33 servant leadership quotes that will inspire your success

33 quotes about servant leadership

Becoming a servant leader means empowering others. Put such an individual in the lead — or leading from the rear — and a team or company can realize unparalleled success.

CEOs and senior executives can believe strongly in the power of servant leadership but still need occasional inspiration to bring their servant leader to the fore each day. Ever heard that good things come in 3s? Well, when it comes to great things, they come in 33 … quotes about servant leadership, that is.


First, from the founder of the movement

Any number of quotes from Robert Greenleaf will rev up your servant leadership enthusiasm. You might wish to consider how an attitude of service improves one’s leadership abilities:

The first and most important choice a leader makes is the choice to serve, without which one’s capacity to lead is severely limited.

— Robert Greenleaf, author and founder of the modern servant leadership movement

From thought leaders on leadership

Since servant leadership gained momentum in business, a chorus of voices has joined with Greenleaf to champion it in books, articles, and speaking engagements. Servant leadership isn’t a theory, they argue:

Servant-leadership is more than a concept, it is a fact. Any great leader, by which I also mean an ethical leader of any group, will see herself or himself as a servant of that group and will act accordingly.

― M. Scott Peck, American psychiatrist and author of The Road Less Traveled

It has generally been my experience that the very top people of truly great organizations are servant-leaders.

― Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Allow the way to your great work to be guided by your service to others.

― Artika Tyner, lawyer, educator, and author of The Lawyer as Leader

It’s all about attitude, one that is caring and focused on filling the needs of others.

People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.

― John C. Maxwell, American pastor and author on leadership topics

A noble leader answers not to the trumpet calls of self-promotion, but to the hushed whispers of necessity.

― Mollie Marti, psychologist, lawyer, author, and humanitarian

Servant leadership turns traditional leadership, which one might describe as giving orders and taking credit, on its head:

Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.

— Simon Sinek, author and inspirational speaker

Servant leadership is all about making the goals clear and then rolling your sleeves up and doing whatever it takes to help people win. In that situation, they don’t work for you; you work for them.”

― Ken Blanchard, American business consultant, author, and speaker

The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I’. They don’t think ‘I’. They think ‘we’; they think ‘team’.

—Thomas J. Peters, American writer on business management practices

Servant leadership is powerful, but one must adopt the mindset without thinking of it as a means to an end:

It’s not about trying to find something to help you be a more effective leader. It’s about trying to be a better person. The other will follow.

– James A. Autry, former Fortune 500 executive, poet, and author of The Servant Leader

But that doesn’t mean a servant leader doesn’t enjoy success:

You can have anything you want in life if you just help enough other people get what they want.

—Zig Ziglar, American salesman, author, and motivational speaker

From people who put servant leadership into action

Leadership-oriented authors certainly make servant leadership sound important. But does servant leadership actually work in the company trenches? Judging by the track records of some of the tech world’s high achievers, that seems to be the case.

The companies that are successful, they start out to make meaning, not to make money.

— Guy Kawasaki, early Apple employee involved in Macintosh computer line

As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.

— Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft

You have to find the intersection of doing something you’re passionate about and that, at the same time, is in the service of other people. I would argue if you don’t find that intersection, you’re not going to be very happy.

— Tim Cook, CEO of Apple

Not only does servant leadership contribute to a thriving business, it helps drive change the world wants and needs:

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.

— Mahatma Gandhi, Indian lawyer, activist, pioneer of nonviolent resistance

Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

— Martin Luther King, Jr., American Baptist minister and civil rights activist

If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.

— Booker T. Washington, American educator, author, and advisor to several U.S. Presidents

Servant leadership is also part of the toolkit for some of the world’s most effective heads of state:

It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.

— Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid activist, philanthropist and former president of South Africa

We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.

— Winston Churchill, former UK Prime Minister

From artistic luminaries

Many agree that servant leadership is worth the effort to explore and embody. Want to get really jazzed up about the journey? Simply let the artists of the world bring its meaning to life in words:

I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.

― Rabindranath Tagore, Bengali poet, writer, playwright, philosopher, painter, and reformer

The quality of a true warrior is that he is in service to a purpose greater than himself; that is, to a transcendent cause.

― Robert Bly, American poet, essayist, and activist

Leadership should be born out of the understanding of the needs of those who would be affected by it.

— Marian Anderson, American contralto singer

A life without a cause is a life without effect.

– Paulo Coelho, Brazilian lyricist and novelist

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

— Maya Angelou, American poet, memoirist and civil rights activist

It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. Serve and thou shall be served.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, essayist

Ancient voices and modern echoes

Servant leadership may be as old as the idea of leadership itself:

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.

Lao-Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher and writer

But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.

― Luke 22:26

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

― Philippians 2:4 ESV

As deep as the roots of servant leadership are across continents and cultures, they also ring true today:

Service is the very purpose of life. It is the rent we pay for living on the planet.

― Marian Wright Edelman, children’s rights and civil rights activist

We are endowed with different kinds of gifts for different kinds of services.

― Lailah Gifty Akita, Ghanian author and volunteer organizer

…When you choose the paradigm of service, looking at life through that paradigm, it turns everything you do from a job into a gift.

— Oprah Winfrey, American television host

The miracle is this — the more we share, the more we have.

― Leonard Nimoy, American actor who played Mr. Spock in Star Trek

One final quote for good measure

And no list of quotes is complete without insight from Albert Einstein, so here it is:

It is high time the ideal of success should be replaced with the ideal of service.

— Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist

Now readers, are you fully inspired? If so, go forth and lead well!


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About the Author: Vistage Staff

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