Servant Leadership: A Model for Nurse Leaders in the 21st Century

Sunday, November 1, 2009: 3:25 PM

Jennell P. Charles, PhD, RN
Sue Ellen Odom, DSN, RN
Karen Weaver, PhD, RN
Nursing, Clayton State University, Morrow, GA

Learning Objective 1: examine the usefulness of the Servant Leadership Model for leadership development in nurses.

Learning Objective 2: evaluate the impact of a servant leadership model on leadership skills of student nurses when working with a culturally diverse population.

The implementation of a servant leadership model with student nurses during a 10-day experience in Guatemala is described.    In partnership with Jungle Medic Missions, 15 baccalaureate nursing students and 2 nursing faculty provided basic nursing care services to non-English speaking, indigenous people of central Guatemala.  Course activities included clinical practice activities, health education and promotion, small group reflection seminars, and journaling.  Students were selected for the experience based upon a first-come, first-serve basis.  The experience was shaped through the theoretical lens of the Servant Leadership model.  The concept of “servant leadership” was first introduced in the management literature in the 1960s. While most traditional theories of leadership are built upon a “power model,” servant leaders are those who evolve into leaders from a desire to serve.  Characteristics of servant leaders include:  active listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community (Swearingen & Lieberman, 2004).   Servant leadership begins with a core belief that individuals are valued because of their innate qualities; this belief leads to teamwork, community involvement, shared decision making and empowerment activities.  Neill and Saunders (2008) demonstrated that servant leadership provides a skill set that can positively impact quality of care and nurse satisfaction for patients within a medical intensive care unit.  The faculty leaders made the following assumptions:  (a) students who selected this opportunity demonstrate these characteristics of servant leadership; (b) this experience would serve to further enhance these characteristics; and, (c) these experiences would empower the individuals and communities served.  Refocusing efforts on the model of servant leadership may serve to create a new generation of servant leaders whose leadership can enrich the profession of nursing and enhance the quality of life and health across cultures and internationally. 


Neill, M.S., & Saunders, N.S.  (2008).  Servant leadership:  Enhancing quality of care and staff satisfaction.  Journal of Nursing Administration, 38(9), 395-400.

Swearingen, S.S., & Liberman, A.  (2004).  Nursing leadership:  Serving those who serve others.  The Health Care Manager, 23(2), 100-109.