Conceptualizing and Measuring Servant Leadership: Liden, Wayne, Zhao and Henderson’s (2008) Servant Leadership Scale

Raymond W. Preiss, Ph.D.

Master of Arts in Servant Leadership Graduate Faculty

Professor and Chair, Department of Communication Studies

Viterbo University

Copyright 2014. Raymond W. Preiss. All rights reserved.


The turn of the century marked increased attention to the SL construct. Researchers were distinguishing between transformational and interactional approaches while theorizing about how SL fit into the constellation of theories used to understand organizational behaviors. There was renewed interest in Greenleaf’s writings and revulsion to an unfolding series of corporate scandals abuses. SL emerged as an alternative to ego-centric leadership models based upon competition and efficiency. The flurry of models and explanations consistently placed concern for, and service to, others at the center of the SL management style. There was disagreement about the generative force driving SL and the taxonomy of characteristics thought to be associated with the construct.

Liden, Wayne, Zhao and Henderson (2008) express dissatisfaction with the dimensional structure of SL offered in the literature. It is unclear if their concerns are primarily rooted in the nature of the dimensions described in earlier studies, the inconsistency of the dimensions across studies, or the inadequate attention to resolving the competing dimensional structures. They surveyed available literature and isolated nine dimensions: Emotional healing, creating value for the community, empowering, helping subordinates grow, putting subordinates first, behaving ethically, forming relationships with immediate followers, and servanthood (Liden et al. 2008, p. 162). It is unclear if the order of the dimensions in Liden et al.’s taxonomy has theoretical implications for leaders, followers, or organizations.

After specifying the SL taxonomy, Liden et al. (2008) developed a pool of 85 items that addressed the nine dimensions, drawing upon statements used in pre-existing scales. A student sample of 298 and an organizational sample of 182 completed the items. The organizational sample also completed demographic items and measures of organizational commitment, transformational leadership, community citizenship behavior, and in-role performance. Here are the scale items emerging from the student sample:

1. I would seek help from my manager if I had a personal problem.

2. My manager cares about my personal well-being.

3. My manager takes time to talk to me on a personal level.

4. My manager can recognize when I’m down without asking me.

5. My manager emphasizes the importance of giving back to the community.

6. My manager is always interested in helping people in our community.

7. My manager is involved in community activities.

8. I am encouraged by my manager to volunteer in the community.

9. My manager can tell if something is going wrong.

10. My manager is able to effectively think through complex problems.

11. My manager has a thorough understanding of our organization and its goals.

12. My manager can solve work problems with new or creative ideas.

13. My manager gives me the responsibility to make important decisions about my job.

14. My manager encourages me to handle important work decisions on my own.

15. My manager gives me the freedom to handle difficult situations in the way that I feel is best.

16. When I have to make an important decision at work, I do not have to consult my manager first.

17. My manager makes my career development a priority.

18. My manager is interested in making sure that I achieve my career goals.

19. My manager provides me with work experiences that enable me to develop new skills.

20. My manager wants to know about my career goals.

21. My manager seems to care more about my success than his/her own.

22. My manager puts my best interests ahead of his/her own.

23. My manager sacrifices his/her own interests to meet my needs.

24. My manager does what she/he can do to make my job easier.

25. My manager holds high ethical standards.

26. My manager is always honest.

27. My manager would not compromise ethical principles in order to achieve success.

28. My manager values honest more than profits.


As might be expected, it is difficult to interpret a factor analysis comprised of nine dimensions! The explanation at the top of page 169 provides a clear description of the decisions resulting in the seven factor, twenty-eight item scale. The validity tests were conducted on the organizational sample. Confirmatory factor analysis of the 28-item SLS fit the data well, and subordinate-level outcomes were consistent with the literature guiding the scale’s development.

As you study pages 171 and 172, you may encounter an issue I’ve been struggling with for some time. The tests are conducted between SL dimensions and other variables of theoretical interest. For example, conceptual skills are associated with empowerment (r = .40, p < .01), but not with community citizenship behavior (r = .08, p > .05; p. 171). However, the dimension of empowerment is associated with community citizenship behavior (r = .17, p < .05)! It takes considerable skill and imagination to account for the wrinkles in these data. Even if you can, it is fair to ask, “Where is servant leadership in all of these scores?” Focusing on the dimensions obscures the composite SL silhouette. I would argue that a total score (the “sum of the dimensions”) can give insights into SL that the analysis of each dimension cannot offer. Of course, this is an empirical question, and other investigations have successfully used both the dimensional characteristics and the composite estimate of SL (the sum of the dimensions).

At this point, it is appropriate to discuss the studies using Liden et al.’s (2008) scale. I first noticed the international flow of SL when examining this grouping of SL experiments. This “flow” has created some friction. Some international journals have standards for reporting statistical methods that make some tests difficult to interpret. Also, there are both translation issues and citation issues. However, when I stand back and look at the trends, the SL “action” seems to be happening in the developing world! Liden et al.’s scale has been used far more often outside of western, developed nations. Why this might have happened is unclear.

One set of experiments involves organizational outcomes. For example, Washington (2007) used Liden et al.’s (2008) scale in an examination of leadership styles. Transformational leadership, contingent leadership, and active management-by-exception were strongly and positively associated with SL. Perceptions of supervisors’ SL were negatively associated perceptions of their supervisors’ passive management-by-exception and laissez faire leadership styles. Chan and Mak (2014) examined the relationship between servant leadership, trust in the leader, and job satisfaction. Liden et al.’s (2008) SLS was used to measure servant leadership, and participants were asked to report how long they had worked for the organization (a service firm in the People’s Republic of China).   Trust was found to mediate the SL-job satisfaction relationship. The longer a participant worked for the organization, the smaller the observed SL-satisfaction relationship was!

Team performance was the topic of a study by Schaubroeck, Lam and Peng (2011). Test booklets containing Liden et al.’s (2008) SLS were administered to 191 financial service teams in Hong Kong and the USA. SL was found to account for 10% more variance in team performance, beyond the performance explained by transformational leadership. Trust was found to mediate the effects of leader behavior on team performance. Servant leadership enhanced team performance by inducing affect-based trust and team safety. Transformational leadership operated through cognitive-based trust. This suggests that well-being (affective-based trust) may be a unique contribution of SL in team performance situations.

In a different approach to SL and team effectiveness, Hu and Liden (2011) used structural equation modelling to test the effects of goal clarity, process clarity, and servant leadership on team performance and OCBs. As predicted, team clarity (goal and process) was mediated by SL and affected team performance and OCBs. This study is important for many reasons, most notably because SL mediated team potency. While goal clarity and process clarity improved team performance, servant leadership mediated this relationship. High SL teams increased performance as the clarity of goals and processes increased. For low SL teams, increased clarity decreased performance. Obviously, SL contributes to performance beyond knowing “how to do the task” and what the “outcome” should be!

Peterson, Galvin and Lange (2012) used Liden et al.’s (2008) scale in a study of technology companies’ CEOs. This is a compelling and ambitious study conducted over months at professional conferences. Due to the number of instruments used and time constraints, Peterson et al. (2012) reduced the number of items from 28 to 16. We are not told which items were used (or deleted), but all of Liden et al.’s dimensions are said to be represented. The authors found that narcissism negatively predicted SL, and founder status positively predicted SL. Also, organizational identification was found to mediate the relationship between narcissism and founder status and SL. The more a person identified with an organization, the less likely it was that narcissisms would lead to servant leadership. Also, the more a person identified with an organization, the more likely it was that a founder would be perceived as being a servant leader.

I always caution students about tampering with instruments that have a history of reliable and valid findings. In this case, the number of indicators was cut by over 40%. On the other hand, the study was labor intensive and lasted over 9 months! A methodological “purist” might fret over the loss of empirical indicators, but I am impressed by the robustness of the SL concept. These data were well behaved in spite of the loss. We may be underestimating consistency and potency of servant leadership.

