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Transformational Leadership vs. Servant Leadership: 7 Important Differences

Transformational Leadership vs. Servant Leadership: 7 Important DifferencesPhoto from Unsplash

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Transformational and servant leadership share many similarities and meaningful differences you need to know about.

Drawing from my experience in growing and managing businesses exceeding $500M in annual revenue, I have witnessed diverse leadership styles and their impact on organizational growth and personal development. Leadership styles can be the make or break factor for any team, organization, or company.

However, two styles that have always caught my attention are transformational and servant leadership. Both types focus on motivating and guiding individuals towards a common goal but differ in their approach and priorities.

I am excited to explore this article’s seven most crucial differences between these two leadership styles. Whether you’re a business leader or simply interested in the dynamics of effective leadership, this comparison will provide valuable insights into these two powerful leadership styles.

Leadership in a Nutshell

Leadership is a crucial element of any successful organization. It is the driving force that inspires and guides individuals toward achieving a common goal. There are various leadership styles, each with a unique approach and philosophy.

This section will explore two popular leadership styles, servant leadership and transformational leadership. Both types have proven effective in different settings, and understanding their nuances can help you determine which one may be the best fit for your organization.

Servant Leadership

Servant leadership is a philosophy based on trust, collaboration, and ethical behavior. At its core, it emphasizes service to others and places the needs of followers and the organization before those of the leader. Leaders who practice servant leadership focus on the growth and well-being of people in the organization.

They encourage open communication and create a sense of community among followers. Additionally, servant leaders utilize servant-minded qualities such as empathy, listening, foresight, and stewardship.

This leadership style is ideal for organizations that are building long-term momentum and see the value in prioritizing employee development and engagement. By focusing on the growth and development of employees, servant leaders can create a positive workplace culture that inspires individuals to perform at their best. Moreover, by placing the needs of followers before their own, servant leaders can build trust and loyalty among their team, which can lead to long-term success for the company.

One of the main benefits of servant leadership is that it can create a highly engaged and motivated workforce that often is more innovative than with other leadership styles.

By prioritizing the employees and empowering them to grow and develop, servant leaders can foster a sense of ownership and responsibility among their team members. As a result, leaders can unlock the collective’s creative power and wisdom.

This approach, in turn, can lead to higher levels of job satisfaction, employee retention, and increased productivity and innovation.

Another critical advantage of servant leadership is that it can help build a strong, cohesive team with substantially lower employee churn. In addition, servant leaders can create a supportive environment where team members feel valued and connected.

Doing this can promote a sense of shared purpose and help build trust among team members, ultimately leading to better performance and outcomes.

However, it’s worth noting that servant leadership may only be effective in some situations. For example, some critics argue that it can be challenging to implement in highly hierarchical or authoritarian organizations, where leaders may not be willing or able to prioritize the needs of their followers.

Additionally, servant leadership may not be effective when quick decision-making and assertiveness are required, as this leadership style may prioritize consensus-building and collaboration over decisive action. For example, while many leaders within the US Army practice servant leadership and followership as a standard, there is a distinct switch to an authoritarian (or no disagreement, hierarchical) style during combat encounters.

While servant leadership can be highly effective in many contexts, it’s essential to recognize that there may be better approaches for some organizations or situations.

Leaders should carefully consider the needs and goals of their team and organization before adopting any particular leadership style. They should be willing to adapt their approach as needed to achieve the best.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is a leadership style that focuses on causing change in individuals and industries. In addition, it focuses on motivating and inspiring team members to achieve higher performance levels to achieve desired outcomes.

One of the critical benefits of transformational leadership is its ability to drive significant performance improvements in organizations. But, unfortunately, this performance and industry-changing transformation only sometimes happen, and the approach can lead to lower results or burnout.

Transformational leaders act as role models and demonstrate a commitment to the organization’s values and goals by seeking continuous or step-function improvements.

They aim to motivate followers to take ownership of their work and become more self-directed. Additionally, transformational leaders emphasize collaboration, communication, and trust between themselves and their followers.

This leadership style is ideal for organizations that require high performance AND innovation to accomplish the company’s desired outcomes.

Studies have shown that transformational leadership can increase job satisfaction, employee engagement, and organizational commitment, ultimately improving organizational performance and financial outcomes. However, studies also show that these attempts can increase the chance of failure or even negative growth in an effort to get “transformation”.

Another essential benefit of transformational leadership is its ability to promote organizational change. This approach can be a massive benefit if you’re working to overcome a toxic or negative company culture, letting people know the status quo has changed.

Transformational leaders can break down silos and encourage individuals to work together towards a common goal by emphasizing collaboration and communication.

This type of company culture can help organizations adapt quickly to changing market conditions and stay ahead of the competition.

