Servant Leadership Benefits Performance through Serving Culture

Publication: Academy of Management Journal
Article: Servant Leadership and Serving Culture: Influence on Individual and Unit Performance
Reviewed by: Winnie Jiang


The concept of servant leadership is becoming increasingly popular, especially in the service industry. Multiple studies have found that servant leadership is positively related to individual and organizational outcomes such as performance and organizational citizenship behavior, which is when employees go beyond their formal job requirements to help the organization. However, curious people may still wonder how servant leadership produces these positive outcomes. The lack of understanding of how servant leadership leads to these positive effects can make it difficult for organizations to implement this leadership practice and to fully enjoy its benefits. New research (Liden, Wayne, Liao, & Meuser, 2014) has found that servant leadership leads to favorable individual and organizational outcomes through fostering a serving culture and enhancing employees’ sense of identification with their organization.



Servant leadership is the leadership style that emphasizes a leader’s role as a “servant” first and a “leader” second. In other words, servant leadership promotes the philosophy of leading by serving. Servant leaders place their followers’ needs ahead of their own needs and consider it a priority to support followers in achieving their full potential. A servant leader also genuinely cares for followers and encourages followers to support each other.

Serving culture in this study refers to a situation where group members share the expectation of serving or helping others. In a team with a serving culture, every member treats helping others as a priority.

Employees’ identification with an organization is the extent to which the employees view themselves as part of the organization and the extent to which they see the organization they work for as an important part of their life.



This study finds that servant leadership demonstrated by store managers is positively related to a serving culture in their stores. The authors argue that this is likely because employees model their managers’ behavior and become helpful and supportive themselves. The serving culture is subsequently found to predict better store performance as well as better job performance, enhanced creativity, higher customer service quality, and lower turnover intention. Serving culture is also found to predict a higher level of employees’ identification with their stores, which has a positive effect on many of the benefits mentioned above as well.



The major takeaway from this article is that leaders (especially those in the service sector) might benefit from learning to become servant leaders and engage in servant leadership practices such as emotionally supporting their followers. Doing this will foster a serving culture in the organization and enhance employees’ identification with the organization. This can generate favorable outcomes for individuals and the organization as a whole. Organizations in the service industry may consider adding servant leadership to their executive or leadership development programs. Furthermore, because serving culture is the critical factor that produces the positive outcomes, in addition to developing servant leaders, organizations can promote serving culture through other channels such as encouraging voluntary activities and community service.

How Well-Connected Leaders Help Foster Creativity

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: The benefits from well-connected leaders: Leader social network ties as facilitators of employee radical creativity
Reviewed by: Anjali Banerjee


In recent years organizations have increasingly come to recognize the importance of fostering innovation and creativity. The problem is, how?

New research suggests that the key might be dependent on the size of team leaders’ social networks. By working with leaders who have substantial social networks within the organization, employees are granted access to more resources, ideas, and strategies to utilize in creative ways.



The new study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, examined 214 employees working in public technology and environmental services. The research focused on the impact of the social networks of the leaders and employees involved, as well as instances of radical creativity.

The study found that it’s important that leaders be connected to the members of their team, but equally important that they be well-connected outside the team as well.

Leaders with expansive connections beyond the scope of the immediate work team provide access to a broader variety of resources, including new perspectives and ideas which the leader can then pass on to their team.



The importance of having a wide social network as a team leader hinges on the value of providing a broad-view strategy for employees. The more people a team leader knows, the more connected they become to Big Picture concepts rather than focusing solely on the current thoughts within a team.

Of course, it’s not enough for the leader to merely make new connections. They also need to focus on sharing the insights and strategies these connections provide. By sharing diverse perspectives, team leaders can help battle the creative stagnancy that often happens with teams over time.

This research suggests that employee social networks can also be instrumental if they serve as liaison to individuals outside the team, especially when their leaders are less integral to the team or are not stepping up to the plate. But the interplay between employee and leader social networks needs to be better explored in the future in order to fully understand the different impacts of each.