International studies using the SLS are quite common. Bambale, Shamsudin and Subramanian (2013) conducted an international validity study using Liden et al.’s (2008) SLS. The scale was self-administered to 560 low- to mid-level members of Nigerian public utility organizations (325 complete surveys were analyzed). Structural equation modelling revealed evidence of validity, as average variance extracted for five of Liden’s SL dimensions was greater than the variance shared with other dimensions. Ibrahim and Don (2014) surveyed 342 school teachers in Malaysia. Teachers assessed their principal’s SL and evaluated their principal’s style of change management. Liden et al.’s (2008) SLS was used to measure servant leadership and Hall and George’s (1999) Change Facilitator Style Questionnaire (CFSQ) was selected to measure perceptions of the principal. The CFSQ is a 30-item scale assessing a manager’s style when transforming an organization. Aspects of a principal’s management style include: Concern for people (Social/Informal; Formal/Meaningful), Organizational Efficiency (Trust in Others; Administrative Efficiency), and Strategic Sense (Day-To-Day; Vision and Planning). Ibrahim and Doc (2014) found that all dimensions of the SLS were associated with CFSQ scores.

At times, researchers have altered instruments when designing SL experiments. Rezaei, Salehi, Shafiei and Sabet (2012) included Liden et al.’s SLS and Dennis’ (2004) Servant Leadership Assessment Instrument. Rezaei et al.’s scale contained 36 items, a number that is much smaller than the number of items in the two scales. The combined scale was not reported and we do not know the dimensions of SLS that were represented. After factor analyzing the responses, 8 additional items were removed. We are not told about the nature of the new 28-item scale. Using the scale, SL was found to be associated with organizational trust, leader trust, and organizational communication.

Rahgozar, Mohammadi, Afshangian, and Lorry (2013) provide another example of instrument tampering. The study was concerned with servant leadership and OCBs. Rahgozar et al. (2013) elect to employ only four of Liden’s seven dimension (Helping subordinates grow, putting subordinates first, behaving ethically, and creating value). Next, the authors added items from the SLAI (Dennis & Bocarnea, 2005) measuring agapao love! This type of “scale mixing” is not common, and I wonder if this is a fair test or if it induces bias. Of course, the authors might well argue that it is no different than having participants complete Liden’s and Dennis’ scales in a test booklet. In any event, the SL items (from both scales) predicted OCBs. Partial support was found for the role of person-organization fit and organizational identification in their model. For example, the SL-OCB relationship was moderated by organizational identification, as OCBs were reported by SL participants when organizational identification was high.

I will close this discussion of Liden et al.’s (2008) SLS with several observations. First, considering this scale alone, rigorous standards for scale construction have produced a stable, efficient instrument. It is reasonably compact, making it an attractive choice for experiments involving several companion instruments. Second, the scale is clearly rooted in a 7-dimension taxonomy that meshes with Greenleaf’s approach to serving followers. This increases my confidence in the face validity of the scale. My third observation is that the scale is appropriate for calculating a composite SL score. Researchers may still examine relationships between the dimensions and theoretically appropriate dependent variables, but the composite SL score is the “best test” of Greenleaf’s best test: “Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?(Greenleaf, 1970, p. 7). These questions can best be answered by exposing followers to servant leadership in its full form, not in its component pieces. Finally, international use of Liden et al.’s scale is noteworthy. As global and indigenous corporations take hold, new models of management will be required. Regional and cultural variables will need to be folded into theories of service and growth.   Liden’s scale is being used to examine these international outcomes of SL.



Bambale, A. J., Shamsudin, F. M., & Subramanian, C. (2013). The construct validity of servant leadership in Nigerian public utility organizations. International Journal of Global Business, 6, 16-33.

Chan, S. C. H., & Mak, W.-M. (2014). The impact of servant leadership and subordinates’ organizational tenure on trust in leader and attitudes. Personnel Review, 43, 272-287.

Dennis, R. S. (2004). Servant leadership theory: Development of the Servant Leadership Assessment Instrument. Doctoral dissertation, Regent University (UMI 3133544).

Greenleaf, R. K. (1970). The servant as leader. Indianapolis, IN: The Greenleaf Center.

Hall, G. E., & George, A. A. (1999). The impact of principal change facilitator style on school and classroom culture. In Freiberg, J. H. (Ed.), School climate: Measuring, improving, and sustaining healthy learning environments (pp. 165-185). Philadelphia, PA: Falmer Press

Hu, J., & Liden, R. C. (2011). Antecedents of team potency and team effectiveness: An examination of goal and process clarity and servant leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96, 851-862. doi: 10.1037/a0022465

Ibrahim, I. B., & Don, Y. B. (2014). Servant leadership and effective changes management in schools [sic]. International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, 4, 1-9.

Liden, R. C., Wayne, S. J., Zhao, H., & Henderson, D. (2008). Servant leadership: Development of a measure and multi-level assessment. The Leadership Quarterly, 19, 161-177.

Peterson, S. J., Galvin, B. M., & Lange, D. (2012). CEO servant leadership: Exploring executive characteristics and firm performance. Personnel Psychology, 65, 565-596.

Rahgozar, H., Mohammadi, A., Afshangian, F., & Lorry, S. S. (2013). The relationship among servant leadership, organizational citizenship behavior, person-organization fit, and organizational identification in Fars Quality Corporation. Research Journal of Applied Sciences, Engineering, and Technology, 5, 1950-1958.

Rezaei, M., Salehi, S., Shafiei, M., & Sabet, S. (2012). Servant leadership and organizational Trust: The mediating effect of the leader trust and organizational communication [sic]. Emerging Markets Journal, 2, 70-78. doi: 10.5195/emag.2012.21

Schaubroeck, J., Lam, S. S. K.., & Peng, A. C. (2011). Cognition-based and affect-based trust as mediators of leader behavior influences on team performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96, 863-871. doi: 10/1037/a0022625



Conceptualizing and Measuring Servant Leadership: General Measure of SL (Ehrhart, 2004)

Raymond W. Preiss

Graduate Faculty, Masters of Servant Leadership Program

Professor and Chair

Department of Communication Studies

Viterbo University

Copyright 2014. Raymond W. Preiss. All rights reserved.


The social scientific enterprise is both deductive and inductive. We consider the “nature” of a construct and deduce its operational indicators and relationships with other variables. When we test those relationships, we induce from the results to the theory as we assess the viability of the construct to account for findings. Because we know that sampling error will inflate and deflate scores, we never expect all tests to be consistent with a theory. In fact, it is a tautology to say that 5 in 100 experiments will produce false positive findings, as we set the “significance level” of our tests to p < .05. We are saying that the standard for a “significant” association between two variables (or difference between two groups) must be large enough that it only occurs due to random sampling error in 5 of 100 samples (of any number of participants).   Thus, we expect (and accept) 5 false positives in 100 tests. There is no was to be sure that any single test is “true” because it may be one of the false positives.

In the same way that sampling error will always produce false positives, the design of a study can have features or deficiencies that introduce error into the measurement of variables. One type of error is “noise,” a random error that can obscure a “true effect” that is present. This can produce a “false negative” finding because the association (or difference) between variables is concealed by the noise. A well designed experiment and reliable measurement can reduce false negatives by controlling noise. There can also be bias in a scale that systematically distorts results. This can produce either false positives or negatives depending upon the type of bias produced. We are devoting attention to the scales used to assess SL to guard against false positives, false negatives, and bias.

We have been discussing several measures of the conceptual variable “servant leadership.” For our purposes, Greenleaf has been a primary source. We understand that there are other sources, and if you are in the Masters of Servant Leadership Program at Viterbo University you are well grounded in the religious and ethical roots of Greenleaf’s “theory” of servant leadership. Thus far, we have examined the Servant Leadership Scale (SLS; Barbuto & Wheeler, 2006), the Executive Servant Leadership Scale (ESLS; Reed, Vidaver-Cohen & Colwell, 2011), and the Servant-leadership Styles Inventory (SSI; Fridell, Belcher and Messner (2009). These are all self-report instruments, although some ask followers to rate a leaders’ SL and other scales ask leaders to rate their own SL qualities. In this entry, I will consider Ehrhart’s (2004) General Measure of Servant Leadership (GMSL).

