Servant Leadership Principle #1 – Listening

Servant leaders seek out the will of the group. They listen receptively to what is being said (and not said)

“Portrait of listening” by squash is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Servant leaders seek out the will of the group. They listen receptively to what is being said (and not said).

BSA NYLT Syllabus, module Servant Leadership

It is hard to be a servant toward someone to whom you aren’t listening. As this is mostly self-evident, it still bears repeating. Even today, I see far more staring at screens than eye contact as I move through this world.

Listening with intention is a very active task however – even while reflecting on our perception:

Listening allows us to look within ourselves and become aware of the barriers that inhibit our ability to listen effectively. It helps us discern information that leads to understanding, rather than judgment, which in turn leads to derision. We all have personal biases and prejudices even if we’d like to believe otherwise. Listening helps us serve by exposing prejudices that filter select words, warp messages, and prevent us from considering another point of view.

Jessica Zisa, posted in Listen to Serve

The wise listener is evaluating many things at once:

  • The 90% of communication not given verbally (feelings, emotions, tells, and so on)
  • The things left unsaid (areas either forgotten or intentionally passed)
  • Their own emotional reaction to the sender
  • Their own emotional reaction to the message
  • The reaction of others, if applicable
  • Oh, and the facts of the communication

Sometimes it’s wise to summarize what you’ve learned from the listening, in order to acknowledge and give feedback. However, make sure you are adding to the conversation, not just sending back the same message.

Sometimes it’s wise to just keep quiet, and process all the communication given, in order to sort through the jumble to gain insight and understanding. However, make sure that you don’t abandon the communicator, and make them feel alone (many times this can be done non-verbally).

Responses in Anger

Be especially wary when, while listening, your emotions lead to anger:

Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.

James 1:19-21 (The Message)

Please sense the peace that dispatching the anger gives in this verse, because the anger mainly is a selfish response (though not exclusively). The picture of a lush, peaceful garden is very compelling; the humility required to drop the anger, however, is expensive.


Listening, above all, requires patient outreach to the person communicating. To walk in another’s shoes, to make them feel understood, to grasp the entirety of the communication – this is the fundamental work of the servant.

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