Servant Leadership and Organizational Discipline: A Qualitative Study

Servant Leadership and Organizational Discipline: A Qualitative Study

Ravinder Jit (Maharaja Agarsen Institute of Technology, India), Anju Bharti (Maharaja Agarsen Institute of Technology, India), Urvashi Sharma (Department of Commerce, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, India) and P. V. Rajeev (Government of India, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1108-4.ch006
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The chapter examines various strategies adopted by servant leaders to ensure discipline in the organization. The study suggests that with their inherent pro-follower orientation, servant leaders' first preference is to create an organizational environment where employees do not feel the need to indulge in indiscipline. For this, they take certain proactive initiatives such as open door policy; leading by example; clarifying goals and roles; ensuring objectivity, fairness, and transparency; etc. In case some employees still indulge in undisciplined behavior, the servant leaders tend to adopt certain retroactive measures. They listen patiently and actively to transgressors' perspective in order to (1) diagnose the situation, (2) provide employees an opportunity to give catharsis to their feelings, and (3) persuade them to adopt disciplined behavior. Employees' failure to respond to these initiatives may force the servant leaders to take recourse to punishment as a last resort. But in servant leaders' punishment also there is a trace of care, concern, and compassion.
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Discipline is considered to be one of the most important prerequisites for achieving organizational effectiveness. Various researchers have tried to identify factors that can determine regulation of employee conduct and maintenance of organizational discipline. Amongst these factors the nature and style of leadership has attracted significant attention (Grojean, Christian, Marcus & Smith, 2004; Stein Bauer, Renn, Taylor & Njoroge, 2014).

Researchers have reported a variety of methods and approaches adopted by different styles of leadership to ensure discipline in the organization. Ferch (2003), for example, suggested that the industrial/new modernist model of leadership, relying heavily on a hierarchal structure and a designated chain of command, uses dominance and control to regulate employee conduct and increase organizational effectiveness. Control based leadership demonstrates decisiveness where each activity, process, and resource-use have to be monitored to check negligence that could harm the organization (Johnson & Klee, 2007; Martin, Liao & Campbell-Bush, 2012). Bolin and Heatherly (2001), and Dunlop and Lee (2004) suggested that an organization failing to control deviant behaviour and ensure adherence to its work ethics could experience failure in overall organizational performance.

But regulation of employee behaviour only through control and dominance has its own repercussions. Ouellette, Lazaer, and Chambers (1999); Agbolla and Salawu (2011) reported that control oriented leadership leads to hostility and undesirable behaviour among followers. Ferch (2003) suggested that such leadership becomes blind to the dignity of the led and tends to take action without accountability to the feelings and emotions of the subordinates. This leads not only to the moral decline of the relational environment in the organization but also a pervasive malaise that afflicts the psyche of the contemporary employees. Day and Hamblin (1964) found that close supervision tended to be connected with reduction in group harmony and productivity.

The failure of control and punitive leadership to ensure positive intra-and inter personal employee attitudes and behaviours while achieving organizational goals, has led to increased interest in studying the impact of flexible and non-punitive leadership on individual and organizational effectiveness. Efforts are also being made to understand the ways in which the perspectives and actions of these leaders intersect with the organization’s specific policies, rules, code of conduct etc. in regulating and shaping the attitudes, behaviours and conduct of employees.

In this context, flexible and non-punitive leadership constructs like servant leadership, ethical leadership, relational leadership, spiritual leadership and transformational leadership, etc. have attracted the attention of researchers. In the present study, servant leadership(SL) model has been selected over other non-punitive leadership models as SL model not only manifests various dimensions of these leadership models but also goes past them by manifesting various pro-follower characteristics such as motivation to serve, humility, ensuring followers’ development, care and concern for followers, listening, persuasive approach, patience, compassion, honesty and integrity etc. It is assumed that with these characteristics, servant leadership is likely to enforce discipline in a more peaceful, persuasive, humane, compassionate and transparent manner. In other words, the above characteristics of servant leadership can intersect with its administrative role - when it tries to formulate and implement policies, procedures, rules and regulations and code of conduct etc. for effective functioning of the organization.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Progressive Discipline: This discipline system involves a series of penalties with increasing severity every time an employee breaks the rules. Progressive discipline actions may include verbal counselling, verbal warning, written warning, monetary deductions, suspension and then termination as a last option.

Industrial/New Modernist Leadership: It is also referred to as traditional leadership. It relies heavily on a hierarchical structure, designated change of command, centralised decision making, and dominance and control to regulate employee conduct and increase organizational effectiveness.

Punitive Leadership and Non-Punitive Leadership: A punitive leader resorts to various negative control methods like belittling, bullying, threatening, humiliating, levying fines and punishing to ensure compliance of rules. A non-punitive leader manifest attributes such as empathic understanding, kindness, active listening, patience, humility, and persuasion to deal with indiscipline issues.

Pro-Follower Approach: A leader-follower relationship wherein leaders are attentive to the concerns of the followers and put the needs of the followers first.

Behavioural Transgression: Behavioural transgression refers to a behaviour that exceeds a limit or boundary especially of social acceptability. It is a behaviour that is against a rule, command, or law.

Value-Laden Leadership: In value-laden leadership style, one finds leaders with strong values and principles about managing their businesses/organizations. Such leaders display attributes such as fairness, openness, honesty, integrity and moral principles.

Servant Leadership: Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy in which the main goal of the leader is to serve the followers. The need to serve is more important to a servant leader than the need to power. A servant leader feels a moral responsibility to bring success to the subordinates, the organization, the customers and other stake holders.

Organizational Discipline: Organizational discipline is the practice of self-restraint and learning to follow the best course of action which may not be according to one’s desire. Discipline is important as it binds the employees and also motivates them to respect their organization.

Qualitative Research: It is a scientific method used to gather non-numerical data. Qualitative research tries to answer questions such as why and how a certain phenomenon may occur rather than when and how often it may occur. Qualitative researchers prefer inductive and hypothesis-generating research processes and procedures and use in-depth observation towards investigation of meaning.

Pro-Active and Retro-Active Disciplinary Measures: Pro-active measures are taken by the leader to promote good discipline or to prevent occurrence or escalation of indiscipline. Retro-active disciplinary measures are taken after a person has already indulged in indiscipline or transgression of rules.

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