All instruments measuring SL (or any other variable) are termed “operational variables.” These scales measure a “conceptual variable” that has been defined in the literature. This is why researchers are careful to design tests that measure each “indicator” of the conceptual definition. You noticed this process in the SLS and the ESLS, although there was some disagreement over what the dimensions or factors of SL were termed. Usually, the researcher will generate many items based upon the descriptions of the concept. These items are subjected to a factor analysis that determine how the items are associated or move together. As any one item is scored higher or lower, how do all the other items change (higher or lower)? The items that move together are said to “load” on a factor. Each factor should correspond with an established quality or characteristic of SL. That would suggest “content validity,” as the items that load together reflect a quality that the respondents agree upon.

Ehrhart (2004) briefly discusses the creation of the GMSL (p. 73). He identified seven categories of operational indicators of SL: Forming relationships with subordinates, empowering subordinates, enabling subordinate growth and success, behaving ethically, possessing conceptual skills, putting subordinates first, and creating value for those outside of the organization. He cites an earlier (unpublished) working paper as the source of these seven categories. Earlier in the manuscript (p. 69), he considers Graham’s (1991) distinctions between transformational leadership (TL) and (SL): Commitment to followers and stakeholders; providing a moral compass. He concludes his conceptual definition by contrasting SL with Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) and making connections between SL and Organizational Citizenship Behaviors (OCBs). This is some very fine work. After all, the year was 2004 and there was very little published experimental work on SL. I might argue that he needed more evidence from Greenleaf or that the seven categories do not adequately reflect the richness of SL seen in the lives of Jesus, Gandhi, or King. As a social scientist, the better question is: Did he give the hypothesis a fair test? To answer this question we will need to examine the scale.

The GMSL is composed of 14 statements, two for each of the seven categories. We are not told how the items were generated, if some items were discarded, or if experts looked at the items to confirm that they appeared to fit the seven categories. Ehrhart asks us to take many risks based upon our faith in his judgment. If the items are bad, they may inject noise into the experiment, producing false positives or false negatives. If the items create bias, they may systematically affect the results and prevent a fair test of the relationship. This is a good time to study the items used in the GMSL (Ehrhart, 2004, p. 93).

General Measure of Servant Leadership

  1. My department manager spends the time to form quality relationships with departmental employees.
  2. My department manager creates a sense of community among departmental employees.
  3. My department manager’s decisions are influenced by departmental employees’ input.
  4. My department manager tried to reach consensus among department employees on important decisions.
  5. My department manager is sensitive to department employees’ responsibilities outside the workplace.
  6. My department manager makes the personal development of department employees a priority.
  7. My department manager holds employees to high ethical standards.
  8. My department manager does what she or he promises to do.
  9. My department manager balances concern for day-to-day details with projections for the future.
  10. My department manager displays wide-ranging knowledge and interests in finding solutions to work problems.
  11. My department manager makes me feel like I work with him/her, not for him/her.
  12. My department manager works hard at finding ways to help others be the best they can be.
  13. My department manager encourages department employees to be involved in community service and volunteer activities outside of work.
  14. My department manager emphasizes the importance of giving back to the community.

Considering the year, there is much to applaud in this instrument. The 14-items are clear and reflect major aspects of SL theory. There are also many gaps. The items do not address issues such as stewardship, close listening, persuasiveness, foresight, or vision. However, these qualities, especially foresight and vision, might inject bias into the experiment. Thus, the scale is probably conservative, in that it underemphasizes potential sources in systematic error. This said, I wonder if the use of “department manager” limits the application of the scale. “Department” may be a dated term or an inappropriate description of many organizations, especially small businesses, service firms, or high tech companies. While these are validity concerns, Ehrhart (2004) reports strong reliability evidence (unit-level Cronbach’s alpha = .98). The scale may be conservative, but it is very reliable.

When you study the results, you don’t need to be a statistician or proficient in confirmatory factor analysis to follow the logic. In general, the follower-unit data supported the hypotheses better than did the manager-unit data. For followers, SL produced OCBs (helping and conscientiousness), especially when followers believed that the procedures were just. For managers, results were mixed. Recall the objective of this study. Ehrhart reasoned that units act collectively to display organizational citizenship behaviors. The follower-level data confirmed this outcome, while the manager-level data was less consistent. This suggests that the climate or culture associated with SL followers promotes OCBs, and that SL managers seem to underestimate the robust nature of this climate! This point alone makes the study very interesting. Take notice, servant leaders. The followers may be ahead of you! You may have been too busy being a visionary to notice! This finding reinforces the notion that servant leaders should be humble and stand aside while followers receive credit for accomplishments. Having faith in the SL climate may result in OCBs that leaders do not anticipate.

As you consider the complexity of this experiment, keep folding the results back upon the conceptual definition. With our understanding of Greenleaf, we are in a position to appreciate the power of SL organizational climates. While the GMSL was largely successful in producing a fair test, I would want to see other experiments using the instrument before I designed a GMSL study. I am suspicious of the seven categories and the hollow picture of SL conveyed by the instrument. However, if four or five studies used the GMSL successfully, I might well be persuaded to employ this conservative scale.

The good news is that those five studies (any many others) do exist. Wu, Tse, Fu, Kwan, and Liu (2013) employed the GMSL in a study of hotel worker’s service behavior. Ehrhart’s 14-item instrument was presented to 19 human resource managers, 110 supervisors, and 304 supervisor-subordinate dyads. The GMSL was converted into Chinese using the back-translation technique. A professor translated the items into Chinese, and a second professor translated the scale back into English. A bilingual management professor examined both versions to ensure their equivalence. Also, hotel employees were interviewed to ensure that the scale was appropriate for their industry. Results indicated that SL positively influenced customer-oriented behaviors as a result of LMX outcomes. This level of rigor is best-practice in cross cultural research and stands in sharp contrast to the procedures used to develop the GMSL.

Mayer, Bardes, and Piccolo (2008) examined the intersection of leader behaviors and follower needs. The logic of the study focused upon the ability of servant leaders to meet followers’ needs and promote job satisfaction. To this end, Mayer et al. (2008) posit that needs such as self-determination and control can be nurtured by features of SL such as moral orientation, personal development, and sensitivity to the needs and desires of followers. The belief that needs are being met (or are being addressed), was thought to be associated with organizational justice perceptions, leading to satisfaction with the job. To test this logic, Mayer et al. (2008) presented the 14-item GMSL (and measures of organizational justice, need satisfaction, and job satisfaction) to 187 business undergraduate students. GMSL scores were correlated with job satisfaction scores, and structural equation modeling indicated that a path from SL to organizational justice to need satisfaction to job satisfaction was the best fitting model. There was also a partial mediation path moving from SL to need satisfaction to job satisfaction. This suggests that both a justice path and a needs satisfaction path may be operating.

This important study has many implications, but for our purposes the GMSL functioned as Ehrhart (2004) described. When you examine this study, consider the Discussion section carefully. SL is analyzed in a rather casual manner. On one level, Mayer et al. (2008) examines organizational justice and needs satisfaction explanations (p. 193). The discussion does not address the complexities of SL, and leader characteristics such as trust, humility, vision, wisdom, and service to others are not explored. This is not to underestimate the hypothesis that was confirmed. Unfortunately, the authors spend more time summarizing the implications for organizational justice researchers than for servant leadership scholars.

