Servant Leader Profile Paper

Grade Level: 
9, 10, 11, 12
Oral History
Our State of Generosity
Servant leaders are people who practice a leadership philosophy that “enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.” Students write a profile paper about a philanthropist who exhibits "servant leadership."

What Is a Servant Leader?

Servant leaders are people who practice a leadership philosophy that “enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world” (Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership). While the leader-first puts the needs of the organization above all else, a servant-first leader cares most about the people and the communities that they serve.

Listen to two or three servant leader interviews from Our State of Generosity or StoryCorps. 

You can learn about servant leaders in Michigan reading their profiles by listening to interviews with them in the Our State of Generosity oral and video history collection [].

StoryCorps also has many great examples of servant leader stories, like these:

  • What about their stories are interesting, surprising, memorable, or touching to you?
  • What do they have in common?
  • How are they examples of “servant leadership”?
Your Turn

For this paper, you will write a profile, which is similar to a personal essay, but the focus is on someone else instead of yourself. Importantly, you will want to connect their life story to a bigger issue or theme, specifically how they practice servant leadership through a non-profit organization in our community.

No matter whom you select to profile, be sure to answer the following questions in your profile:

  • Who is your profile subject? How did he/she first become interested in philanthropy?
  • What is their organization’s mission? Who do they serve? How? Why?
  • How did your profile subject become involved in the organization?
  • Would he/she describe him/herself as a “servant leader”? Why? Why not?
  • What can we all learn about servant leadership from your profile subject?
Choosing Your Profile Subject

Before you can write this paper, you will carefully select a person to interview. The person must work for or volunteer at a local non-profit organization. In addition to interviewing your subject, you will want to spend time doing something together, if you can. That way, you can observe them as they would naturally act and interact with others. This will give you more insight into their values and personality. It can also help you write a more interesting, action-based introduction.

You will want to choose a person you can call again while you are writing, just in case you have questions about something he or she said during the interview.

Crafting Your Interview Questions

Before your interview, create a list of interview questions that will invite an engaging conversation.

You could start with generic questions like:

  • What was an important event in your life?
  • What’s the most important life lesson that you’ve learned?

But these could put your subject on the spot if they can’t think of anything.

Instead, try to create a list of specific questions that will get them talking. For example:  

  • Why did you decide to join the military? How did you feel when you found out you were being deployed?
  • What was your most rewarding experience as a foster parent? Who is the one child you will never forget?

Also, ask open-ended questions. Which question is more thought-provoking…

1.  Was it difficult to grow up during the Depression?

2.  What was it like to grow up during the Depression?

The first question could easily be answered with just a “yes” or “no”, if your storyteller is nervous and not very chatty. The second open-ended question is better because the wording encourages a more detailed, thoughtful response.

The StoryCorps Great Questions page has suggestions for getting a good conversation going.

The Interview

During the interview, listen carefully to how your subject answers your questions. Do the answers take unexpected turns? Listen carefully for any interesting nuggets of information that come up. This requires good listening on your part (i.e., more listening than talking, thoughtful follow-up questions, etc.).

Listen for any themes that connect the examples your subject gives you. (Did he/she always like animals? Was having a safe place to live always important to him/her?)

People love to tell their stories, but you might need to ask your subject to tell you more (share details, give examples) so you can make the connection you need to servant leadership for this paper.

Record your interview if your subject is willing, but be sure to ask permission first. In addition to ensuring accuracy, adding quotations to your profile will help capture your subject’s voice and personality. Don’t worry about writing down everything your subject says. Instead, wait until you hear something that’s said particularly well or in an interesting way that sheds light on your subject’s character, values, or experience. If nothing occurs to you during interview, you can ask your subject for a quote at the end of your interview that you can include in your paper.

“So What?”

A profile is not a biography, although you do need to include a bit of background about this person’s life. Instead of detailing everything that has ever happened to your subject, focus on a particular part of their life or an especially significant experience they have had relative to their organization or the issue/cause it represents.

Find out why/how they became involved with their organization in the first place and why they stay involved. How does it all connect to servant leadership? (Think “slice of life” + “so what?”)

Finally, a profile is not a transcript of your interview (Q and A). It is an actual essay that you will write based on your conversation during the interview. So avoid wording like, “When I asked her about …, she said … And then I asked … and she said …”

Include these elements in your profile:
  • An interesting title and lead.
  • Background information about your subject (age, occupation, etc.).
  • A physical description so the reader can “see” your profile subject.
  • Your description should include your profile subject’s body language, environment, habits, attitudes, and personality.
  • Answers to your interview questions and additional research about the organization.
  • Specific examples or anecdotes that your subject shared.
  • Direct quotations from your subject (capture their voice!). You can actually ask them for a quote to include in the paper if one doesn’t come up organically during the interview.
  • Your subject’s thoughts about servant leadership.
  • An answer to the “So what?” question. You might have to think hard to come up with this on your own if your profile subject does not.

Your profiles should be at least two to three pages in length. If you write less than this, you probably don’t have enough detail about your subject’s experiences or didn’t reflect enough on what we can learn from this person about servant leadership.

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