Posted by: A.R. Cherian | November 5, 2009

Steven Covey on Servant Leadership

In class discussions on leadership, we read an article written by Steven Covey in Executive Excellence (1994) titled “New Wine, Old Bottles.”

Covey states that most training programs try to put new wine in old bottles. For example, they take the “new wine” concept of servant leadership and try to combine it with the old command-and-control or benevolent authoritarian approach. He says that the leader then becomes a wolf in sheep’s clothing because their basic style has not changed.

Servant leadership requires humility of character and core competency around a new skill set. To become servant leaders, Covey lists three steps that executives must take.

  1. Build relationships of trust
  2. Set up win-win performance agreements
  3. Be a source of help

In servant leadership, the leader no longer takes the position of a servant. He/she no longer directs, controls, or judges. Instead, they become a coach and resource for help.  Their whole goal is to coach and lead their team members to excellence (even if it may become greater than the leader’s).

Covey also states that servant leaders should ask four questions in mutual accountability sessions

  1. How’s it going? or what’s happening?
  2. What are you learning from this situation?
  3. What are your goals now?
  4. How can I help you?

He states that without this new mindset, servant leadership won’t work. It’s like putting new wine in old wineskins. It requires a change in mindset of managers and leaders.  It requires that managers become compassionate to the performance struggles of their employees and help them succeed.

Covey mentions that servant leadership is not soft or “touchy-feely” stuff – it takes guts to do. He also mentions that critics of servant leadership are people who want more dramatic near-term results, but servant leadership is a system that takes time to fully blossom but will yield much more stable and consistent long-term results.



  1. I am researching servant leadership for my class and this is perfect. Good writing and the rest of your blog has all the old familiar names of the men who inspire you. They inspire me too.

    God bless you and your family that is not yet here.

    ps. I am a student at The Master’s College, Center for Professional Studies.

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