Written by: Paul Young, Vice President and Co-Founder of Swiftwater Solutions, 2023 Water Leadership Program Graduate

Paul Young sampling a well on the job. Photo by the author


In the world of leadership, where various styles and approaches are continuously emerging, the concept of a “servant leader” stands out as a powerful and transformative model. But what exactly is a servant leader, and why is this approach especially fitting for the water sector? In this blog post, we will delve into the essence of servant leadership, its place in the spectrum of leadership types, and how to train, cultivate, and mentor individuals to embrace this leadership style in the context of the water sector.

Unveiling the Servant Leader

Imagine a leader who, instead of seeking power and control, focuses on serving others, with the belief that through their service, they can lead effectively and inspire positive change. This is the heart of servant leadership. The concept was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in his 1970 essay “The Servant as Leader,” where he introduced the idea of leaders as humble stewards who prioritize the well-being and growth of their team members.

Servant leaders exhibit key qualities such as empathy, active listening, selflessness, and a commitment to fostering an environment where each team member can reach their full potential. They put the needs of others before their own and work tirelessly to empower and support their team.

The Water Sector’s Call for Servant Leaders

The water sector is a unique and critical industry, responsible for managing and providing clean water to communities around the world. The challenges it faces are complex, ranging from resource scarcity and environmental concerns to aging infrastructure and regulatory compliance. In this context, the servant leadership concept couldn’t be more fitting.

Water sector leaders who embrace the servant leadership model understand the profound impact of their work. They recognize that access to clean water is a fundamental human right and that their role is to ensure that every person has this essential resource. Servant leaders in the water sector not only acknowledge the importance of their mission but actively engage in service to their teams, organizations, and the communities they serve.

The Continuum of Leadership Styles

Servant leadership exists on a continuum alongside other leadership styles, such as autocratic, transactional, transformational, and situational leadership. While each style has its place and benefits, servant leadership stands out for its emphasis on nurturing relationships, collaboration, and ethical decision-making.

Servant leadership is not about being passive; it’s about being proactive in serving others and empowering them to achieve their best potential. This approach can be adapted to various leadership contexts, making it versatile and applicable in a range of industries.

Training and Cultivating Servant Leaders in the Water Sector

Developing servant leaders in the water sector involves a deliberate process. Here are some steps to train, cultivate, and mentor individuals into this transformative type of leadership:

  1. Emphasize Values: Begin by instilling core values of empathy, integrity, and selflessness. Make sure your leaders understand the deeper purpose of their work in providing clean water and the significance of their role in achieving that mission.
  2. Mentorship and Role Modeling: Encourage experienced servant leaders to mentor emerging ones. Nothing is more effective than learning through real-world examples. In this way, the principles of servant leadership can be passed down from one generation of leaders to the next.
  3. Leadership Programs: Invest in leadership development programs tailored to the water sector. These programs can include workshops, seminars, and mentoring initiatives specifically designed to cultivate servant leaders.
  4. Feedback and Self-Reflection: Encourage leaders to seek feedback and engage in self-reflection to refine their servant leadership skills. It’s important to continuously learn and grow in this role.
  5. Incorporate Service Projects: Promote community service projects that allow leaders to actively engage with the communities they serve. These experiences reinforce the servant leader’s commitment to making a positive impact.

The essence of servant leadership is not just a concept—it’s a transformative philosophy and a resounding call to action. For those leading the charge in the water sector, adopting the principles of servant leadership is not merely an option but a crucial imperative. By incorporating empathy, active service, and a commitment to community well-being into your leadership style, you can leave an indelible mark on the water sector. This isn’t just about individual leadership; it’s about creating a ripple effect that will resonate across generations. Embrace the ethos of servant leadership, and let your influence become a guiding light, ensuring a sustainable and flourishing water sector that benefits our communities now and in the future.


About the Author

Meet Paul Young, Vice President and Co-Founder of Swiftwater Solutions. Paul was one of thirty-two participants who completed the EFCN’s inaugural 2023 Water Leadership Program. He is a warrant officer in the United States Army. Paul is a dynamic leader and water sector professional whose extensive military background has shaped his expertise in both leadership and water management. With a track record of guiding diverse teams in high-pressure environments, Paul seamlessly translates his leadership skills to the water sector, where he has made a significant impact on sustainable water management initiatives and best practices. If you’d like to connect with Paul, please reach out through LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-young-mpa-188889aa/


The EFCN Water Leadership Program is funded by a grant awarded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Innovative Water Infrastructure Workforce Development Program. This pilot program is one in a suite of programs across the country that have received a total of $3.8 million in funding to help build the water workforce and connect individuals to career opportunities in the drinking water and wastewater utility sector, as well as expand public awareness about job opportunities at drinking water and water treatment utilities.