One point I would add is that the composite GMSL score was the root of the direct and indirect paths to job satisfaction. This suggests that it is not necessary to explore each of the dimensions of SL individually because the total score is the best indicator of the SL construct. Ehrhart’s (2004) compact, parsimonious instrument is an elegant tool if the GMSL successfully predicts outcomes. There is evidence that it does. Hunter, Neubert, Perry, Witt Penny and Weinberger (2013) found that follower-rated GMSL was negatively associated with leader-rated extraversion and positively associated with leader-rated agreeableness. Follower-rated GMSL was associated with lower follower turnover intentions and lower follower disengagement. Jaramillo, Grisaffe, Chonko, and Roberts (2009) used structural equation modelling to detect a path between SL (using the GMSL), ethical level, person-organization fit, and commitment to the organization (low turnover intent). Walumbwa, Hartnell and Oke (2010) found that the GMSL was associated with organizational citizenship behaviors, with the relationship mediated by self-efficacy beliefs and commitment to the supervisor. Schneider and George (2011) observed that voluntary service club members were more likely to stay in the organization and were more satisfied and committed to the organization as GMSL scores increased. Kool and van Dierendonck (2012) used the GMSL to detect that SL mediated commitment to organizational change through interactional justice and optimism perceptions. Rivkin, Diestel, and Schmidt (2014) found that SL scores (measured by a German translation of the GMSL) were associated with short-term indicators of strain (ego-depletion; need for recovery) and long-term indicators of job-strain (emotional exhaustion; depersonalization).

This summary of GMSL studies is not exhaustive. It does illustrate the utility of Ehrhart’s (2004) scale in addressing important SL outcomes. All of this evidence has aggregated using a scale that was less concerned with identifying the dimensions of SL than testing key outcomes. A careful reader is left to wonder why so much time (and so many journal pages) has been devoted to fleshing out the dimensions. There is no doubt that construct validity is one reason. We want our conceptualizations and instruments to correspond with the phenomenon they purport to understand. The GMSL studies suggest that participants respond to the core characteristics. It may not be the most appropriate scale for every context or experiment, but it may be a good option for many tests.



Barbuto, Jr., J. E., & Wheeler, D. W. (2006). Scale development and construct clarification of servant leadership. Group & Organization Management, 31, 300–326. doi: 10.1177/1059601106287091

Ehrhart, M. G. (2004). Leadership and procedural justice climate as antecedents of unit-level organizational citizenship behaviors. Personnel Psychology, 57, 61–94.

Fridell, M., Belcher, R. N., & Messner, P. E. (2009). Discriminate analysis gender public school principal servant leadership differences. Leadership & Organizational Development Journal, 30, 722-736. doi: 10.1108/01437730911003894

Graham, J. W. (1991). Servant leadership in organizations: Inspirational and moral. Leadership Quarterly, 2, 105-119.

Hunter, E. M., Neubert, M. J., Perry, S. J., Witt, L. A., Penny, L. M., & Weinberger, E. (2013). Servant leaders inspire servant followers: Antecedents and outcomes for employees and the organization. The Leadership Quarterly, 24, 316-331.

Jaramillo, F., Grisaffe, D. B., Chonko, L. B., and Roberts, J. A. (2009). Examining the impact of servant leadership on salesperson’s turnover intention. Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 29, 351-365. doi: 10.2753/PSS0885-3134290404

Kool, M., & van Dierendonck, D. (2012). Servant leadership and commitment to change, the mediating role of justice and optimism. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 25, 422-433. doi: 10.1108/09534811211228139

Mayer, D. M., Bardes, M., & Piccolo, R. F. (2008). Do servant leaders help satisfy follower needs? An organizational justice perspective. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 17, 180-197. doi: 10.1080/13594320701743558

Reed, L. L., Vidaver-Cohen, D., & Colwell, S. R. (2011). A new scale to measure executive servant leadership: Development, analysis, and implications for research. Journal of Business Ethics, 101, 415–434 doi: 10.1007/s10551-010-0729-1

Schneider, S. K., & George, W. M. (2011). Servant leadership versus transformational leadership in voluntary service organizations. Leadership & Organizational Development Journal, 32, 60-77. doi: 10.1108/ 01437731111099283

Walumbwa, F. O., Hartnell, C. A., & Oke, A. (2010). Servant leadership, procedural justice climate, service climate, employee attitudes, and organizational citizenship behavior: A cross-level investigation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95, 517-529. doi: 10.1037/a0018867

Wu, L.- Z., Tse, E. C.- Y., Fu, P., Kwan, H. K., & Liu, J. (2013). The impact of servant leadership on hotel employees’ ‘servant behavior.’ Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, 54, 383-395. doi: 10.1177/1938965513482519






The Servant Leadership Styles Inventory: Fridell, Belcher & Messner (2009)

Raymond W. Preiss

Professor and Chair

Department of Communication Studies

Viterbo University

Copyright 2014. Raymond W. Preiss. All rights reserved.

In this entry, we examine an alternative approach to measuring servant leadership (SL). The most common strategy is to enter an organization and approach followers. The followers are asked to look “up” the organizational hierarchy and assess the SL qualities they observe. This is the approach taken by Reed, Vidavir-Cohen & Colwell (2011) when developing the Executive Servant Leadership Scale and by Barbuto and Wheeler (2006) when developing the Servant Leadership Questionnaire (SLQ). There are many other SL assessments instruments that employ this method. Fridell, Belcher and Messner (2009) take a self-report approach when designing the Servant-leadership Styles Inventory (SSI). They approach the leader and ask for self-assessments of SL qualities. This method assumes that the leader is aware of his or her behaviors and understands that the behaviors are rooted in the SL philosophy.

Like the methods used to develop other instruments, Fridell et al. (2009) began by surveying the literature for characteristics of servant leaders (Greenleaf, 2002) and principles of the SL ideology. A variety of behaviors, qualities and motives were isolated and compared to Greenleaf’s (1977) notions of operating and conceptual “talents.” Operating talents involve the ability to manage the daily events required to move toward goals and resolve impediments. Specific operational skills would include conflict management, sensitivity to the organization’s climate, scheduling, delegation, and interpersonal communication. Conceptual talents involve the ability to grasp the “long view” and understand how small decisions will affect future opportunities and goals. These abilities can be classified as foresight, long-range planning, perspective, and vision (Greenleaf, 1977, pp. 80–81). Likert-type statements were developed to reflect SL and traditional leadership styles (oddly described as the antithesis of SL; Fridell et al., 2009, p. 725). An expert panel assessed the items for face and content validity. A sample of 445 school principals (out of a population of 4,500) completed the items using a 4-step (1-to-4) agreement scale. The 20-item SSI displayed strong reliability (Chronbach’s alpha = .87).

Don’t be intimidated by the results section of the study. I will only comment that the section on “traditional” leadership is fragmented because there are so many varieties of styles being measured. There is no way to use that scale in future research. While it is true that there are many SL qualities and characteristics, we understand how they fit together under the SL umbrella. This is not clear for the traditional styles scale. The paper takes a rather unexpected turn when analyzing the demographic features of the sample. It turns out that women principals were substantially more likely to endorse the SL style. This may be an interesting finding or it may be an artifact of the design of the study. “Traditional” styles were the antithesis of SL. When you look at the items, you see masculine issues of power, fear, intimidation, blame, personal gain, domination, and ambition. These stereotypical qualities might inject gender bias into the results and create the gender gap seen in the results.

In any event, the 20-item SSI can be found on pages 735-736. Here are the items and the directions:

Servant Leadership Styles Inventory (Fridell et al., 2009)

Directions: using the provided five-point scale, respond to the questions by checking the response that most accurately expresses your belief about your leadership style by completing the following prompt: According to my administrative leadership style, I:


(1) Reflect daily on my conversations with faculty and staff.

(2) Ensure that lessons learned from mistakes are shared.

(3) Provide opportunities for my faculty to form collaborations

(4) Am effective in building consensus within groups.

(5) View situations from diverse viewpoints.

(6) Share the big-picture information about my school.

(7) Am committed to the growth of each individual in my school.

(8) Am able to clarify the will of the group.

(9) Strive to heal my relationships with others.

(10) Use personal trust, respect, and unconditional love to build bridges to do what is best for the group.

(11) Am self-aware.

(12) Recognize each person’s unique and special gifts.

(13)  Derive a sense of confidence and personal worth from building my talents and abilities.

(14) Empower others to reach their full potential.

(15) Identify a vision for my school.

(16) Am committed to serving the needs of others.