However, like any leadership style, transformational leadership has challenges. One potential drawback is that it can be difficult to sustain over the long term, as it requires significant investment in developing and maintaining a sense of innovation and searching for inflection points in the business.

Additionally, some critics argue that transformational leadership can be overly focused on charismatic leadership, which may lead to a need for more attention to critical organizational processes and systems.

Servant Leadership vs. Transformational Leadership: What Are the Main Differences?

While these two leadership styles share some similarities, they have different focuses, approaches, and attitudes. This section will explore the main differences between these two leadership styles.

Development Focus

Servant leadership is all about prioritizing the needs and growth of the team. A servant leader ensures that their team members are thriving professionally and personally. They help individuals identify their strengths and weaknesses and work towards enhancing their individual skills.

For instance, a servant leader manager may offer workshops or training programs to help team members improve their performance. They may also have regular one-on-one meetings with their team members to understand their concerns and aspirations.

In contrast, transformational leadership emphasizes the organization’s development to achieve specific outcomes, sometimes at the expense of the individual or team. This approach requires leaders to have a clear vision of where the organization is heading and what it needs to do to achieve its goals. Then, transformational leaders inspire their followers to work towards achieving that vision.

For example, a CEO who is a transformational leader may set ambitious targets for the company and work with the team to achieve those targets. They focus on creating a culture of innovation, accountability, and performance. However, the implementation frequently leads to actions seen as “cutthroat” or “uncaring” based on how their decisions impact individuals.

Leadership Approach

Servant leadership is rooted in the belief that a leader’s primary role is to serve their followers and the organization, providing them with the necessary support, guidance, and resources to achieve their goals. In addition, this leadership approach emphasizes building relationships based on trust, respect, and empathy.

Servant leaders prioritize the development and well-being of their team members and strive to create a positive and inclusive work environment that promotes growth, creativity, and collaboration.

For example, a CEO who practices servant leadership might prioritize their employees’ work-life challenges by offering flexible schedules or wellness programs.

They also encourage their team members to take on new challenges and responsibilities that align with their personal and professional goals.

On the other hand, transformational leadership focuses on inspiring and motivating followers to achieve the company’s vision or goal.

Transformational leaders aim to create a sense of purpose and commitment among their team members by communicating a clear and compelling vision for the organization.

They empower their followers to take ownership of their work and become more self-directed, fostering a culture of innovation and accountability, similar to the servant leadership approach.

For example, a CEO who practices transformational leadership might set a bold and ambitious goal for the organization, such as achieving market leadership in a particular industry.

They would then communicate this vision to their team members and inspire them to work towards this goal by emphasizing the importance of innovation, creativity, and collaboration – sometimes at all costs.

Long-term Organizational Goal

Servant leadership focuses on creating a positive work environment where employees feel valued, supported, and motivated to perform at their best.

Servant leaders prioritize the development and growth of their team members by investing in their training, providing mentoring opportunities, offering constructive feedback, and providing the resources to support their actions in reaching company outcomes. Focusing on team members first can lead to higher job satisfaction, retention, and performance levels.

On the other hand, transformational leadership focuses on driving organizational growth and success by inspiring and motivating employees to achieve higher performance levels regardless of the impact on others.

Transformational leaders are visionaries who can articulate a compelling vision and inspire their team to work together towards a common goal. They encourage innovation and risk-taking, which can lead to breakthrough ideas and new product development.

For example, Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, was a transformational leader who inspired his team to think creatively and develop innovative products. He had a clear vision for what Apple could achieve and was able to inspire his team to work together toward that vision. Unfortunately, while there are many stories of Steve Jobs being caring, there are also many stories of his toxic, scorched-earth approach to interacting with employees, investors, and even industry peers. His approach was also viewed as transactional leadership.

In contrast, Herb Kelleher, the co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines, was a servant leader who prioritized the well-being of his employees and supported their ability to serve Southwest customers.

He believed that happy employees would result in satisfied customers and was known for his friendly and approachable leadership style. Under his leadership, Southwest Airlines became one of the most successful airlines in the world and a clear outlier in customer satisfaction for the average traveler.

Team Dynamics

Servant leadership strongly emphasizes creating a positive workplace culture that encourages open communication, healthy conflict, and a sense of community among followers.

Servant leaders are described as empathetic listeners who value the opinions and perspectives of their team members.

For example, a CEO of a small startup may adopt servant leadership to foster a culture of collaboration and trust. They can create a sense of shared ownership and responsibility for the company’s success by prioritizing the well-being of their employees. This can result in a more innovative and motivated team, which can help the company grow and thrive.

On the other hand, transformational leadership is correlated to high-stress situations where obtaining specified results is essential.

Both types of leaders want to encourage and inspire followers to take responsibility for their job and develop more independence. They frequently provide an exemplary example by firmly upholding the values and objectives of the organization.

