20 Transformative Servant Leadership Quotes That Will Change Your Approach to Management

by Jason Evanish, CEO Get Lighthouse, Inc.

“The servant-leader is servant first, it begins with a natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first, as opposed to, wanting power, influence, fame, or wealth.”

— Robert K. Greenleaf, creator of servant leadership.

Servant leadership is about focusing on your team's needs first and supporting them. This way of leading creates better workplaces where people want to do their best work, because when you take care of your team, they take care of getting the work done well for you.

Some of history's most impactful leaders embraced servant leadership principles, and shared their advice for doing so. Today, we share 20 servant leadership quotes that will help you rethink your management and team dynamics.

These quotes come from many different kinds of leaders, including company CEOs, founders, authors, and well-known elected leaders. Each quote shows you a step on the journey to becoming a better leader.

Whether you're a manager now or want to be one in the future, these quotes can help you think about leadership in a new and better way. 

What quotes about servant leadership we will cover:

Tony Hsien's quote about servant leadership

Servant Leadership Quotes about Empowering and Prioritizing Your Team Members

As a manager, one of your key tasks is to ensure your team members are growing and thriving at work. 

That means investing in their development, listening to their ideas, and creating an environment where they feel valued and empowered. 

When you genuinely care for your employees, they'll be more engaged, productive, and committed to the company's success. It's a win-win situation and a core part of true servant leadership as these quotes from well known leaders show us:

List of servant leadership quotes:

"The best leaders are servant leaders — they serve those they lead." Tony Hsieh, Former CEO of Zappos

"Your employees come first. And if you treat your employees right, guess what? Your customers come back, and that makes your shareholders happy. Start with employees and the rest follows from that." Herb Kelleher, Former CEO of Southwest Airlines

"Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others." Jack Welch, Former CEO of General Electric

"Leadership is not about your ambition. It is about bringing out the ambitions of your team." Cheryl Bachelder, former president of KFC

As you can see, from shoes to airlines, and fast food to major corporations, many executives believe in these principles.

Servant leadership quotes from Cheryl Bachelder

Servant Leadership Quotes About Leading with Humility

A key part of embracing servant leadership is recognizing that your ego can get in the way of being an effective leader; when you think of yourself as “the boss” and want to make all the decisions, you stifle your team. 

You don’t hear their ideas, and they may think it’s not worth bringing up feedback to you. 

That’s why instead servant leaders are humble. They admit when they’re wrong, and actively listen to their team for ideas, feedback, and key input. 

But don’t take our word for it. Here’s what other leaders have said: 

"The leader must have both – the courage to take the people to a daring destination and the humility to selflessly serve others on the journey." Cheryl Bachelder, former CEO Popeyes Chicken

“I like to think that the C in CEO stands for culture. The CEO is the curator of an organization’s culture. …anything is possible for a company when its culture is about listening, learning, and harnessing individual passions and talents to the company’s mission.” Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

“For leaders, the humility to admit and own mistakes and develop a plan to overcome them is essential to success. The best leaders are not driven by ego or personal agendas. They are simply focused on the mission and how best to accomplish it. ― Jocko Willink, former Navy SEAL and best-selling author of Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win

"The biggest obstacle that stall leaders' growth is the human ego. When leaders start to think they know it all, they stop growing." — Ken Blanchard best-selling author, business consultant and motivational speaker

It’s hard to let go when your ego wants to hold on, but doing so frees you to empower your team and get the best results. 

Satya Nadella sharing servant leadership quotes

Servant Leadership Quotes About Using Influence instead of Bossing people around

In today's world, you can’t just boss people around. Ordering people to do things without listening to them is a surefire way to lose your team rapidly. Your best people will check out, or leave entirely, while weaker people will completely stop thinking for themselves, waiting for each new order from you.

Instead, servant leadership reminds us of the importance of focusing on building influence through genuine relationships, trust, and respect. Influence means you focus on getting buy-in from your team by collaborating with them, listening to their perspectives, and empowering them to make some decisions on their own. That’s how you get people to follow you for the long haul.