(17) Operate in a highly collaborative and interdependent manner.

(18) Accept people.

(19) Develop trust across constituencies.

(20) Use intuition and foresight to balance facts.

Note: Items 1, 4, 9, and 13 identify SL attributes that define a feminine style.

It seems that the authors use a 4-step scale to indicate agreement with each item. I might advise using a 5-step scale to allow for a neutral response. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a second study that used the SSI in a validity experiment. As a result, I cannot determine if this advice is warranted.

The SSI is potentially valuable because it asks leaders for their self-assessment of SL qualities. It is worth noticing that other scales have been used to obtain follower and leader responses. A minor alteration of the SSI directions could allow a follower to rate the leader (some items would also need to be modified). I advise not making these changes until the scale has been used more extensively. Also, notice that the scale was designed for school principals. Items reference schools, faculty, and staff. This limits the utility of the scale to investigations in the field of education (I did notice that students were excluded!). While we wait for the scale to be used more extensively, use other instruments that have a history of valid and reliable responses about SL qualities and characteristic. On the positive side, the SSI is reliable and efficient. It would be interesting to see if self-ratings using the SSI are associated with follower assessments using the SLQ. At some point, a group of participants will need to assess servant leaders using multiple instruments. This is called convergent validity, and the results would tell us if the various instruments are highly associated. We might learn if one instrument has psychometric properties that are desirable, compared to rival scales. This development is likely to cause researchers to consolidate their efforts around a single instrument. If we reach consensus on basic measurement issues, our research is likely to become focused and nuanced.



Barbuto, Jr., J. E., & Wheeler, D. W. (2006). Scale development and construct clarification of servant leadership. Group & Organization Management, 31, 300–326

doi: 10.1177/1059601106287091

Fridell, M., Belcher, R. N., & Messner, P. E. (2009). Discriminate analysis gender public school principal servant leadership differences. Leadership & Organizational Development Journal, 30, 722-736. doi: 10.1108/01437730911003894

Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant-leadership. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Greenleaf, R. K. (2002). Servant-leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Reed, L. L., Vidavir-Cohen, D., & Colwell, S. R. (2011). A new scale to measure executive servant leadership: Development, analysis, and implications for research. Journal of Business Ethics, 101, 415–434 doi 10.1007/s10551-010-0729-1


Servant Leadership and Workplace Safety

Raymond W. Preiss

Professor and Chair

Department of Communication Studies

Viterbo University

Copyright 2014. Raymond W. Preiss. All rights reserved.

For several weeks I have been sorting through instruments used to measure servant leadership (SL). Many of my blog entries have focused on the advantages and limitations of these tools, with special attention devoted to the goal of building a body of fact-based evidence about servant leadership. I interrupted this survey of instruments in my last entry when I came across a review of mounting evidence about the processes and outcomes of SL (Parris & Peachey, 2013). It is clear that scholarly attention is beginning to produce testable generalizations and new conclusions about the nature and consequences of SL.

Recently, an older review article on workplace safety arrived by interlibrary loan. I was drawn to it because I recently worked with two Viterbo University Masters of Servant Leadership students on the same topic. Before returning to the scales and measures of SL, the opportunity to explore the utility of fact-based evidence is worth pursuing. In this entry I summarize the basic stance of SL, lay out Sarkus’ (1996) case for the intersection of SL and safety culture, and report some of the recent findings by Schack and Schack (2013) on servant leadership attitudes and work safety attitudes.

The Servant Leadership Perspective

Servant leadership (SL) involves a management style and personal philosophy that revisions the role of the leader in an organization and the role of business in society. The servant leader is thought to possess a vision for the organization, an overarching purpose that can inspire confidence and certainty. SL is distinguished from other approaches to leadership in both style and content used to reach that goal. Importantly, the servant leader is concerned with the needs of those within and outside of the organization. The servant leader manages by first serving others, making sure that their “highest priority needs are being served” (Greenleaf, 1970, p. 9). When successful, those served “will grow as persons…becom[ing] healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, [and] more likely themselves to become servants” (Greenleaf, 1970, p. 7). SL takes the wide view by considering the larger community while serving those in the organization. Of special concern is the impact of decisions on those least privileged in society, and how the benefits of decisions can be equitably distributed (Greenleaf, 1970, p.7).

The call for a business ethic centered on people, not just on profit, resonates with many citizens and consumers. The fundamental position is similar to the notion of corporate social responsibility (CSR; e.g., Matten & Crane, 2005), as SL stresses ethical decision making that advances the company’s goals, improves the community, and nourishes the lives of employees and citizens. Leaders subscribing to SL embrace the idea that service precedes leadership. By first serving, the decision to lead becomes natural and logical. Also, the practice of serving allows the leader to see the organization from the view of subordinates, stakeholders, and community members. These insights allow SL practitioners to develop visionary plans for the organization. From a human resources perspective, the servant leader acts in the interest of members of the organization, nurturing their talents, building upon their skills, and managing workflow in ways that benefit the company, the community, and the larger society.

SL and Work Safety Culture

Engineering a safe working environment is a fundamental responsibility of management. Sarkus (1996) makes a compelling case that servant leadership has a role to play in this process. He discusses several models of leadership and offers a thoughtful presentation of SL’s appropriateness for promoting safety on the job. He argues that SL builds trust, forgives mistakes, humbly seeks the support of others, and positively influences others’ behaviors. Sarkus concludes that values-based management can promote a culture of workplace safety. Accountability for ensuring safety will promote trust and “begin a powerful, lasting movement toward increased productivity, profit, quality, and safety performance” (Sarkus, 1996, p. 28).

In the remainder of his article, Sarkus discusses creating a safety climate and safety culture. These environments depend upon executive-level values that must be clearly articulated and consistently upheld. Adequate resources should be dedicated to reinforcing the safety climate. When employees understand that the safety culture extends from the board room to the shop, progress toward workplace safety may improve dramatically. Sarkus (1996) offers the “Six Cs” of safety management influence: Coaching, correcting, conciliating, collaborating, confirming, and caring. He concludes that caring is the foundation for all other aspects of safety management. Of course, this is the philosopher’s stone of SL as well. Serving others demonstrates caring, and the trust and commitment flowing from SL can be especially compelling when worker safety is concerned.

Fact-based Evidence for the SL-Safety Culture Intersection

The conceptual similarity between SL and workplace safety is apparent. Phrased as a syllogism, the logic reads:

SL strives to improve the lives of workers.

Workplace safety is a fundamental aspect of workers’ lives.

Thus, SL should strive to improve workplace safety.


Of course, Sarkus (1996) goes beyond basic propositional logic (modus ponendo ponens, Latin for “mode that affirms by affirming”) when making his case. He describes the potential for SL to produce a robust, enduring safety culture. Sherri Schack and Mark Schack (2013) explored associations between Servant Leadership Attitudes (Preiss, 2012) and the Safety Performance Scale (Neal & Griffin, 2006), a measure of safety climate, safety motivation, safety compliance, and safety participation. Also, interviews were conducted with employees to gain qualitative evidence about the connection between SL and safety performance.

In the Schack and Schack (2013) investigation, 51 participants from two manufacturing companies in the Midwest completed the scales and interviews. Servant Leadership Attitudes (SLA) and composite Safety Performance Scale (SPS) scores were significantly and substantially associated (r = .41, p < .05, n = 51). SLA was also associated with SPS subscales (safety climate r = .26, p < .05, n = 51; safety motivation r = .46, p < .05, n = 51; safety compliance r = .38, p < .05, n = 51; and safety participation r = .41, p < .05, n = 51). The transcribed interviews provide qualitative evidence for the SLA-SPS relationship. Employees described safety as a “core value” that “permeates the entire organization.” They perceived a “culture of education and training” based upon best practices. They reported compliance to safety procedures and “leading by example.”

