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Essay on Servant Leadership

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Table of contents

  1. Servant Leadership According to the Biblical Teachings and Headship of Jesus
  2. Jesus’ Servant Leadership Characteristics: Framing Servant Leadership Qualities
  3. Traits and Behaviors
  4. The Power of Influence
  5. Processes of Servant Leadership as Influenced by Jesus’ Leadership Style
  6. Conclusion
  7. References

Servant Leadership According to the Biblical Teachings and Headship of Jesus

Servant leadership entails a philosophical approach whereby the main attribute of the leader is serving. This form of leadership differs significantly from traditional forms of leadership which are mostly centered on the growth and profitability of an entity. A servant leader bears a number of key qualities such as putting the employee’s needs first, sharing power, and helping people, in general, to perform and develop according to their potential. According to Karatepe, Ozturk, and Kim (2019), servant leaders are humble, selfless, do not show the need to yield power unnecessarily, and think of others more than themselves. While this style of leadership was coined by Robert Greenleaf in 1998, the approach of servant leadership probably dates back to a couple of centuries, especially with the teachings and headship of Jesus. Through a review of current literature, this paper analyzes Jesus’s servant leadership approach with preliminary propositions regarding the intra-personal processes he imbued in his leadership style. The propositions will be helpful in guiding future empirical leadership studies to foster multilevel and integral theories on effective leadership. The exploration of Jesus’ servant leadership characteristics through extant literature is also conceptualized through empirical research and leadership theories. Jesus’ servant leadership approach entailed a multivariate process that intricately combined several hierarchical leadership processes.

The academic review of the literature regarding servant leadership involves a number of observations, key among them the apprehensions on reliable and valid theoretical approaches as well as leadership practice. Several chief approaches in research have been imbued in extrapolating leadership styles and approaches including the influence of power, behaviors, and traits as well as integrative and situational approaches (Correll, 2014). Further, in current literature, servant leadership is conceptualized at varying levels including group, individual, dyad, and organizational theoretical approaches albeit they lack of comprehensive theoretical frameworks that cover all approaches, as Burns, Shoup, and Simmons (2014) posit. Whittington (2017) calls for focal collaborations between neuro-cognitive scientists and social scientists as the main approach to establishing an integrated theory that entails servant leadership, albeit the key exclusion of biblical scholars and theologians from this contribution. Given the servant leadership qualities that Jesus showed in his missions according to the Bible, this study seeks to define a biblically-based archetype of Jesus’ servant leadership via integrated approaches that are encompassed in the study of leadership. As the main exemplary leader in the current world especially in participatory leadership, the ‘Jesus model’ has been highlighted as one that entails all conceptual levels that lack in individual leadership theories (Douglas, 2014). The propositions in this model are crucial in guiding future empirical research in servant leadership and especially in fostering integrated leadership styles in multivariate platforms of management.

Jesus’ Servant Leadership Characteristics: Framing Servant Leadership Qualities

Extant literature based on the life of Jesus is quite scanty. As such, several authors chose Jesus’ leadership style circuitously by studying the teachings, models, and examples that His followers, mostly Peter and Paul used (Kostenberger & O'Brien, 2017). Parallelism has also been justified by the sense that Jesus’ ministry happened in the same period that the church was formed (Valk, 2018). Despite the scantiness of leadership literature based on Jesus’ servant leadership, this study focuses on Jesus’ traits, power influences, and behavior in framing his leadership qualities and approach.

Traits and Behaviors

According to current literature (Dameron, 2016; Karatepe, Ozturk, & Kim, 2019), the trait approach in creating an understanding of servant leadership focuses on the individual attributes of a leader such as their motivations, skills, values, and overall personality. van Dierendonck and Patterson (2015) posit that this approach highlights the endowment of individual qualities which most other people lack. In Jesus’ context, he is viewed by many scholarly articles as unique especially owing to the fact that he is the “mediator of creation” (John 1:3) and the “Heir of all earth” (Mark 12). Accordingly, Jesus is highlighted as the combination of all Jewish heroes in one individual. van Dierendonck and Patterson (2015) further posit that such exceptionality can only stem from a charismatic personality, a trait termed as a unique gift that Jesus was bequeathed for the purpose of building and leading God’s overall intentions for humanity. However, according to Shirin (2014), Jesus did not lack in ego, but it was carefully channeled as a display of boldness and discernment, i.e. denoting God’s presence. Paul, who is highlighted by Douglas (2014) as Jesus’ biggest imitator, further underlines Jesus’ servant traits which include confidence, bravery, and boldness (1 Corinthians 2:6; Philippians 1:20). Further, in Matthew 10:19, 22, Jesus is seen teaching his disciples this focal trait of servant leadership; courage. Dameron (2016) also highlights incidences of Jesus’ courage while he was undergoing the tortuous period of rejection and suffering as scripted in Luke 9 -19. Another key trait associated with servant leadership, humility, is highlighted in Mark 14:36 where Jesus shows absolute humility via total obedience to God’s commands.

