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Servant Leadership in STEM: How to Serve the Greater Good

Have you ever wondered how some engineering leaders steer their teams smoothly through challenging situations and emerge as winners? Here’s how to practice servant leadership to manage your remote or hybrid team.
woman practicing servant leadership in a group while writing on a white board

Robert K. Greenleaf introduced the concept of servant leadership in the 1970s. Under this model, leaders see themselves as a servant of a group and act accordingly. Servant leaders know when and how to get involved, build trust, influence without authority, and inspire others to make an impact. 

When we talk about STEM and engineering leaders, a servant leader is at the center of strategic innovation within a team. A true servant leader in STEM will rely on values such as trust, empowered teams, conscious inclusion, quick decision-making, mentoring, learning, growth mindset, and agility.

Today’s employees prefer to work for leaders who will enable their growth while letting them be their authentic selves. A successful leader knows how to respond to the diverse needs of their team members, from baby boomers to Gen Z. 

You can utilize the servant leadership techniques below to keep your associates engaged and motivated, especially when managing hybrid or remote teams.

Connect with Your Team

Determine what methods and strategies will keep your workforce engaged with your company’s purpose. There is a subtle difference between being connected to an organization’s purpose and being aligned with that purpose. 

Always ask this question: “Does my team still feel connected to our purpose?” If not, you need to find and remedy the gap in how you communicate with them. 

Craft your team’s purpose and reinforce it repeatedly. Make sure your employees understand that everyone is working towards a common business goal.  

Be Transparent

Implementing and communicating changes with transparency will determine your success as a leader. 

Even when there are changes in your company, leadership, or strategy, you will build trust if you promote team engagement, manage conflict, and provide clear feedback. 

woman engineer working from home on a video call


In a remote environment, it’s important to actively listen to your employees. This includes being empathetic and truly hearing what they are trying to tell you. 

As a servant leader, you need to be human-centered. When your team wants to share something, ensure you listen to them and respond on time if they are seeking your input.

Be Responsive

This brings us to the next key trait: how responsive are you? 

With the rise of remote work, there has been a shift in our daily routine and life. At the office, your team might knock on your door or catch you in the café. But when working from home, people might feel apprehensive about calling you frequently or even messaging you. 

If someone is waiting for a response, be quick and respect their time. Make yourself available consistently and communicate your availability to team members. If you can’t make a call, let your team know and connect with them afterwards rather than forgetting about it. 

To stay on track with responding, set reminders and connect with your people on a regular basis. As a true servant leader, you must ensure your team remains engaged even when they are working remotely.

Empower Others

In any work environment, whether that’s in-person or virtual, it’s vital to empower your team members to experiment with new ideas so they can learn, grow, and be more effective. This will make them more creative and provide a sense of accountability. 

As a servant leader, you should let them know that it’s alright to fail. Let your team learn from their failures, and be ready when needed with another robust plan. As an example, you can let your assocates run virtual meetings and share responsibility with you.

Show Respect and Empathy

It is important to show appreciation for the work of your team members. Give them your motivation, patience, respect, and empathy to win their trust.

group of women engineers with hands in the middle of a circle

Be Inclusive

A virtual office environment can affect how colleagues feel about each other. No leader can afford an “us vs. them” attitude, especially when it pertains to new hires.

When leading your team, make sure they understand the importance of team dynamics and participation. For example, you can implement a meeting rule where everyone gets a chance to speak.

Accommodate everyone’s needs where possible, and redirect when you notice that one person tends to dominate team meetings.

Communicate Clearly

How you communicate and reciprocate with your team is essential. 

For any work you delegate, communicate it clearly and remember the other person is not sitting around the corner but miles away. It’s best to give your team members enough time to absorb your messages and feedback. 

Define clear expectations, directions, and timelines that leave no room for confusion. This applies not just to the goals and roles of your team, but also to the precise tasks and processes you want them to execute. You may need to over communicate in an effort to reduce uncertainty.

Define the Rules of Engagement

If your team is in different locations, then it’s in your benefit to define a mode of daily communication — whether that’s through emails, calls, chat apps, or another method. 

Create your team’s local rules of engagement and define how the team will regularly connect. This will help you avoid common misunderstandings and collaboration pitfalls.

Be Aware of Your Tone

Since your remote or hybrid team can’t always see your body language, it’s even more important to be aware of your tone when speaking to them. 

Be intentionally positive in your calls and emails, and be sure to refrain from sarcasm. A lack of physical presence can often lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

There is no one fixed mantra to be a successful leader. While you may use a mix of different styles, you will succeed at servant leadership STEM if you are personal and authentic. The key is to focus on empathy, continuous communication, trust, and conscious inclusion.


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  • Mandeep Gill

    Mandeep Gill (she/her) works with Becton Dickinson, and manages a diverse Technical Documentation, Labeling, and UXD portfolio at the Chandigarh R&D center in India. As a volunteer, Mandeep supports BD’s Women’s Initiative Network (WIN) Associate Resource Group as the WIN+STEM Chandigarh lead and WIN Global Mentoring Advisory Council lead, as well as the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) as a Global Ambassador, SWE Mohali Affiliate Committee Member, and Lead-Elect SWE Global Women Engineers AG. She also supports SWE Mentor Network as a mentor.