I was presenting at a local user group and wanted to explain the concept of what it is to be a Servant Leader. I find that by providing an example of something people can easily relate to the concept. However, I was struggling to find an example of a person who demonstrates the qualities of a Server Leader that people could relate to. Examples that I found were Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa or Gandhi. We’ve all heard of these people (hopefully) but I wanted to say “X” are a good example and here is why they are.

Speaking with people at possible suggestions came as:

How about Elon Musk? – “We want our leaders to find ways of motivating and inspiring their teams, reduce the noise in their work and help remove blockers. If you are a manager or leading at any level at SpaceX, we stress that your team is not there to serve you. You are there to serve your team and help them do the best possible job for the company,” says Musk.


“We start from the presumption that our people are talented and want to contribute. We accept that, without meaning to, our company is stifling that talent in myriad unseen ways. Finally, we try to identify those impediments and fix them.”

Ed Catmul
President, Pixar Animation Studio

These are great examples but not many of us know Elon Musk or Ed Catmul. I still wanted to find someone where people could go “Ah, I get it. I know what I’m looking for! ”

What Makes A Servant Leader?

What DOES a Servant Leader actually do to support the teams they work with? [taken from]

  • Focus on building a foundation of trust
  • Stimulates empowerment and transparency
  • Encourages collaborative engagement
  • Is an un-blocker & empathic person able to truly listen
  • Show ethical & caring behavior putting others needs first
  • Is humble, knowledgeable, positive, social and situationally aware

Why is Servant Leadership important in Scrum?

  • Promotes accountability and professionalism
  • Enables effective self-organization
  • Treats people as an organization’s most important asset (taps into intrinsic motivation,
  • enables growth, promotes innovation)
  • Enables empiricism

Even armed with this I still couldn’t easily think of people I know or at least have some contact with that I could use as an example. I’ve worked with some great people, but none of them have ever given themselves the title of Servant Leader.

So Why Couldn’t I Easily Find Examples That People Could Relate To?

By the very nature of a Servant Leader, they do not put their needs above the needs of others. They are not self promoting, they empower others to promote themselves. They do not shout about what they do, they get on with task in hand and do the best they can to give the team the best chance of being successful.

When the teams they work with are successful, they do not take the credit for the work. Equally when the teams they work with are not successful, the do not lay the blame at the team but work to understand what went wrong and how they can help the team improve.

So in searching for an example of a Servant Leader that people could relate to, I came to think of them as a black hole – You can’t actually pinpoint them as a separate entity but you can spot them by the effects they’re having on others around them.

[Scientists can’t directly observe black holes with telescopes that detect x-rays, light, or other forms of electromagnetic radiation. We can, however, infer the presence of black holes and study them by detecting their effect on other matter nearby. ] –


I originally started this post wanting to provide a “How To” guide on identifying relevant examples of a Servant Leaders. Unfortunately, I don’t have a list of people that we should be looking to as examples, only a set of attributes that Server Leaders show.

Are there any other examples you can thinking of: in Sport, Politics, the Arts, in YOUR organization? Please get in touch and let me know.