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Jesus’ servant leadership approach has been viewed through the lens of charismatic behaviors. For instance, Mabey, Conroy, Blakeley, and de Marco (2017) assert that as a charismatic servant leader, Jesus portrayed the ability to communicate his vision clearly to his followers, thus acting as their motivation towards implementing His vision. Further, Jesus had the ability to utilize his persuasive skills, for instance in persuading his followers to believe in Him as he prepared them for greater service. Whittington (2017) describes a charismatic leader as one with the behavioral capacity to show sensitivity to the needs of the followers, foster trust towards achieving the highlighted vision, and articulate and formulate organizational goals. Jesus showed these behavioral traits by showing his sensitivity to His disciples, their needs, and abilities by posing the question, “who do you and others say I am?” By posing this question, He was in a better position to ascertain His disciples’ abilities in discerning the truth and the apparent need to train them further towards His cause. Whittington (2017) further proposes that Jesus showed empowering behavior through apprenticeship and his daily interaction with His apostles. He went further in assuring them of His support after commissioning them (Matthew 28:18-20) but also holding them accountable for the responsibility he gave them (Matthew 25:14-30).

The Power of Influence

According to Friedman and Fischer (2015), research on the influence of power scrutinizes the influences that exist between servant leaders and other types of leaders. Most of the extant literature does not show the direct influence of power-related processes, but most are insightful about the processes of influence and power in Jesus’ life and ministry. Mabey, Conroy, Blakeley, and de Marco (2017) highlight that the use of the designation ‘leader’ in the Book of Matthew connote a person who possesses a position of power and authority in Israel (Matthew 15:34 and Chapter 24). From a wider point of view, Friedman and Fischer (2015) define Jesus’ servant leadership as having ‘divine authority as opposed to the vast majority of the religious leaders of the time who didn’t have possession of that sort of power (Matthew 7:28-29). Jesus’ power, authority, and influence are further described as embedded in an unfathomable sense of calling, as stated in Luke 9:29. Conversely, van Dierendonck and Patterson (2015) highlight Jesus’ charismatic authority and influence power in comparison to Weber’s theorization of charismatic leadership.

Processes of Servant Leadership as Influenced by Jesus’ Leadership Style

Servant leadership can be conceptualized in several ways. These processes include servant leadership as a dyadic, intra-personal, or organizational process (Malakyan, 2014). From the intrapersonal perspective, while the number of theories in leadership that focus on a single person is rare, interpersonal processes such as self-leadership and cognitive decision-making theories have proved useful in extrapolating Jesus’ servant leadership approach. During Jesus’ era, most of the decisions were made at specific levels and according to certain laws. However, Jesus’ decisions were made on an Agapao basis, basically from his love towards others. This area however highlights a key research gap on how His intrapersonal approach to decisions framed his servant leadership qualities. The dyadic approach draws focuses on the relationship that exists between the leader and his followers. Notably, Jesus’ style of charismatic leadership created strong bonds between Him and his disciples and other followers. John 16:13 highlights this dyadic form of leadership whereby church leaders gained their eminence (Shirin, 2014). The organizational aspect of Jesus’ servant leadership is still scanty in current literature, although it can be discoursed via the lens of how vast the church became through His disciples and followers.


Servant leadership has become a crucial leadership approach in contemporary settings. As such, this study has analyzed the servant leadership style of Jesus that imbued a variety of leadership behaviors, traits, and influential power during His life and Ministry. As a model leader for the current world, Jesus serves as the apposite person in elaborating the different theoretical conceptualizations that frame servant leadership. The study also highlights some key gaps in research and literature such as the organizational context of servant leadership based on Biblical teachings. However, by basing the study on Jesus’ approach to servant leadership, this paper serves as a crucial contribution to literature in defining effective and influential leadership approaches for the modern day.


  1. Burns, J., Shoup, J. R., & Simmons Jr, D. C. (Eds.). (2014). Organizational Leadership: Foundations and Practices for Christians. InterVarsity Press.
  2. Correll, M. R. (2014). Shepherds of the Empire: Germany's Conservative Protestant Leadership, 1888-1919. Augsburg Fortress Publishers.
  3. Dameron, C. M. (2016). Embracing servant leadership. Journal of Christian Nursing, 33(2), 73.
  4. Douglas, S. M. (2014). Developing leaders for pastoral ministry. Journal of Applied Christian Leadership, 8(2), 84-90.
  5. Friedman, H. H., & Fischer, D. (2015). Learning about leadership, trust, and benevolence from the ethics of the fathers (Avot). Journal of Religion and Business Ethics, 3(1).
  6. Karatepe, O. M., Ozturk, A., & Kim, T. T. (2019). Servant leadership, organisational trust, and bank employee outcomes. The Service Industries Journal, 39(2), 86-108.
  7. Kostenberger, A. J., & O'Brien, P. T. (2017). Salvation to the Ends of the Earth. Salvation to the ends of the Earth.
  8. Mabey, C., Conroy, M., Blakeley, K., & de Marco, S. (2017). Having burned the straw man of Christian spiritual leadership, what can we learn from Jesus about leading ethically? Journal of Business Ethics, 145(4), 757-769.
  9. Malakyan, P. G. (2014). Followership in leadership studies: A case of leader–follower trade approach. Journal of Leadership Studies, 7(4), 6-22.
  10. Shirin, A. V. (2014). Is servant leadership inherently Christian? Journal of religion and business ethics, 3(1), 13.
  11. Valk, Ü. (2018). The Devil and the Spirit World in Nineteenth-Century Estonia: From Christianization to Folklorization. In Fairies, Demons, and Nature Spirits (pp. 213-232). Palgrave Macmillan, London.
  12. van Dierendonck, D., & Patterson, K. (2015). Compassionate love as a cornerstone of servant leadership: An integration of previous theorizing and research. Journal of Business Ethics, 128(1), 119-131.
  13. Whittington, J. L. (2017). Creating a positive organization through servant leadership. In Servant Leadership and Followership (pp. 51-79). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
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