The leadership trait Obama, Oprah, and Zuckerberg all share

A spirit of servant leadership is the most important quality for leaders of nonprofit organization, argues Maimah Karmo, president and founder of the Tigerlily Foundation, which supports young women with breast cancer, in a recent article for Forbes.

Karmo identifies Martin Luther King, Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and Oprah Winfrey as examples of leaders who succeeded through servant leadership.

The difference between servant leaders and others is that service leaders feel a drive to serve first, and only desire to lead as a consequence of wanting to serve more effectively, according to Robert Greenleaf, who coined the term.

"That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions," Greenleaf wrote in his foundational essay on the subject.

Karmo identifies a few common habits of servant leaders:

1: Putting others before yourself

Karmo explains that servant leaders put the needs of their teams and their community ahead of their own needs. This inspires their teams to model that behavior, creating a culture of people who are committed to serving each other, your community, and the organization's mission.

Want to be a senior leader? Work on this one habit.

2: Letting others be in the spotlight 

Servant leaders never take credit for their team's ideas, Karmo writes. Instead, they support good ideas—no matter who they come from—and celebrate the results.  When your team wins, your organization and the people is serves do too, she adds.

3: Emphasizing mission over competition

Traditional leaders cultivate a competitive, results-driven culture where people will do "any and everything to get to the top and stay there," Karmo writes. But servant leaders, she argues, focus on cultivating their team members' natural talents and passions. These service-driven leaders can achieve excellent results too, because their employees are more engaged in their roles.

4: Leading from the heart 

Servant leaders let their service and compassion for others drive their management style, Karmo writes. She argues this approach teaches you to be more patient, better at resolving disagreements peacefully, and feel more engaged in your organization's mission (Karmo, Forbes, 10/31).

The 'best' leaders share these 3 personality traits.


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