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If you’re interested in servant-leadership and seek a good place to start, you came to the right place!
The list below originated from a discussion in the Servant Leadership LinkedIn group. I compiled the results and updated it over the years. At the end is a summary and next steps, depending where you are on your servant-leadership journey. The resources are broken out by category, so you jump to the section most relevant to you:
These books are the most frequently recommended for an introduction to servant leadership.
Author: James Hunter
Review: Definitely the most popular book recommendation in the discussion, this is also my suggestion for the first book for beginners. This fable-based book introduces the concept of servant leadership through a businessman who attends a retreat where he is educated on the principles of servant leadership.
Author: Robert K. Greenleaf
Date: 1977 (Original)
My Thoughts: Definitely the second most popular recommendation from the discussion and the book that started it all, sort of. Greenleaf is often referenced as the father of modern servant leadership. He is known as the man who coined the term “servant leader”. As a result, it is rare to find a servant leadership text without some reference to this book or one of the original essays contained within it. If you’re serious about servant leadership, you must read this book. If you’re just starting out though, it may not be the best choice for your first book on the matter.
Author: Larry C. Spears
Review: A compilation of leading educators and authors on servant leadership principles. Included among these is the editor, Larry Spears, who was CEO of the Greenleaf center for nearly 20 years and now runs the Spears Center for Servant Leadership.
Author: Ken Blanchard, Phil Hodges
Review: From the author of One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard is a regular on the servant leadership circuit. All his books align well with the principles of servant leadership.
Author: Tony Barron
Review: Authored by the president of the Servant Leadership Institute, a division of Datron World Communications, the book includes a story on how one CEO transitioned his company to servant leadership.
Author: Dr. Kent Keith
Review: Authored by the current CEO of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, this book provides a broad background and support for servant leadership.
The “hidden gems” in this category have fantastic servant leadership lessons, examples, and references. They may be less popular or focus on a specific subject area, but remain among my most frequently recommended books for servant leadership beginners.
Author: Ben Lichtenwalner
Description: If you’re interested in servant leadership for the digital age, this may be the book for you. I wrote it to fill a gap in servant leadership guides for contemporary business executives. You will fin roughly half of the book focuses on servant leadership and the other half focuses on applying servant leadership principles in a world of instant digital communication platforms.
Author: Ben Lichtenwalner
Description: Who doesn’t love a great quote book?! These are popular takeaway books at many conferences where I give keynote addresses. The leadership quotes in this book are sorted by The Acronym Model of SERVANT Leadership®️. The book includes an introduction and brief overview to the concept of servant leadership.
Author: James Autry
Description: Another great example for practitioners in business, this book is written by a former Fortune 500 executive.
Author: James Hunter
Review: A follow up to Hunter’s “The Servant”, this is also a great book. However, I would recommend reading his first book (see above), first.
Author: Max De Pree
Description: My all-time favorite leadership book by my favorite leadership author. If you have not read this book, you should.
Author: Tony Hsieh
Description: This book is an excellent example of how servant leadership can drive success for the most contemporary business. It is written by the CEO of Zappos.com, an online retailer, and covers how servant leadership played a role in the company’s success.
Author: Ken Melrose
Description: This book, written by the former CEO of Toro Motor Company, explains how servant leadership evolved and became the corner stone for a turnaround at the company. This is an excellent resource, particularly for those in the business field.
Author: Bill George
Review: I had the chance to speak with Bill George, former CEO of Medco, back in 2009 (see The Future of Leadership). I think his perspectives on servant leadership are excellent. I also appreciate his candid reflections on his experience and down to earth attitude.
Author: Jim Collins
Description: Although not specifically referred to as servant leadership, Collins regards “Level 5 Leadership” as a critical component of taking organizations from Good to Great. Many servant leadership proponents (myself included) consider what Collins names as “Level 5 Leadership” to be servant leadership.
Author: Howard Behar
Description: Founding president of Starbucks International and former president of Starbucks North America, Howard Behar details how servant leadership was used in Starbucks rapid growth years.
