Due to the many changes that have occurred over the last two decades, especially in connection with the ‘new managerialism’, academia is a complex working environment. Multiple skills are demanded from professors, such as acting as entrepreneurs and mentors with designated leadership competences. This paper investigates the leadership role of academic group leaders in the context of higher education in Germany. It is argued that a servant leadership approach can enable professors to provide effective academic leadership in the current university context. This is due to its strong human orientation and low power distance and its focus on facilitating academic excellence, creativity and innovation. The discussion notes the importance of developing academic group leaders and describes some practical means of implementing servant leadership in higher education.