The important info organizational leaders can glean from this research is that creativity is fostered by connectivity to others in the organization.

Access to additional outside perspectives help to provide unique resources and ideas that could lead to innovative creative development.

This research also supports the notion of a connected organization wherein ideas are shared freely between leaders in order to stimulate the creativity of the entire company.

The Negative Effects of Knowledge Hiding on Organizational Trust and Creativity

Publication: Academy of Management
Article: What Goes Around Comes Around: Knowledge Hiding, Perceived Motivational Climate an Creativity
Reviewed by: Will Smith


Have you ever encountered a situation where a colleague purposely withheld pertinent information? How did that change your interactions with them, or the dynamics within the office?

A recent study addresses the topic of Knowledge Hiding, and how consciously withholding information can affect both trust and creativity.

The act of hiding knowledge leads to what the researchers describe as “the distrust loop.” In this cycle, employees who intentionally hide information lose the trust of their peers. In order to impart a sense of justice, the effected peers will then withhold information from the knowledge hiders. This, in turn, affects the knowledge hider’s ability to collaborate effectively and generate creative ideas.



The researchers felt it was important that the organizational environment be factored into the equation, and examined two types– the mastery climate and the performance climate. A mastery climate is one in which cooperation, employee development, and mastery of skills are encouraged. A performance climate is based on an employee’s ability to outperform colleagues and receive recognition/rewards relative to that of their peers.

The researchers conducted two studies to test their hypotheses. The first consisted of 240 employees and 34 supervisors. Employees were measured on their creativity, how they perceived the organizational climate, and if they considered themselves knowledge hiders. The supervisors were then asked to provide their perception of the creativity of their employees.

The second study consisted of 132 undergraduate students, who were asked to complete a business scenario in which students were places in three groups. The scenarios consisted of conditions that measured of the mastery climate, performance climate or no climate. Some students were also randomly selected to be knowledge hiders.



The researchers learned that knowledge hiders in a performance climate found themselves within the distrust loop, limiting their collaboration with peers and ultimately making them less creative than other groups. Knowledge hiders in this group were more concerned with protecting themselves, which hindered their ability to be creative in comparison with the other groups.

The groups without knowledge hiders proved more capable of freely exchanging ideas and, as a result, were more creative. Interestingly, in mastery climates, employees were generally less likely to be knowledge hiders. The mastery climate fosters such an environment of collaboration and knowledge sharing that it ultimately decreases the need for knowledge hiding, and thus does not affect creativity



In organizations in which innovation is important, encouraging employees to collaborate allows them opportunities to more readily engage each other. It allows employees to openly share ideas and drive organizational initiatives.

The big picture take-away from this study is that fostering an environment of collaboration in the workplace removes the necessity for knowledge hiding, which is ultimately beneficial to the creative progress of the entire organization.

Culture and Creativity: Is It All About Social Context?

Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior
Article: Social context: Key to understanding culture’s effects on creativity
Reviewed by: Angela A. Beiler

In recent years, workplace creativity has become an area of interest to many employers.

With the increase in globalization within organizations, understanding employee creativity also requires an understanding of how and when individuals within various cultures exhibit this characteristic.

In a new study, researchers found that the manifestation of creativity differs between Eastern and Western cultures, which could be due to a number of cultural differences.



Two main differences between Eastern and Western cultures are power distance and collectivism.

Eastern cultures, such as China, tend to have higher levels of power distance, which is characterized by differential treatment based on social status. This could inhibit employees’ willingness to take risks if they do not feel comfortable divulging their original creative ideas to a supervisor.

Western cultures, such as the United States, tend to have much lower levels of power distance. Because the culture typically has higher levels of equality regardless of social status, employees may not be as negatively influenced by the presence of a supervisor.

