Servant Leadership vs. Authentic Leadership: What are the Differences?
written by: N Nayab•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 6/8/2010
Both servant leadership and authentic leadership are positive leadership concepts that have much in common. The major difference between servant leadership and authentic leadership lies in approach, application, and style.
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What is Authentic Leadership and Servant Leadership?
Bob Terry, in his book “Authentic Leadership: Courage in Action" (1993) defines authentic leadership as knowing and acting on what is true and real inside the leaders self, team, and organization, along with knowing and acting on what is true and real in the world.
Authentic leaders are confident, hopeful, optimistic, and resilient individuals deeply aware of how they think and behave. Such people display a high level of integrity and remain committed to building an organization through purpose, value, heart, relationships, and self-discipline.
Servant Leadership is a positive leadership model that has emerged out of the root concept of authentic leadership.
Robert Greenleaf, in his 1970 essay “The Servant as Leader" describes servant leaders as individuals with a natural inclination to serve. Such people make a conscious choice to lead to serve rather than lead to gain power or acquire material possessions. They try to serve their organizations through characteristics such as listening, empathy, healing relationships, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to human resource development, and commitment to building community.
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Similarities between Servant Leadership and Authentic Leadership
Servant leadership and authentic leadership have many characteristics in common.
Both leadership styles:
Genuine desire to serve others and are interested in empowering the people they serve
Place a high importance on values and remain guided by qualities of compassion, and passion
Refuse to compromise on principles
Place high importance on establishing relationships with people
Rely on their personal charisma to get things done
Leaders lead from personal conviction rather than a desire for status or reward
Focus on building people’s strengths rather than focusing on what is wrong with people and their weaknesses
The basis of both authentic leadership and servant leadership lie in either explicit or implicit recognition of the leader’s self-awareness and the focus on integrity, trust, courage, and hope. While these remain established traits in authentic leadership, they remain largely theoretical and not supported by empirical research in servant leadership model.
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Difference between Servant Leadership and Authentic Leadership in Approach
The fundamental difference between servant leadership and authentic leadership lies in the approach. While servant leadership strives to be “right," authentic leadership strives to be “real."
Servant leadership is a normative leadership style that lays down set characteristics that all leaders are supposed to emulate to attain success and tries to shape the character and personality of the leader to such values.
Authentic leadership on the other hand, is character driven and does not recognize leadership styles or a fixed set of characteristics that leaders are supposed to emulate. The authentic leadership theory holds that each leader has their own unique style developed through study, experience, consultation and introspection, and consistent with their character and personality.
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Difference between Servant Leadership and Authentic Leadership in Application
A major difference between authentic leaders vs servant leaders relate to serving others needs.
The core principle of servant leadership is to give priority to the interest of others. The primary duty of the leader is to serve others by fulfilling their needs, aspirations, and desires.
Authentic leadership on the other hand does not encourage the leader to be too responsive to the desires of others on going overboard to meet the desires of each individuals create problems such as:
Organizational goals suffering due to competing interests
Danger of deviating from course of action
Leader not making difficult decisions due to fear of offending
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Difference between Servant Leadership and Authentic Leadership in Style
Servant leadership’s one-dimensional approach does not change in response to the situation. This leadership style recommends listening, persuasion, and empathy even during times of grave crisis.
Authentic leaders are more proactive and adapt their style to fit the immediate situation. Such leaders can be inspiring and motivating on one occasion, and tough about people-related or financial decisions on another occasion.
While both servant leaders and authentic leaders look for opportunities to partner with individuals and groups to address organizational, societal, and environmental issues, the difference between servant leadership and authentic leadership is that authentic leaders foster innovation better and help their organizations discover unique and creative solutions to issues.
Avolio, B., Gardner, W., Walumbwa, F., & May, D. (2004). Unlocking the mask: A look at the process by which authentic leaders impact follower attitudes and behaviors. Leadership Quarterly, 15(6), 801-823.
When you work from home, it can be a lot harder to take part in professional development activities and hone leadership skills. In this series, learn more about different leadership styles and ways you gain valuable experience as a leader.