“Good leaders must first become good servants.”
― Robert K. Greenleaf

When I think of a great example of a servant leader, the former Nebraska football coach and US Congressman Tom Osborn comes to mind. He’s pictured here helping Hastings College President Dennis Trotter with his graduation garb. Despite his numerous achievements when you were in the presence of Dr. Tom you felt like you were the one that was special.

In 1964 he began his 25 year career as a Nebraska football coach as an unpaid assistant to Coach Devaney. The only compensation he received for his work was a meal ticket at the athletic training table. Coach Osborn never lost his servant attitude and humility as he became one of the most successful college football coaches of all time.

Dr. Osborn continues to serve as he and his wife Nancy lead the TeamMates program they founded in 1991. Teammates supports and provides mentorship to school-age youth with the goal of improving high school graduation rates and pursuing a college degree.

Good therapists must first become good servants.

When working as a physical therapist, you usually take the role of serving your patients to meet their needs. How does therapist learn how to serve well? This isn’t something that is automatically taught in PT school, but can make the difference in the world between good, and great care.

Robert Greenleaf was the pioneer in developing what a servant leader is. Through his extensive research in psychology and work in a authoritarian setting, he developed a set of ten characteristics which a servant leader possess.

10 Characteristics of A Servant Leader

1.Listening- As identified by Greenleaf, servant leaders need to be reinforced by a deep commitment to listening intently to others. Therapists can learn about their patients needs by listening intently to what they are explaining in order to provide them the best treatment.

2.Empathy-Empathy is defined as striving to understand and recognize people for their special and unique spirits. There will be patients that will fit the “unique spirits” but learning how to best empathize with them can give them an ally during their therapy journey.

3.Healing-Healing within the context of servant leaders is being able to recognize that there is an opportunity to ‘help make whole’ those with whom they come in contact with. While therapists may view healing as just getting physically better, there is also an emotional connection where you can heal patients by helping make them whole, physically, emotionally and mentally.

4.Awareness-Awareness refers to understanding issues involving ethics and values and lets itself to view most situations from a more integrate holistic position. Awareness also refers to self-awareness where you are able to see areas that you are weak in. When therapists can understand their own style of therapy and how best they can use their strengths in their patients’ recovery, they are better able to serve them.

5.Persuasion-The quality of persuasion lies in seeking to convince others rather than trying to coerce compliance. This also means that servant leaders do not rely on their positional authority. Therapists have a expert power, where they know what is the best method of therapy for their patient. Learning how to gently convince patients to choose the best course of action can serve them in their therapy.

6.Conceptualization-The mark of a servant leader who exercising conceptualization is that they seek to nurture their abilities to “dream great dreams and to think beyond day-to-day realities.” Conceptualization helps therapists stay grounded in knowing where they want to take their practice and keep moving forward.

7.Foresight-Closely linked to conceptualization is foresight. Foresight is the ability to understand the lessons from the past, and the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision for the future. Therapists need to see the “big picture” and help their patients get to a place where they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

8.Stewardship-In the terms of servant leadership, stewardship refers to holding something in trust for another. This stems beyond monetary stewardship and refers to more learning how to steward your skills to best fit the needs of your patient.

9.Commitment to the Growth of People-Commitment to the growth of people is self explanatory in the fact that it is having a deep commitment to see people grow. Being a therapist is very rewarding in the fact that you get to see your patients improve through their time with you. Having an innate desire to see others grown is essential to be an effective therapist.

10.Building Community-Building a community is to identify some means for building community among those who work within a given institution. This can manifest through the environment that is created in your practice. Having therapy be something that patients interact with each other creates a sense of camaraderie and can help serve them.

Learn More About Servant Leadership from Robert A. Greenleaf

Sevant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness

The Power of Servant Leadership

Learn More About Starting A Cash Therapy Practice



Learn more about how to own your therapy practice and work for yourself in my new book On Fire!. I believe now is the time for therapists to lessen their dependency on physician referrals and large corporations. That’s why I’ve written a book. I want to inspire you and help you stay true to your calling while doing the work you love.

 On Fire: Ignite Your Passion with a Cash Therapy Practice is now available on Amazon in multiple formats. There are paperback, Kindle and audiobook versions to match your learning style. Just click this link to learn more about On Fire!

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