Additionally, East Asian societies are traditionally more collaborative, which may encourage creativity within a group. Whereas the Western focus on independence may lower creativity when employees operate within group scenarios.



To examine these cultural differences, the researchers conducted simultaneous studies in the United States and China.

Seventy-nine undergraduate students were asked to take part in a creativity task– either alone, in a group, or with a supervisor present. Responses were rated for creative output via originality, total number of ideas, and usefulness. The researchers then compared results for the two groups.

The results indicated that Chinese participants provided less original ideas while supervised, whereas American participants were not impacted by supervisor presence. Conversely, the American participants provided fewer ideas when in groups than they did when they were alone, while the Chinese participants were not impacted by the presence of peers.



This study highlights the importance of understanding social contexts within a diverse workplace, and how desired outcomes like creativity may be impacted by cultural differences.

While Chinese workers may benefit from a supervisor-free group environment when completing creative tasks, American workers may perform best when taking on these tasks individually.

The conclusion is that employers may not be able to simply take a one-size-fits-all approach to improving conditions for creativity in the workplace, especially if they have employees with diverse backgrounds or act as a multinational organization.

An Easy Recipe for Improving Team Performance on Creative Tasks

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (Nov 2013)
Article: Examining the Asymmetrical Effects of Goal Faultlines in Groups: A Categorization-Elaboration Approach
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

Leaders and I-O Psychologists are always trying to discover new ways to improve team performance. New research by Ellis, Mai, and Chrisitan (2013), has found an interesting new way to do this for creative tasks. When team members have different approaches to achieving goals, team performance may improve.

This research is rooted in goal setting theory (Locke & Latham, 1990), which asserts that people who set specific and challenging goals will outperform people who merely “try their best”. Results of the current study also support this classic I-O Psychology theory, but in this case, the researchers went one step further. They also analyzed teams which had two members who set specific, challenging goals, and two other members who were trying their best.

What happened? When the teams were asked to perform creative tasks, these mixed teams outperformed everybody. When the teams performed routine tasks, the mixed teams were not very effective. The authors explain that creative work is best accomplished when team members are able to build on top of each other’s ideas. When one team member has a novel suggestion, someone else will have to “reframe” the idea and offer a practical way of applying it to the problem at hand. This process is easiest to do when team members are approaching problems differently, which is the case when they are using different approaches to achieve goals. When work is more routine, team members will not benefit from having different approaches.

This research is practically important because it provides an easy recipe for improving team performance on creative tasks. Although creativity is naturally strengthened through diversity, the “diversity of perspective” that is suggested here may work better than “social category diversity”, which the authors note can unfortunately sometimes lead to negative outcomes.

If you’re happy and you know it, your boss doesn’t matter: How a positive mood makes up for transformational leadership

One of the major areas of recent leadership research has been on the impact of transformational leaders. Transformational leaders exhibit behaviors that go above and beyond basic job requirements, including behaving in a manner that helps employees focus on group needs rather than individual, showing high levels of optimism and positive feelings, creating an intellectually stimulating work environment, and helping employees feel personally cared for at work. The behaviors of transformational leaders are seen to have positive outcomes within an organization, increasing creativity as well as helping behaviors. The current study suggests that a transformational leadership style may be less influential when employees have a naturally more positive demeanor, looking specifically at both employee creativity and helping behaviors.

In order to study this, surveys were collected from 212 pairs of supervisors and employees in China. Supervisor surveys measured the employee’s creativity and helping behaviors, while employee surveys measured their own general demeanor (known as Positive Affectivity) and their supervisor’s leadership style.

The researchers found that transformational leadership was not as impactful for predicting helping behaviors or creativity in employees who had more positive general demeanor. This suggests that organizations may be able to look at employee personality traits when pairing employees with supervisors in order to improve the work environment. If a group of employees tends to have a more negative attitude, pairing them with a supervisor who exhibits traits of a transformational leader may be more effective. On the other hand, employees who are generally in a positive mood do not need this specific leadership style in order to be effective. By paying attention to specific personality traits that may impact job performance, organizations may be able to increase levels of employee creativity and helping behaviors.