Here’s some examples of when leaders reminded us of this important lesson:

"In the past a leader was a boss. Today's leaders must be partners with their people... They no longer lead solely on positional power." Ken Blanchard, American author, business consultant and motivational speaker

"Employees are a company's greatest asset – they're your competitive advantage. You want to attract and retain the best; provide them with encouragement, stimulus and make them feel that they are an integral part of the company's mission." Anne M. Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox

“My passion is to put empathy at the center of everything I pursue — from the products we launch, to the new ​markets we enter, to the employees, customers, and partners we work with.” ― Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

“Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” Simon Sinek, best-selling author and TED speaker

This is more than a “nice” sentiment to empower your team; it gives you the best chance of winning and thriving. 

No one can have all the answers on their own. But when you listen to your team and combine the best ideas you all share, you create the best possible solutions that will help you and your team win.

Sam Walton's quote about building self-esteem

Servant Leadership Quotes About Helping Others

At its core, servant leadership is about putting the needs of your team first. When you help them thrive, your goals will typically take care of themselves. 

This is as much about big things as small, day to day things. While it definitely helps to do things like help your team grow, settle any frustrating disputes, and put your team members in positions to succeed, it can be just as powerful to help on small things.

When you show a willingness to coach them regularly, and to remove blockers they’re dealing with, those efforts also are noticed and appreciated. It also helps them get more done, and do so in a more engaged and motivated way, which helps you achieve your goals.

Many leaders deeply understand this mindset of service, too: 

"Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish"​ Sam Walton, founder of Walmart

“It's [employee engagement] about getting the best people, retaining them, nurturing a creative environment and helping to find a way to innovate.” Marissa Mayer, co-founder of Lumi Labs, former CEO of Yahoo

“Our mission statement about treating people with respect and dignity is not just words but a creed we live by every day. You can’t expect your employees to exceed the expectations of your customers if you don’t exceed the employees’ expectations of management”. Howard Schultz, former CEO and chairman of Starbucks Coffee

“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”. Richard Branson, CEO and founder of Virgin Group

As you can see, some extremely successful executives and founders know this fundamental truth that good leadership is about service in both big and small ways.

Nelson Mandela quote about servant leadership

Servant Leadership Quotes About Letting Your Team Shine

If you love the spotlight and want all the accolades, leadership may not be the right fit for you. 

When you’re building a team, you want to have the best people possible. And to succeed, you’re going to need them to do great work, which they deserve credit for. 

If you steal the spotlight from them, take credit for their work, or undermine their efforts when it might get noticed, you’ll stifle and frustrate them. Don’t expect them to go the extra mile for you in the future if you do that.

Instead, servant leaders know sharing credit, giving praise, and letting your team shine are critical to getting the best from your team. That’s why a variety of leaders have emphasized this important point: 

"It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership." Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa

No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it. Andrew Carnegie, Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist

“Train them to trust their own judgment and make decisions, and then give them the autonomy to do what they need to do. It’s about finding that balance between managing and letting go. You have to allow people to make mistakes, as we learn from mistakes. If you don’t, people will never make a move”. Dottie Herman, Vice chairwoman of Douglas Elliman

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things”. Ronald Reagan, Former President of the United States

As you can see, from industrialists to Presidents, as well as other executives all know this important lesson. 

Are you sharing the credit with your team when it’s well deserved? Are you empowering them to do their best work with some autonomy?


Today’s servant leadership quotes show that a wide variety of leaders understand and practice the principles that underlie servant leadership. It truly is one of the best ways to inspire, motivate, and bring out the best on your team.

If you’d like to learn more about servant leadership and some of the underlying practices we mentioned today, you can learn more here:

  • Dive deep into the philosophy and practice of the servant leadership model to transform your leadership style and create a more engaged, productive team.
  • Learn how to successfully implement changes in your organization by reading our post about getting buy in from your team. You'll discover powerful techniques like leading by example and using repetition to drive important changes.
  • Discover how to create a culture where your team shares quality ideas and feedback regularly with you in our post on the many powerful ways of getting team feedback.
Jason Evanish

Jason Evanish

As the founder and CEO of Get Lighthouse, Inc, Jason and the Lighthouse team have helped managers grow their leadership skills in dozens of countries around the world. They’ve worked with a variety of companies from non-profits to high growth startups, and government organizations to well known, publicly traded companies. Jason has also been featured in publications including NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and Fast Company.

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