Ten characteristics of a servant leader

Leadership By Mark Huffmyer, PharmD

“I am going to suggest to each of you that no matter how well you are performing now, you are capable of doing better.” This is how I begin each leadership development class that I teach. These classes are orchestrated through Alpha Phi Omega, a community service fraternity I was a part of in college. Now an alumnus, I volunteered to start teaching these classes around the country to give back to this fraternity, and yet teaching these classes has enabled me to live a more fulfilling life, both professionally and personally.  

The concept of a servant leadership is something that comes up several times during these leadership development workshops. There are 10 key characteristics of a servant leader, as detailed by Larry C. Spears’ article “Character and Servant Leadership: Ten Characteristics of Effective, Caring Leaders,” which appeared in a 2000 issue of Concepts and Connections newsletter. As I began my career as a New Practitioner, I started to realize that many of the traits that a servant leader has can be beneficial to my patients.

As a pharmacist servant leader, I strive to listen to my patients, to identify the will of my patients, and to help clarify that will. It’s important to listen both to what is said, and unsaid.

Empathy goes hand-in-hand with listening in regards to patients. Not only do you have to listen to what they are saying, but you have to also understand their point of view. Many patients come from different backgrounds and lifestyles, and as a practitioner, you must put yourself in their shoes to serve them to the best of your ability.

Healing is a powerful force for transformation and integration. As a health care provider, you often focus on healing physical and medical problems, but there are many emotional and mental wounds that you can assist patients with, as well.

General awareness, and especially self-awareness, can help strengthen you. By being aware of your patients, their issues, and their struggles, you will be able to better understand and serve them.

I say to many of my students that it doesn’t matter if you are the most well-educated pharmacist in the world—if your patients don’t trust you, or don’t believe you, then you may as well be counseling a brick wall. You must be able to persuade them, not coerce them, into your way of thinking.

There are many problems and issues that affect pharmacists and the ability to care for patients. To look at these problems from a conceptualizing perspective means that one must think beyond day-to-day realities. It is easy to get bogged down by the daily struggles, but important to keep the big picture of caring for patients in mind.

Foresight is a characteristic that enables the servant leader to understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision for the future. By using foresight, you can better care for patients.

Servant leadership, like stewardship, assumes first and foremost a commitment to serving the needs of our patients. It also emphasizes the use of openness and persuasion, rather than control.

Commitment to growth
Servant leaders are committed to helping people grow, including their patients, their co-workers, and themselves. There is always room for improvement.

Building community
Pharmacists, one of the most accessible health care providers for people, are often seen as leaders in the community. With this, you must strive to build a positive community, both within your workplace and in the surrounding community where your patients live.

As I progress in my career as a pharmacist, I try to keep these characteristics in the back of my mind. I am on a journey of self-development to better myself, and better care for my patients, and I hope to try to embody these principles just a little bit more every day.