There to Serve: Servant Leadership and Team Success

Topic: Leadership, Teams
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (JUL 2011)
Article: Antecedents of Team Potency and Team Effectiveness: An Examination of Goal and Process Clarity and Servant Leadership
Authors: Hu, J. & Liden, R. C.
Reviewed By: Thaddeus Rada

Teams are used in a wide variety of organizations for a wide variety of purposes. While teams can be useful to organizations in many ways, there are risks as well. By forming individuals into collective teams, organizations must risk conflict and competition amongst group members. Generally, it is also necessary to have one or more individuals lead a team. In essence, teams can yield very positive results, but they must be designed and managed thoughtfully. A new article by Jia Hu and Robert Liden addresses how a particular type of leadership – servant leadership – might be especially useful in guiding teams to success.

The authors note that teams tend to perform better when team goals and processes are clear to all team members. This clarity can lead to high team potency beliefs, wherein team members believe in the team’s ability to effectively achieve its goals. The authors go on to point out that leaders of the “servant leader” type are particularly well-positioned to elicit this clarity and trust in their teams. Servant leaders do this through behaviors that put team members first, empowering them, and helping them to grow and succeed both as individuals and team members. Among their hypotheses, the authors hypothesized that, by fostering team potency in these ways, servant leaders might lead teams to perform better and engage in higher levels of organizational citizenship behavior.

Using a sample of bank employees and upper management, the authors found support for their hypotheses. They suggest their findings have applications for both teamwork design and leadership development trainings. In the case of teams, efforts might be made to clarify team roles and team processes, so that all team members have a sense of how the team is meant to function and how each individual contributes to the team’s overall goals. In the case of developing leaders, training might emphasize a cultivation of the talents that servant leaders bring to their teams – selflessness, empowerment, and an ability to demonstrate faith in the team’s ability to meet their goals and achieve success.

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