Author: Herman Hesse
Review: The original inspiration for Robert Greenleaf’s work on servant leadership that was the origin of the term (more above). Similar to Greenleaf’s works, this is a must read for anyone serious about servant leadership. However, it is not among the first books I would suggest reading when starting your research.
Author: James Strock
Author: Greg Mortenson
The following individuals are good examples of servant leadership. You may find reading their biographies researching their beliefs and accomplishments helpful. Each description of these individuals is sourced from Wikipedia.
Lived: 1929 – 1968
Description: An American clergyman, activist, and prominent leader in the African American civil rights movement. In addition to the Wikipedia link from his name above, you may find my post on Martin Luther King Jr. as a model of servant leadership useful.
Lived: 0 – 33
Description: The central figure of Christianity. Most Christian denominations venerate him as God the Son incarnated and believe that he rose from the dead after being crucified.
Lived: 1925 – 1968
Description: An American politician, a Democratic senator from New York, and a noted civil rights activist.
Lived: 1875 – 1965
Description: A Franco-German (Alsatian) theologian, organist, philosopher, physician, and medical missionary.
Lived: 1910 – 1997
Description: A Catholic nun of Albanian ethnicity and Indian citizenship, who founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India in 1950.
Lived: 1869 – 1948
Description: A pre-eminent political and ideological leader of India during the Indian independence movement.
Lived: 1868 – 1963
Description: An intellectual leader in the United States as sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, and editor. In addition to the Wikipedia link on his name, you may find my post of Dubois as a model of servant leadership valuable.
Lived: 1874 – 1922
Description: An Irish-born British explorer who was one of the principal figures of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.
Lived: 1892 – 1983
Description: A Dutch Christian Holocaust survivor who helped many Jews escape the Nazis during World War II.
Lived: 1831 – 1890
Description: A Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux holy man who led his people as a war chief during years of resistance to United States government policies.
Lived: 1918 – 2013
Description: Served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, and was the first South African president to be elected in a fully representative democratic election.
Lived: 1931 – 2019
Description: The co-founder, and Chairman Emeritus and former CEO of Southwest Airlines.
Lived: 1797 – 1883
Description: An African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist. In addition to the Wikipedia link on her name, you may find my post of Sojourner as a model of servant leadership valuable.
Lived: 1813 – 1897
Description: An American writer, who escaped from slavery and became an abolitionist speaker and reformer. In addition to the Wikipedia link on her name, you may find my post of Jacobs as a model of servant leadership valuable.
Lived: 1820 – 1930
Description: An African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the American Civil War. In addition to the Wikipedia link on her name, you may find my post of Tubman as a model of servant leadership valuable.
Lived: 1903 – 1971
Description: An American political scientist and diplomat who received the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his late 1940s mediation in Palestine. In addition to the Wikipedia link on her name, you may find my post of Bunche as a model of servant leadership valuable.
Prefer videos? The Acronym Model of SERVANT Leadership®️ is represented through a series of documentary drama movie scenes.
There are a lot of great resources here. So how should the servant leader begin? Here are some suggested steps if you’re just starting your servant leadership journey:
1. Get the Foundations: Begin by checking out the resources we provide here for exactly this purpose. Specifically: What is Servant Leadership, then view the SERVANT Leadership Videos, and signup for Servant Leadership 101.
2. Get an Overview: I recommend Hunter’s The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership as a starting point. After that, pick a book from the most popular book section.
3. Get Focused: When you’re ready to go deeper, look for something specific to your industry. For example, if you’re in business, Ken Melrose’s Making the Grass Greener on Your Side, Howard Behar’s It’s Not About the Coffee or James Autry’s The Servant Leader. If you’re interested in spiritual matters or NPOs, there are other books above that may be more appropriate.
4. Get Support: Whether it’s a coach for yourself or some help building out the leadership development program at your workplace, let’s chat and see how I can help.
There you have it. The above resources should help get you started on your servant leadership journey.