For instance, a sports team coach might use a transformational leadership style to encourage their players to give it their all in that particular game or season. I’ve seen transformational leaders push star soccer players to perform for the game/season over obvious health concerns that could jeopardize the player’s entire career.

When implemented healthily, the coach may inspire the athletes to take ownership of the outcomes by setting high standards and exhibiting the required behaviors. Doing this could ultimately result in improved performance on the field or court.


In servant leadership, the team and the leader collaborate to reach decisions to reach company goals. The focus is establishing connections and fostering a welcoming environment where people feel heard and respected, even though a leader may need to make “the call” in the end.

This strategy encourages open communication, which can help with decision-making, problem-solving, and innovative thinking.

A leader using Servant leadership, for instance, may convene the team members to review each person’s abilities and objectives before coming up with a strategy that will allow everyone to advance in a way that helps the team as a whole.

In transformational leadership, the leader motivates followers to take calculated risks and develop creative solutions to meet the organization’s objectives, with the decisions being made in isolation.

The team’s leader could be an inspiration by outlining the company’s future goals and desired timelines while demonstrating how each team member can contribute to that goal.

Process vs. End Goal

Servant leadership puts the goal-achieving process ahead of the finished product. They understand that the “ends justify the means” has often been used to justify harmful and sometimes illegal actions by individuals and companies.

The goal is to create a supportive work environment where everyone feels respected and supported because this will allow the team to build and sustain long-term momentum.

To foster community among team members, a servant leader would prioritize team-building exercises like 1:1s, coaching meetings, and brainstorming sessions.

The team leader may also try to spot and resolve any issues impeding the team from cooperating efficiently. Servant leadership fosters a collaborative atmosphere where team members work together and accomplish their objectives.

In contrast, transformational leadership is concerned with attaining organizational goals in the desired timeframe at all costs.

The organization’s leader establishes a clear vision and motivates members to strive toward it. People tend to be viewed as resources and not people. Team members will use terms like “cogs” to describe their feelings but may not feel safe sharing them in more public settings. This leadership approach emphasizes maximizing individual actions to accomplish desired outcomes while encouraging creativity and risk-taking to achieve goals.


Servant leaders have an attitude of service and prioritize the needs and development of their team members and the company before their own needs. They place a high value on listening, understanding others’ perspectives, and empathetic behavior.

For instance, a servant leadership manager could take the time to hear an employee’s problems and collaborate with them to develop a solution that benefits the employee and the firm.

Transformative leaders, in contrast, have an ambitious mindset and concentrate on pushing their team members to realize their most significant potential for the company. In addition, they may provide a compelling vision for the organization’s future and are frequently charismatic.

Summary of Servant Leadership vs. Transformational Leadership

It ultimately depends on the needs and priorities of the organization to determine which style of leadership is best for them. For example, while transformational leadership is well suited for organizations requiring high levels of performance and innovation, servant leadership may be more effective for organizations prioritizing long-term growth and engagement.

Both leadership styles have their strengths and weaknesses. While transformational leaders may be better at fostering change and accomplishing ambitious goals, servant leaders may be better at promoting trust and loyalty among their team members through the influence of their leadership.

Influential leaders frequently strike a balance between these two mindsets, understanding when to put their attention on encouraging their team members to grow and when to push them to reach challenging objectives.


Here are some frequently asked questions about these leadership styles.

What is transformational leadership?

Transformational leadership is a leadership style that focuses on motivating followers to achieve higher performance levels and achieve desired outcomes.

How do servant leadership and transformational leadership differ?

The servant leadership style focuses on the development of the individual and the team, emphasizes service to others, and puts the needs of followers before the leader. It encourages open communication and collaboration and creates a sense of community among followers.

On the other hand, the transformational leadership model focuses on the organization’s desired outcomes, emphasizes results at all costs, and encourages innovation and risk-taking.

How are transformational and servant leadership similar?

Both transformational and servant leadership prioritize the well-being and growth of the individuals within the organization. They can emphasize open communication, collaboration, and trust between leaders and followers, depending on how the transformational approach is implemented.

What are the 4 types of transformational leadership?

The four types of transformational leadership are idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration.

Can you be a servant leader and a transformational leader?

Yes, it is possible to integrate both servant leadership and transformational leadership into one’s leadership style. For example, many high-achieving servant leaders practice transformational leadership aspects in their team approaches. Combining these styles of leadership often results in enhanced leader effectiveness. Empirical studies often label this combination first as a servant leadership model to draw a distinction by the sometimes autocratic leadership styles of some, but not all, transformational leaders.

What are the weaknesses of transformational leadership?

Some of the weaknesses of transformational leadership include the potential for burnout, lack of focus on day-to-day operations, overreliance on the leader’s charisma, and the possibility of the leader’s values overshadowing the organization’s individual goals.

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