A complete report of Schack and Schack’s (2013) findings will soon be available online through the Viterbo University Library. I’ll post the link when it becomes available. The point of this blog entry is that quantitative and qualitative methods can be used to confirm relationships between variables associated with servant leadership. As research aggregates or builds up on key issues, new questions come to light and themes of evidence evolve. Over time, a silhouette of fact-based evidence can be compared to the claims made by the theory. At this point confidence in the theory can be assessed and the theory can be revised. Servant leadership is only now producing empirical findings that can be used to benchmark Greenleaf’s theorizing. One reason for this lag is that measurement instruments have not been available for use in experimental tests. This is now changing, and students of SL can expect to see a wave of new evidence about the validity of SL processes. It took 17 years for Schack and Schack (2013) to confirm Sarkus’ (1996) speculation (a connection they established independently of Sarkus). The pace of experimentation will accelerate and nuances of the SL-safety culture relationship will become apparent. In future blog entries I will return to a discussion of the scales and instruments used to assess servant leadership. These tools are vital to understanding the processes and consequences of SL.


Greenleaf, R. K. (1970). The servant as leader. Indianapolis, IN: Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.

Matten, D., & Crane, A. (2005). Corporate citizenship: Toward an extended theoretical conceptualization. Academy of Management Review, 30, 166–179.

doi: 10.2307/20159101

Neal, A., & Griffin, M. A. (2006). A study of the lagged relationships among safety climate, safety motivation, safety behavior, and accidents at the individual and group levels. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 946-953. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.91.4.946

Parris, D. L., & Peachey, J. W. (2013). A systematic literature review of servant leadership theory in organizational contexts. Journal of Business Ethics, 113, 377–393.

doi: 10.1007/s10551-012-1322-6

Preiss, R. W. (2012, June). The Servant Leadership Attitudes Inventory (SLAI): Theorizing

about those who follow servant leaders. Paper presented at the meeting of the Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities. La Crosse, WI.

Sarkus, D. J. (1996). Servant-leadership in safety: Advancing the cause and practice. Professional Safety, 41(6), 26-32.

Schack, S. L., & Schack, M. R. (2013). Safety leadership: A study of the effects of servant leadership attributes on safety performance. La Crosse, WI: Viterbo University.




Conceptualizing and Measuring Servant Leadership: Reed, Vidavir-Cohen and Colwell

Raymond W. Preiss

Professor and Chair

Department of Communication Studies

Viterbo University

Copyright 2014. Raymond W. Preiss. All rights reserved.

Servant leadership (SL) involves a management style and personal philosophy that is rooted in the common good. Leaders following this philosophy serve organizational members, nurture their talents, build upon their skills, and make strategic decisions that benefit the company, the community, and the society.

In this entry, I discuss the Executive Servant Leadership Scale (ESLS; Reed, Vidavir-Cohen & Colwell, 2011). There are similarities and differences between this instrument and the Servant Leadership Questionnaire (SLQ) scale by Barbuto and Wheeler (2006) discussed earlier. The SLQ asks participants to consider and assess the behaviors of an organizational superior. The items in the SLQ ask for judgments about categories or groupings of behaviors and perceptions associated with servant leadership: Altruistic calling, emotional healing, wisdom, persuasive mapping, and organizational stewardship. A total of 23 items are used to measure these SL groupings.

Reed et al.’s (2011) ESLS shares qualities with the SLQ. The authors search the literature on ethical leadership, and conclude that certain leader behaviors can create an ethical climate in an organization. Four management styles were reviewed: Transformational leadership, authentic leadership, spiritual leadership, and servant leadership. Their review of each area is somewhat limited, but the comparison of the four approaches is informative. For our purpose the connections between SL and ethical leadership is fundamental. Most of the literature on this issue is anecdotal and interpretive. Empirical evidence is cited (Reed et al., 2011, p. 423), but support for specific claims about SL is not documented. Instead, the authors reason that attention should be directed at top executives, not workplace supervisors.

I have some reservations about this logic, but it is hard to deny that research is needed about the effects of SL at all levels of an organization’s hierarchy. I’ll return to this issue later. Reed and his associate make a plausible case that perceptions of executives’ SL may affect behaviors at many levels in a company. To measure this executive influence, the authors examined various scales employed to assess SL at different organizational levels (Liden, Wayne, Zhao, & Henderson, D., 2008; Barbuto & Wheeler, 2006; Page & Wong, 2000; and Ehrhart, 2004). Items from these scales were refined to address behaviors and perceptions of executives. A total of 1,522 participants (on-line learners and private college alumni) were invited to complete the items on-line. The survey was completed by 218 participants out of the 344 who attempted the survey. If you are unfamiliar with exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis, don’t be discouraged. Expert reviewers examined the results prior to publication. It is important to observe the patterns of responses. Within the exploratory factor analysis, a pattern of SL responses was located. Multiple items were associated with five categories consistent with Greenleaf’s conceptualization: Interpersonal support, community building, altruism, egalitarianism, and moral authority (Reed et al., 2011, p. 424). The Executive Servant Leadership Scale is the sum of these 25 items. If you look closely, you can see that the 25 items can be used in several ways. You could use the entire 55 items and build the ESLS by extracting only the 25 items that measure the five categories. On the other hand, you might use only the 25 items that address the five categories. It is difficult to resolve this question because few experiments have been conducted to assess the reliability and validity of either scale. I recommend that if you elect to use the 25-item scale, you arrange the items of the ESLS in the order listed on the left side of the scale. If you choose to use the 55-item scale, arrange the items in the order specified in the original manuscript (Reed et al., 2011, p. 426). The format of the scale below uses the directions provided by Vidaver-Cohen, Reed, and Colwell (2010; also presented in Reed et al., 2011, p. 424). Omit the descriptors that group items, but use these terms when you compute the subscales associated with SL. You may sum the subscales to compute a composite SL score.

Table I

ESLS Questionnaire


Please respond to the following statements regarding your perceptions of the top executive at your current place of work. If you have no direct experience with this person, you may consider organizational policies, practices, or public communications as evidence of his/her values and beliefs. If you are not currently employed, please consider the top executive at your most recent place of employment.

My Organization’s Top Executive…

Interpersonal support (alpha =.94)

6. Recognizes when employee morale is low without asking.

7. Looks for ways to make others successful.

15. Nurtures employee leadership potential.

25. Treats all employees with dignity and respect.

29. Ensures greatest decision-making control given to employees most affected by decision.

37. Listens carefully to others.

Building community (alpha =.90)

2. Considers the effects of organizational decisions on the community.

20. Encourages a spirit of cooperation among employees.

21. Inspires organizational commitment.

45. Believes our organization has a duty to improve the community in which it operates.

46. Values diversity and individual differences in the organization.

Altruism (alpha=.93)

9. Sacrifices personal benefit to meet employee needs.

11. Serves others willingly with no expectation of reward.

22. Places the interests of others before self-interest.

42. Prefers serving others to being served by others.

Egalitarianism (alpha=.94)

10. Encourages debate of his/her ideas.

13. Invites constructive criticism.

27. Displays interest in learning from employees, regardless of their level in the organization.

52. Welcomes ideas and input from employees at all levels of the organization.

Moral integrity (alpha=.95)

12. Inspires employee trust.

18. Refuses to use manipulation or deceit to achieve his/her goals.

32. Freely admits his/her mistakes.

33. Promotes transparency and honesty throughout the organization.

40. Values integrity more than profit or personal gain.

55. Models the behavior he/she expects from others in the organization.


There is much to applaud in the design of this instrument. The reliability of the groupings is very strong (the convention for acceptable reliability is .70) and the categories seem to be consistent with Greenleaf’s, Spears’, and Reed’s conceptualizations. This feature of the scale is termed face validity. The most acceptable target of the scale is to evaluate “top” executives. If you are concerned with organizational leaders that are “closer” in the hierarchy to the employee, this scale may not be for you. On the other hand, it is possible to modify the ESLS by changing the target. For example, the phrase “My Organization’s Top Executive…” might be changed to “My immediate superior…” This would allow the researcher to adapt the scale to specific needs. Taking this approach should be used cautiously, as some of the items describe behaviors that are more common among executives than among unit managers. Changing the target may alter the validity and reliability of the ESLS, so great care should always be taken if you change the phrasing of individual items or the target of the instrument. When possible (and when more appropriate instruments are available), use a previously validated scale. In future entries I will discuss validated instruments designed to target a range of organizational leaders.

