Motivation of a Servant Leader

All leaders must decide how they are going to lead and what their motivation for leadership is going to be. Some leaders are motivated by the needs of the organization, while others are motivated by personal ambition, and still others are motivated by the needs of the individuals they lead.

The question of motivation may be the single most important issue a leader has to work out because leadership is a process of mobilizing people with certain motives and values. (Burns, 1978, p. 425) The key to motivation can be found in the degree of self-awareness a leader possesses, which is the personal insights a leader has. (Northouse, 2012, p. 265) In order to gain self-awareness and understand motivations a leader must take inventory of personal core values, emotions, motives, and goals at the deepest levels. (Northouse, 2012, p. 265) Once a leader has this deep understanding of self, the core of motivation can be understood and intentionally shaped out of an anchor of values for their decisions and actions. (Northouse, 2012, p. 265)

From the perspective of a Christian leader, Jesus becomes the model for leaders to emulate. His motivation was centered around people and sacrificing himself for others. In order to be a servant leader, as Jesus was, it requires the core motivation for leadership to be come from a willingness to give without selfish motives. (Col. 3:23) This was modeled most clearly when Jesus illustrated servant leadership by washing his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. (John 13:15) In order to be a great servant leader, one must be willing to count and endure the cost, (Hejazi, 2011, p. 3) including selflessness and equality of all people. (Humphreys, 2005, p. 1418)

Are there drawbacks from the motivation of servant leadership?


Burns, J. M. (2010). Leadership (1 edition). New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.

Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: study Bible: English standard version (ESV text ed). Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles.

John H. Humphreys. (2005). Contextual implications for transformational and servant leadership. Management Decision, 43(10), 1410–1431.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: theory and practice (6th ed). Thousand Oaks: SAGE.

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