Authentic Servant Leadership Top Tips

Will being authentic and having a servant heart make you a successful leader? Milton de Sousa from NOVA School of Business and Economics and Dr. Hannes Leroy from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University believe you can become a better leader by incorporating a motivation to serve in leadership. They share their top tips on how to be an authentic servant leader.
Authentic Leadership

An aspiring servant leader will take decisions that empower people to learn and grow as well as energize and inspire them to do their best. If a leader is a servant, who is then in charge? Should leaders be humble? Is “just being yourself” good advice to be a successful leader? These practical tips will help you better understand what it takes to be an authentic servant leader.

1.     Gain a better understanding of your motivations.

Being a servant leader doesn’t mean that you let go of other aspects of being a leader, in fact, in some cases by leading you can serve better. Understanding why you do what you do and how can it be used for the service of others is the key first step.

2.     Reframe achievement.

Within CEMS we are often pushed to be high achievers, however, this creates a focus on yourself. Paradoxically, you can find out more about yourself when you care more about others. This will allow you to more easily see what you can offer of yourself to the world.

3.     Give without asking anything in return.

Although from the outside, it may seem like this is a recipe for bad business, building relationships by offering free advice or service will be worthwhile in the long-run as it builds trust and people will be more willing to return, thus building a virtuous network. The immediate payback is that it also feels really good to be meaningful to other human beings.

4.     Don’t practice impression management.

We may be tempted to try to manage the perception other people have of us in the workplace, however, it creates a false impression of who you are. What’s important is behaving in a way that’s in line with your core values. Having top leadership involved in the interview process and sharing both good and bad sides of working for a company as well as asking the interviewee how can we help you achieve your goals, for example, can show that a company is authentically interested in its young people and displays a certain level of servant leadership.

5.     Adjust your transparency.

Although we want to be authentic, we also need to be aware of the impact of being too direct or too transparent. When you’re trying to serve another person, you want to make sure to also consider the impact your words or actions will have on others. The best leaders understand how to balance this need for authenticity with transparency and do it from a place of integrity and genuine caring for the other.

6.     Know your audience.

When you are talking with different people, you will want to highlight the different parts of who you are, especially in the first interactions, so as to create a connection, but not overwhelm someone.

7.     Speak up & encourage others to do so as well.

Especially as you get higher up in an organization, it becomes easy to surround yourself with people who agree with you. Encourage people to speak up and challenge your thoughts and ideas in order to deliver what’s best for the organization.

If you would like to learn more:

Watch the full CEMS Webinar Series: Authentic and Servant Leadership



Dr. Hannes Leroy (RSM) is interested in authentic leadership and how to develop it. That interest includes not only a passionate and critical view of the concept of authenticity, but his past work also includes a better understanding of its unique outcomes, antecedents, and similarities and differences from related concepts. Hannes has published in a range of top journals including the Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of Management Studies, and The Academy of Management Annals. He is on the Editorial Boards of the Journal of Management Studies, Journal of Applied Psychology, Group and Organization Management and Personnel Psychology.


Prof. Milton de Sousa (NOVA) is an Associate Professor at Nova School of Business and Economics. He held the positions of Associate Dean for Institutional Relations and International Development and Academic Director of CEMS MIM at Nova SBE. Previously, he was Director of the MBA Programs at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, where he also did his Ph.D.  Before his academic path, Milton worked as an Engineer, Consultant and Entrepreneur.  His main research interests include servant leadership, paradoxes and social innovation.