The Role of Social Networking for Cultural Entrepreneurs

Publication: Creativity and Innovation Management Journal (2013)
Article: Cultural Entrepreneurship: The Impact of Social Networking on Success
Reviewed by: Arlene Coelho

The last few years have seen a growing trend of cultural business start-ups, globally. A cultural business (events, arts, music, theatre, etc.) is significantly different from a commercial business for more than one reason. Cultural businesses are usually at an agency level with a limited number of people. They still have their founding member(s) actively involved in the day to day dealings of the business. Additionally, the success measures for these businesses rely heavily on social networking and strong interpersonal connections in addition to fiscal outcomes. Constructing sturdy social ties lies at the very heart of a successful cultural venture. Maintaining healthy relations with competitors and building on personal networks directly helps a cultural business gather information and resources for mutual benefit.

Due to the nuance of this business sector however, there is an absence of a guided direction as to how much networking actually helps the cultural business and to the extent to which a cultural entrepreneur’s reputation affects the business. The current paper explored this area, and reveals some interesting and constructive information.

It appears that the more favorable a business’s reputation, the more likely it is to succeed and grow. A start-up’s reputation hinges on that of its entrepreneur. The current research therefore suggests that the more actively (socially) involved a cultural entrepreneur is the better the chances are for the business to succeed. A cultural entrepreneur is expected to build strong social relations with competitors, as well as building a sturdy personal social network, in order to be in the loop on important shifts and developments in the cultural business landscape.

Two major obstacles affect cultural business: funding sources and competition with other similar businesses. In the face of limited funding, private cultural businesses find it difficult to compete with public institutions that receive more government funding. A strong networking specialist can greatly help to mitigate the disadvantages a for-profit culture enterprise might face. However, it appears that while a healthy network can help overcome the constraints posed due to limited funding, the benefit is not the same when the level of competitiveness increases. Since cultural entrepreneurs spend a tremendous amount of energy and time networking for mutual benefits with peers, who are also potentially competitors, there seems to exist a general supportive mindset among the cultural community. Unfortunately, when the level of competitiveness increases, perhaps due to a dearth of available funding, it poses a problem that cannot be resolved through social networking alone. In fact, social networking may negatively affect the business, at times of increased competitiveness, since social networking involves a mutual benefit factor.

With the limited research available on cultural entrepreneurship, the current study has contributed in a large way by pointing out the importance of social networking and its limitations as well. Cultural entrepreneurs should focus on building social networks, as part of their business strategy that can assist in overcoming some of the common issues faced by cultural start-ups. However, they should remain conscious that in times of increased competition, alternatives to these social networks will need to be explored.

Leading Creative People

Publication: Creativity and Innovation Management
Article: Authenticity and Respect: Leading Creative Teams in the Performing Arts
Reviewed by: Arlene Coelho

Creative individuals value freedom, are highly specialized, self-motivated, and prefer to develop their own knowledge base rather than be taught. These characteristics can make leading creative people a challenge.

So far most research on leadership has been about objective knowledge, in other words, what is required to be a good leader. However, the how of leadership is more significant, when leading ‘creative experts’.

The current study conducted 24 narrative interviews on creative artists, which helped build a social understanding of what it means to lead highly creative people. Results showed that leadership is socially different when dealing with a group of artists than when dealing with business professionals. However, important parallels were drawn which can be successfully adapted by all leaders. The following five themes emerged.

Success and Leadership
A creative person’s success is highly dependent on his or her leader. While artists usually receive acclaim and feedback from the media and public, it is their leader’s approval and feedback they really seek. Leaders who share in the failure and success of their teams provide impetus for continual improvement. While creative individuals seek autonomy in their working style, they need a leader who is available for guidance and genuine feedback.

