhaps blinded, by their goals. They work toward short-term targets and achieve much success. Unfortunately, this often happens at the expense of creating long-term value.

Level 5: Builder

The Builder serves the institution. They take a long-term and big-picture view, relinquishing easy successes for a grander vision. They are driven by their enthusiasm for a cause and their contagious energy fosters a following with ease.

Level 6: Transcendent

The Transcendent, a rare leader, serves society. They keep in mind the needs of the greater community and are guided by doing what they can to make the world a better place.

As Mr. Maidique notes, these are not categories with clear cut delineation. We, as humans, are not so simple that we can declare ourselves as 100% Sociopath (thankfully!) or 100% Builder. Instead, we exhibit different behaviors in different situations and we are driven by multiple reasons.

Knowing this, how can you improve your leadership style or build your personal leadership philosophy?

  • Read through the list and come up with at least one example when you have acted in accordance with each level. You may have to look outside of your career and examine your personal life as well.
  • How can you minimize your time at level 1-3 and maximize serving levels 4-6?
  • How can you encourage and enable others at your organization to be motivated to act as Achievers, Builders, and Transcendents?
  • When faced with making a difficult decision or dealing with a dilemma, revisit this hierarchy.

Eva Rykrsmith

Eva Rykrsmith is an organizational psychology practitioner. Her passion lies in bringing a psychology perspective to the business world, with the mission of creating a high-performance environment. Follow her @EvaRykr.

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