Servant Leadership: It’s Not Only Right; It Works!

Many of us who embrace the overarching framework of Servant Leadership believe it is the “right” thing to do.  That is, we are committed, in principle, to the perspectives, attitudes, and behaviors that represent the servant leader.

All too often, though, others believe that Servant Leadership represents practices that are soft, that are easy to perform, that do not address accountability, and that do not positively impact the organizational dynamics that drive organizational success.  

Nothing could be further from the truth.

True, effective servant leaders know that it requires hard work, that it requires character to make the difficult decisions, and that it requires the type of accountability that holds everyone in the organization responsible to perform in a way that leads to organizational success.  It is the way they carry out these practices that makes servant leadership “the right way” to lead.

But it also works!

Plenty of research exists supporting the notion that servant leadership has a positive effect on organizational members resulting in greater organizational performance.  Here is a sampling of that evidence:

  1. Companies whose CEOs were identified as servant leaders had greater firm performance than companies led by non-servant leaders as measured by return on assets (Peterson, Galvin, and Lange, 2014).

  2. Leaders in restaurants who developed serving cultures were positively related both to restaurant performance and employee job performance, creativity, and customer service behaviors, and negatively related to turnover intentions (Liden & Wayne, 2014).

  3. Results of one study found that servant leadership style may decrease burnout in general among employees (Kaya, Aydin & Ongun, 2016).

  4. Organizations that practiced servant leadership showed a positive relationship to increased strategic alignment among employees (Weiling, Yeh & Hengelo, 2017).

  5. Researchers found that servant leadership was directly associated with business-unit performance measured in revenue and earnings growth (Giolito & Van Dierendonck, 2017).

Again, the above represents just a handful of the body of research that points to the positive relationship between Servant Leadership and organization behavior and performance (my initial search returned over 100 related studies).

So, the next time you encounter someone who argues that Servant Leadership doesn’t work, tell them it does work and it is the “right thing” to do.

Keep leading by serving.

Jim Dittmar


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