If you elect to measure perceptions of executives, there is another peril to be thinking about: SL refraction. When you ask about perceptions of a “top” executive, the items may involve behaviors and perceptions that are unlikely to occur in face-to-face interactions between a subordinate and the top executive. Thus, perceptions of the top executive must necessarily be filtered through perceptions of other leaders along the chain of command. Perceptions of a strong SL executive may be altered by perceptions of less committed managers situated between the respondent and the top executive. Of course, this refraction can also be complementary as SL mid-managers can bolster perceptions of a top executive. This is a common practice, as executives select lower managers who mirror the organization’s philosophy and the executive’s management style. Researchers should consider SL refraction as they design experiments.  If the CEO exhibits SL characteristics, intermediate managers and supervisors may distort this perception. On the other hand, in a flat organization the ESLS may be an appropriate and effective instrument. The executive may be easily identifiable and may be known to the participants completing the scale. SL Refraction becomes more problematic in hierarchical organizational structures. Assessments of the executive are filtered through layers of superiors that may vary in their commitment to, and expression of, SL principles. Of course, this difficulty is not unique to SL. Every leadership style that is measured by judgments of distant, front-line employees is subject to refraction.

If you are designing an experiment, I hope this review assists you in balancing strengths and limitations of the ESLS. When I searched for publications using this instrument, I was disappointed in the results. Like Barbuto and Wheeler’s (2006) SLQ, the Reed ESLS instrument has not produced many experiments. It is a recent conceptualization, and use of the ESLS may increase as it becomes well-known. Also, organizations practicing SL wish to know if their SL philosophy is diffusing uniformly throughout the units and workforce. This suggests that instruments will be needed that assess SL at all levels: Executives, managers (Barbuto & Wheeler, 2006), supervisors (Liden, Wayne, Zhao, & Henderson, 2008), and workers (Ehrhart, 2004). The ESLS fills an important niche and it should be part of the SL researcher’s tool kit.



Barbuto, Jr., J. E., & Wheeler, D. W. (2006). Scale development and construct clarification of servant leadership. Group & Organization Management, 31, 300–326.

Ehrhart, M. G. (2004). Leadership and procedural justice climate as antecedents of unit-level organizational citizenship behaviors. Personnel Psychology, 57, 61–94.

Liden, R. C., Wayne, S. J., Zhao, H., & Henderson, D. (2008). Servant leadership: Development of a multidimensional measure and multi-level assessment. Leadership Quarterly, 19, 161–177.

Reed, L. L., Vidavir-Cohen, D., & Colwell, S. R. (2011). A new scale to measure executive servant leadership: Development, analysis, and implications for research. Journal of Business Ethics, 101, 415–434 doi 10.1007/s10551-010-0729-1

Vidaver-Cohen, D., Reed, L. L., & Colwell, S. R. (2010, August). Executive servant

leadership: A new scale to test if leaders dare to care. Paper presented at the meeting of the Academy of Management, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.





Breaking Research: A New Review Has Evidence Worth Studying

Author: Raymond W. Preiss, Viterbo University

In my opening blog entry, I started reporting my assessments of instruments designed to measure servant leadership (SL).  This is still my plan. However, when noteworthy articles come across my desk, I will try to bring them to readers’ attention.  Recently, I located an article that systematically searches for empirical studies based upon SL.  Parris and Peachey (2013) produce much more than a list of SL characteristics and motives.  Their research merits attention because it is the first attempt to systematically review the SL literature and summarize conceptual advances made during the 30 years since Greenleaf’s writings. 

Parris and Peachey (2013) make a persuasive case for the logic of SL and marshal considerable evidence supporting their interpretations.  The article opens by describing the turn away from top-down management philosophies.  Many perceive current business practices to be based upon greed, power, and egocentrism.  The alternative to this “selfish” approach stresses the common good, shared success, and the role of ethical decision-making.  SL is offered as an exemplar of this new school of leadership.  Parris and Peachey offer a somewhat speculative rationale for their review (segmented, fragmented, and unscientific management literature), but the product is impressive.  They summarize definitions, contexts, methodologies, and findings.  They systematically survey the empirical literature and present the evidence in a systematic and thoughtful way.  Their work is accessible, engaging, and thought provoking.  More importantly, this systematic literature review summarizes the empirical research, and it offers evidence-based claims about SL.

Those of us working on SL at Viterbo University will be comfortable with the approach taken by Parris and Peachey (2013).  They begin with a summary of Greenleaf’s contributions and writing, followed by connections to historical figures and religious practitioners of the SL philosophy.  Students in our Masters of Arts in Servant Leadership program will be familiar with the individuals and texts referenced in this section.  As the authors conclude, the challenge facing those studying SL is to document the many connections between SL theory and practice and outcomes that are fundamental to modern management practices.  The authors take an important step by locating the empirical evidence in a systematic way and advancing propositions based upon that evidence.  They identify three threads of evidence (conceptual, methodological, and model-building) and report the functional attributes and skills associated with SL.  As they acknowledge, there is still much conceptual ambiguity, even as evidence aggregates and new controversies emerge.  A student of SL will be interested in both the progress and the gaps in concepts, methods and models identified in this section of the review (Parris & Peachey, 2013, pp. 380–381).

In the discussion of their study collection procedures, the authors cast a wide net.  They query appropriate databases and report explicit inclusion/exclusion criteria.  I was uncertain if the methods also involved a search of captured articles’ reference section.  This step will often reveal published manuscripts originating in journals that are not tracked in databases.  Also, the decision to focus on only published manuscripts is questionable.  SL is a “new” body of empirical literature, and information may not flow efficiently into print.  A search for dissertations, conference papers, and working papers may reveal the most recent empirical evidence for SL.  These are minor concerns, however, as the authors’ intent is to locate peer-reviewed evidence and knowledge claims.  I was interested in the diversity of the research captured by the systematic review.  Studies originate in journals specializing in management, health care, education, social psychology, business, leadership studies, and administration (Parris & Peachey, 2013, p. 382). Quantitative (27), qualitative (11) and mixed method (1) studies were extracted.  It seems that SL is recognized as a promising theory in a variety of academic disciplines.

I have some concerns about the tabulation of findings reported in Table 3 (Parris & Peachey, 2013, pp. 384–385).  This type of theory-building is termed “middle range” (Merton, 1968), falling between grand theory and low-level empirical deductions.  The middle range process isolates a discrete set of interrelated propositions, not broad, abstract variables.  These propositions are designed to be clear, specific and empirically testable.  The set of propositions specify relationships between concepts as an analytical model that allows a theory to emerge (Merton, 1968, p. 143).  Parris and Peachey’s (2013) analysis does not group studies around propositions.  Instead, they use categories such as “demographics,” “spirituality,” and “followers’ well-being.”  A close examination reveals that within these grouping are propositions related to job satisfaction, work climate, job turnover, creativity, and commitment.  Middle range theory always groups findings on propositions, not categories. 

This criticism noted, there is a richness in the “conclusion” column that reveals a clear silhouette of servant leadership.  SL is linked to variables that demonstrate succession planning, collaboration, team effectiveness, organizational citizenship behaviors, leader trust, and procedural justice.  The mosaic that emerges is different from transformational leadership or spiritual leadership.  This suggests that a body of “evidence-based practice” resides below Greenleaf’s theorizing, a development that should encourage those of us who subscribe to the logic of SL.  Our task becomes enlarging and refining the propositions in the middle range theory.  The systematic literature review offered by Parris and Peachey (2013) is a necessary, but insufficient step to consolidate the empirical research.  Researchers should next conduct meta-analyses that compute effect sizes of the generalizations about SL.  This would quantify the direction and magnitude of the relationships between variables, constructs, and propositions.  With central relationships established, researchers can move beyond definitional questions and explore the full palate of variables associated with the SL management style.  If you are a student of SL, this Parris and Peachey (2013) article is a source of optimism.  There is a theological, ethical, and social scientific dimension to SL that is dynamic and persuasive.  I invite you to consider this important literature review as you establish your research agenda regarding servant leadership.