Authenticity is of utmost value to artistic people; they must remain true to themselves during the good and bad phases. In order to guide them well, their leader must recognize the value an artistic person places on authenticity. Additionally, a leader’s achievements and peculiarities are often the very elements with which creative people will identify. Hence, it is crucial that a leader remain honest and open.

The main foundations upon which creative workers build respect for their leaders is the leader’s expertise, track record, and personality. Additionally Leaders are expected to create an environment of trust and mutual respect, honoring the diversity of a team by supporting the different working styles of varied personality types.

Autonomy and Freedom
Successful leaders of creative teams provide a solid support system, while allowing autonomy among the team members. Autonomy enriches a creative bent of mind, and strong support provides guidance, creating an environment conducive to nurturing creativity.

Dark Side of Leadership
In addition to the four positive themes, one negative aspect of leadership emerged that must be considered. Leaders who are concerned with self admiration and empowering themselves as a result of team work greatly dampen a creative environment. Therefore, it is important that leaders bear in mind that only by working with the team and for the team will they really achieve the greatest possible success.

While performing artists might be more creative than your average office worker, in a regular business context these themes can be applied by leaders to deal with those creative experts who usually form a small part of the team. The need of the hour is capturing different styles of leadership in order to bring out the best in the team. A ‘One Size Fits All’ style of leading is passé especially when leading creative people.

Implementing Creative Ideas at Work

Publication: Academy of Management Journal (2012)
Article: Putting creativity to work: The implementation of creative ideas in organizations
Reviewed by: Megan Leasher

Creativity is an interesting thing. It tends to strike people differently at different times. For me, I am most creative in the air; generally while enjoying my micro-pretzels from Delta.

But creativity is completely useless unless you can make your ideas a reality. In my job, I am lucky that I have a cool boss who lets me bring my weird, atypical ideas to life. (I’m also hoping I get props from my boss for calling her “cool” in print.)

Sadly, the implementation of creative ideas at work is not simple. Creativity challenges the status quo. Change can make people uncomfortable, even combative. People often resist creativity, because they aren’t sure the results will be worth the risk.

In this study, researchers wanted to learn what factors lead to creative solutions. Specifically, they found that individuals with many creative ideas were more likely to have those ideas implemented when they also possessed a high motivation for successful completion, strong ties within the organization (for buy-in), and robust networking abilities. But when the researchers dug a little deeper, they found some factors predicted implementation more than others. Overall, the findings suggest that the link between creative ideas and their implementation is very complex, and must take into account individual, relationship, and situational factors.

Creativity does not equate to implementation; just as micro-pretzels do not equate to being in first class.

What do you think helps get creative ideas at work implemented?

Creativity and Firm Performance

The impact of creativity on firm performance depends on the riskiness of a firm’s strategy, the firm’s size, and the ability of the firm’s employees to transform creative ideas into new products and services, according to a study by Yaping Gong, Jing Zhou, & Song Chang. When a company has a risky strategy, creativity leads to decreased firm performance. On the other hand, creativity leads to increased firm performance when the size of the company is small or when a company has a high capacity to transform creative ideas into novel products and services (a.k.a., absorptive capacity).

In their study, Gong, Zhou, & Chang collected data from 148 high-technology firms in China that had 100 or more employees and operated in sectors such as telecommunications and biotechnology. In regard to indicators of creativity, sample items included “[the core knowledge employees, such as engineers] generated novel, but operable work-related ideas.” For firm performance, the firms’ CEOs rated their companies along dimensions such as profit, sales growth, and market share. As rated by the CEOs, items such as “we search for big opportunities, and favor large, bold decisions despite the uncertainty of their outcomes” served as indicators of riskiness orientation. Number of employees served as the measure of firm size, and sample items such as “our [core knowledge employees, such as engineers] can easily implement new products and services” served as indicators of realized absorptive capacity.