Servant Leadership Research Proposal

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Servant Leadership by Robert K. Greenleaf

Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness. Robert K.

Greenleaf. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2002. 370.

As a senior in college, Greenleaf had a sociology professor who challenged him to think about changing the structure of leadership within companies and the other large organizations that dominate American life. Greenleaf made the decision to work for at&T because it was the world's largest employer at that time, during the 1920s. He moved quickly into training and eventually into upper management. After retiring from at&T, Greenleaf became a consultant. He was consulting at the time that the concept of servant leadership came into the national consciousness, and he was introduced to it in the context of the campus turmoil that impacted universities in the 1960s and 1970s. Greenleaf began writing his book in 1969 and continued writing it over a 20-year period, developing the concept of the servant leader.

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TOPIC: Research Proposal on Servant Leadership Assignment

Greenleaf begins his book with the premise that "the great leader is seen as servant first, and that simple fact is the key to his greatness" (2002, p.21). Greenleaf goes on to discuss the lack of able leaders in modern times, and links that lack to a general disregard for prophecy. Instead of looking to modern prophets, Greenleaf sees many people clinging to old prophets, which he believes keeps them from being seekers. He believes that many natural servants are listening to modern prophetic voices, and that, by doing so, are becoming discontent with the status quo. However, he worries that discontent is not enough to cause people to emerge as servant leaders because discontent often leads to a disconnect from other people instead of a desire to lead or follow. Greenleaf asks these potential leaders to "accept the human condition, its sufferings and its joys, and to work with its imperfections as the foundation upon which the individual will build wholeness through adventurous creative achievement" (2002, p.26). Greenleaf believes that leaders take initiative, are goal-oriented, actively listens, strives for understanding, the ability to think outside the confines of language, the ability to withdraw when necessary, the ability to accept people and empathize with them, and both insight and foresight.

After discussing what makes a servant-leader, Greenleaf expands upon the idea by discussing different concepts of both servant and leader. First, he introduces the idea of the institute as servant. Greenleaf discusses three major types of institutions: churches, universities, and businesses. He believes that if even one large institution in category transformed itself into a servant, it would set a significant example for other institutions in that category. Greenleaf also introduces the idea of the trustee, which he views as any person with a fiduciary duty to others as a result of that individual's position in an institution. He believes that institutions can provide an essential element of service, because caring for others forms the foundation of a good society. Moreover, though caring for people used to occur on a personal level, he believes it is now occurs largely through institutions. He expands on this idea by discussing the idea of servant leadership in business, education, foundations, and churches. By foundations, Greenleaf refers to institutions with charitable purposes, though he is careful to point out that whether a foundation is for-profit or non-profit has little impact on whether or not the leaders in the institution are self-serving or working towards serving others.

Once he has discussed the specific roles that institutions play in American life and the roles that servant-leaders can play in these institutions, Greenleaf goes on to explain the servant-leader and how the servant-leader can play a critical role in these institutions, and, eventually, in the leadership of the world. Greenleaf's approach to servant-leadership is religious, though it does not have to be narrowly confined to any specific religious tradition. He speaks of authors and artists as modern-day prophets and rejects the notion that all prophecy is concluded. He also discusses the idea that servant leadership is counterintuitive for many people, largely because of how institutions have traditionally approached the idea of leadership. He suggests that servant leadership is a long-term process, and that for most individuals becoming a servant-leader will be a transformative process. He emphasizes the idea that building a community within institutions is a necessary element of servant leadership, and reveals how smaller-scale community building can lead to large-scale community building, such as on a national level, and then even on a global level.



At the beginning of this book, Greenleaf makes it clear that he does not consider himself a scholar. His choice of occupation was driven equally by the desire to be done with school and the desire to impact the world, and he considered management training to be his graduate education. Therefore, Greenleaf takes a very non-scholarly approach to the topic of servant leadership. There are no statistics or studies to back up the statements that he makes in the book. Instead, the book is largely anecdotal and reflects Greenleaf's personal experience. As a result, the book absolutely reflects Greenleaf's personal bias and assumptions. The main assumption that Greenleaf makes is that modern institutions are currently not working, and blames this failure on a lack of adequate leaders. He also assumes that educational institutions are not doing their jobs because they are not preparing people to be servant leaders. Greenleaf's book is substantially similar to other books that discuss transformational leadership. However, Greenleaf's book also has a specifically religious angle. He speaks of prophets and his idea of the leader as servant first is undeniably linked to the idea of Christ as a leader. Perhaps because Greenleaf is open and honest about his biases, this book has had a tremendous impact on the field of leadership. While the idea of servant leadership is currently well-developed, this book is merely the newest edition of Greenleaf's book, which really introduced the concept of servant leadership to mainstream America. As a result, without speculating, one knows that this book has had a significant impact on leadership theory in America.


For such an influential work, the book lacks a cohesive methodology. As explained in his introduction, the chapters of the book are built on lectures and articles that Greenleaf wrote over a 20-year period, rather than being organized in order to support Greenleaf's central thesis. As a result, it is difficult to identify any real methodology. Greenleaf does start with a definition of the servant leader, then move into an explanation of the role of institutions in modern life, and then combine the two to demonstrate how servant leaders can make an impact in different types of institutions. However, Greenleaf does not use anything that one could identify as hard evidence to support his theory that servant leadership is needed to transform America. As a result, his evidence is inadequate to support his strong thesis statement, which is that servant leadership is necessary to the continuing functioning of America. In fact, by using examples of how America lacks servant leadership, when one considers that American companies and ideas have literally transformed the world, he actually seems to negate his thesis. In fact, while he does ask whether other types of leadership would be adequate, he dismisses those alternatives without giving sufficient explanations for why he feels that they will not work.


One of the things that has probably contributed to the success of this book is that Greenleaf has a very engaging writing style. First, he writes from a first-hand perspective, which makes it appear that he is directly engaging the reader in a conversation. Moreover, Greenleaf is obviously comfortable borrowing from other authors that he admires, so he uses quotations and stories effectively throughout the book. The style of the writing would suggest that the book is well argued, but from a strictly logical perspective, the arguments lack the structural support required to call them sound arguments. Instead, Greenleaf relies heavily on circular reasoning, so that the book seems to suggest that servant leaders are needed because without servant leaders America faces a leadership crisis. However, Greenleaf fails to give the substantive examples that would support the idea of a leadership crisis. After all, while Greenleaf was formulating his ideas, he witnessed huge leadership tragedies, such as Watergate. However, he also watched the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's, which would have been impossible without Lyndon Johnson, who does not match the attributes of a servant leader, as described by Greenleaf.

Personal Evaluation

In fact, it was Greenleaf's failure to completely explain some experiences he had or witnessed that left this reviewer disappointed in the book. Greenleaf lived through some incredible events, like the Great Depression, World War II, the Vietnam War, and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. These were earth-shaking events that are heavily linked to the leaders of the day. Seeing how Greenleaf would frame these leaders in the context of servant leadership would have helped explain why he feels… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Servant Leadership" Research Proposal in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Servant Leadership.  (2009, September 9).  Retrieved August 3, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Servant Leadership."  9 September 2009.  Web.  3 August 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Servant Leadership."  September 9, 2009.  Accessed August 3, 2021.