Merton, R.K. (1968). Social theory and social structure. (3rd ed.). Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Parris, D. L., & Peachey, J. W. (2013).  A systematic literature review of servant leadership theory in organizational contexts. Journal of Business Ethics, 113, 377–393. 

doi: 10.1007/s10551-012-1322-6


Conceptualizing and Measuring Servant Leadership: Barbuto & Wheeler

Raymond W. Preiss

Professor and Chair

Department of Communication Studies

Viterbo University

Copyright 2014. Raymond W. Preiss. All rights reserved.

If you are looking closely at the servant leadership literature, it is likely that you have noticed gaps and contradictions in the material. Let me begin by observing that this is not unusual. Anytime a new approach is offered, conceptual work precedes evidence. Also, early work tends to rely on anecdotes, examples, and stories (narratives). It is true that these interpretations can be gathered systematically and applied creatively. Over time, however, scientists devise measurement schemes that are both valid (measures a construct that exists) and reliable (any two people using the same instrument will find the same thing). As a result, science tends to lag behind conceptualization. In the area of servant leadership, the gap between fact-based evidence and concept development is very wide. This will change as researchers test the propositions derived from Greenleaf’s work.

If you find the “logic” of servant leadership (SL) to be reasonable and natural, you should be optimistic about the future. As science begins to catch up with the professors you have been working with, a wave of favorable results will surge through the business, management, and communication journals. Skeptics (often misinformed about the nature of SL) will look closely at the nature and outcomes of SL. They will conduct their own studies and the publication of new manuscripts will change the way we think about modern organizations.

This optimistic view should not be mistaken for naiveté. Please take a moment to read the book review by Dean (2014). It starts off in a rather mild, but insistent voice. By the end, however, the tone is harsh and demoralizing. My work has received this type of scrutiny, and it is unpleasant. The point is that we can never make critics like Dean take notice until we can produce a body of research that supports the propositions of SL and leads to nuanced predictions. None of this work can occur until we can define and measure SL validly and reliably. SL will never be accepted in the academy until we have answers to her powerful critique.

Where is one to start?

Over the next few months, I hope to explore the full palate of instruments used to test propositions about SL. While sorting through the surveys and questionnaires, there was no obvious starting point. I elected to present the scales that best served my purposes. For that reason, I begin with the Servant Leadership Questionnaire (SLQ).

Development of the SLQ

Barbuto and Wheeler (2006) went about the work of scale development systematically. They identified 11 characteristics of SL and developed many statements addressing each characteristic. Many items (between 10 and 15) were rephrased if they appeared unclear, vague or confusing. An expert panel attempted to identify how the questions ‘fit” into the 11 categories, and if they could not, the items were revised. The 56-item SLQ was administered to 468 leaders and raters, along with the Multi-leadership Behavior Questionnaire and the leader-member exchange scale.

If you haven’t conducted a factor analysis before, don’t be intimidated by the results. Basically, a factor analysis examines how movement between any two items is associated with movements in all other items. This is an oversimplification, but when patterns of movement can be determined, those scales are said to “load” on the same factor. For our purposes, it is sufficient to say that there was support for SL in the factor loadings. When you examine the five factors that emerged from the responses, keep a couple of things in mind. First, the categories make a great deal of sense from the perspective of SL. The Altruistic calling grouping, for example, has a distinctly SL flavor. This grouping would not be expected from the perspectives of theory-X or theory-Y. Also, notice that the alpha reliabilities for all factors are strong (see the internal consistency estimates within the parentheses to the right of the grouping).

That said, I do find the patterns curious. If I “add up” all of the groupings (Altruistic calling + Emotional healing + Wisdom + Persuasive mapping + Organizational stewardship), I’m not sure if I “see” servant leadership. For example, servant leaders often serve subordinates by having faith in the worker and giving him or her the training needed to be effective and the opportunity to be successful (humbly allowing others the credit for successes). I don’t see these fundamental qualities in the scale. This is called a problem with parsimony. These five categories do not appear necessary and sufficient to produce SL. Of course, this may be nit-picking, as it’s impossible to reflect every SL quality. Still, the scale seems to lack the richness and nuance of servant leadership. This is probably to be expected. It is early in the scale development enterprise, and other scales may be better suited for studying humility and faith in subordinates.

The more serious issue I have with the SLQ is not the factor structure, but the lack of a composite score. Many of the dimensions are highly associated, but are the sum of the dimensions a measure of SL? Why isn’t this number (the composite SL score) used in any of the validity tests? I would be interested in knowing the LMX-SL relationship, but I haven’t been able to find it in the tables. So, the basic questions become, as the Wisdom score increases, do the other associations “look” like SL? As Altruistic calling score increases, do the other associations “look” like SL? Repeat this three more times and you sense my frustration. All the patterns, considered together, don’t feel like SL to me. This problem is called isomorphism. A good theory is said to be isomorphic when there is a correspondence between the construct (SL) as you know it to be and the research you see in the literature. I’ve known servant leaders, but I do not see their silhouette when I read the SLQ.

You’ll need to make up your mind on this one. Take a close look. The number on the far left is item number from the order used in the original 56-item scale. Here are the SLQ items:

The Servant Leadership Questionnaire Items

Altruistic calling (α = .82)

01 This person puts my best interests ahead of his/her own.

03 This person does everything he/she can to serve me.

35 This person sacrifices his/her own interests to meet my needs.

46 This person goes above and beyond the call of duty to meet my needs.

Emotional healing (α = .91)

05 This person is one I would turn to if I had a personal trauma.

16 This person is good at helping me with my emotional issues.

27 This person is talented at helping me to heal emotionally.

38 This person is one that could help me mend my hard feelings.

Wisdom (α = .92)

06 This person seems alert to what’s happening.

09 This person is good at anticipating the consequences of decisions.

17 This person has great awareness of what is going on.

28 This person seems in touch with what’s happening.

50 This person seems to know what is going to happen.

Persuasive mapping (α = .87)

07 This person offers compelling reasons to get me to do things.

08 This person encourages me to dream “big dreams” about the organization.

18 This person is very persuasive.

29 This person is good at convincing me to do things.

40 This person is gifted when it comes to persuading me.

Organizational stewardship (α = .89)

21 This person believes that the organization needs to play a moral role in society.

34 This person believes that our organization needs to function as a community.

43 This person sees the organization for its potential to contribute to society.

45 This person encourages me to have a community spirit in the workplace.

54 This person is preparing the organization to make a positive difference in the future.

Strengths and Weaknesses

If you are interested in clearly defined dependent variables, Barbuto and Wheeler may be a good scale to use. A clear dimension like Organizational stewardship may well be associated with a variable like trust or solidarity. Also, some categories (dimension) are measured nicely. I like the Wisdom items. I’m not sure that being “in touch with what’s happening” is really wisdom, but I’ve seen servant leaders in action and they are totally aware of what is going on in the organization.

The weaknesses have been discussed earlier. I am somewhat unclear about the versions of the SLQ. I wondered about the “self” ratings on the SLQ. How could a community leader respond to the last question in Altruistic calling? Why didn’t the authors include the self and other versions of the scale? Finally, it’s been nearly eight years since this scale was published. I have seen very few studies use it. This is a problem of heurism. If the scale was used by many to test important qualities of SL, the scale (or theory) is said to be heuristic. Heurism is a good feature, but there is little evidence that SL scholars have rushed to embrace the SLQ.


Barbuto, Jr., J. E., & Wheeler, D. W. (2006). Scale development and construct clarification of servant leadership. Group & Organization Management, 31, 300-326.

Dean, D. R. (2014). Review of Daniel Wheeler. Servant Leadership for Higher Education: Principles and Practices. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012. The Review of Higher Education, 37, 274-277.