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. Yet researchers have not previously understood why this occurs. However, 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, SERVING CULTURE, AND IDENTIFICATION
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.
HOW SERVANT LEADERSHIP BENEFITS PERFORMANCE
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.
HOW ORGANIZATIONS CAN ENCOURAGE A SERVING CULTURE
The major takeaway from this article is that leaders (especially those in the service sector) might benefit from learning to become servant leaders and engaging 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.
Liden, R. C., Wayne, S. J., Liao, C., & Meuser, J. D. (2014). Servant Leadership and Serving Culture: Influence on Individual and Unit Performance. Academy of Management Journal, 57(5), 1434-1452. doi:10.5465/amj.2013.0034