Closing the leadership circle: Building and testing a contingent theory of servant leadership

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Lemoine, Gerald James
Blum, Terry C.
Parsons, Charles K.
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Servant leadership focuses on stakeholder concern and follower development and empowerment. It has begun to emerge as a useful perspective of leadership within academic research, but theoretical development remains limited, and some of its key propositions have not been tested. In this dissertation I build and test a theory of how servant leadership works, why it works, and when it works. Drawing on the extant servant leadership literature, a social learning perspective, and research on gender roles and schemas, I propose a conceptual definition and theory of how servant leadership impacts two characteristics of followers (prosocial motivation and psychological capital) to affect distal outcomes including voice and performance. I also test servant leadership's impact on the spread of servant leadership behaviors to followers, a key proposition of servant leadership for nearly fifty years which has never been empirically tested. Further, I propose gender and gender schemas as potential moderators of servant leadership, arguing that the more communal emphasis of this approach may interact with sex role factors to impact its effectiveness, such that females may actually have an advantage in using servant leadership, as opposed to the implicit masculine advantage in other leadership behaviors. To answer these research questions, I conducted a temporally lagged multi-organizational study testing the mediators, moderators, and outcomes of servant leadership. Using a variance decomposition approach to clustered and cross-level interactions in an HLM framework, I find substantial support for my theoretical predictions. Results support the idea that exposure to servant leadership behaviors is associated with all three performance outcomes, including an employee's own enactment of servant leadership, both directly and through the mediating effects of positive psychological capital. These effects were contingent as hypothesized, such that servant leadership was more powerful when used by a female manager, and when experienced by individuals with high female gender schemas. Theoretical and practical implications of these conclusions, as well as future research suggested by these results, are discussed.
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