Raymond W. Preiss, Ph.D.
Master of Arts in Servant Leadership Graduate Faculty
Professor and Chair, Department of Communication Studies
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