To Serve, and to Be Served: Servant Leadership Inputs on Leveraging Organizational Performance

To Serve, and to Be Served: Servant Leadership Inputs on Leveraging Organizational Performance

Diana Fernandes (University of Minho, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-8820-8.ch001
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Through a systematic literature review, this chapter aims at mapping the servant leader's psychosomatic traits in organizational contexts, and how these induce beneficial effects in organizational performance. It predicts that such leaders would need to display those traits, crystallized into a set of attitudes and behaviors, to address, manage, and overcome the challenges brought by globalization. Leaders would need to be keen on displaying broad knowledge and experience, as well as boundless curiosity and enthusiasm, which also connects to the need of entailing a contagious optimism towards every aspect of life, openly believing in people and teamwork. They need to be assertive and assume high standards in ethical and moral terms, taking risks, and focusing on the long-term growth. Such leaders will commit to excellence, making use of a constant adaptive capacity, because authenticity, integrity, cooperation, and confidence are their distinctive trademarks. Those personality traits, exerted under the servant leadership style, increase overall organizational performance.
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Greenleaf (1970, 1977) has traditionally been considered the founding father of the philosophy around Servant Leadership, postulating that this leadership approach concentrates on prioritizing the needs of followers and stakeholders, regardless of being them individual or/and corporate; rather than the immediate satisfaction of personal needs, wishes and goals. Indeed, managing under this leadership paradigm, the leader assumes as a servant in the first instance, because this agent “begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve”, and by expanding this idea towards his/her people management style, the leader will be faced by a “conscious choice”, which indeed will bring this agent “to aspire to lead” (Greenleaf, 1970: 13).

Hence, it is possible to relate such premise to the idea postulated by McClelland & Burnham (2003), who indicated that the need for power could, as well, be exerted in a beneficial way, and towards beneficial outcomes. Based on Reinke’s (2004) idea defending the responsibility towards the community, Greenleaf’s (1970, 1977) propositions can be derived to the assumption that power can transform as a possibility to serve others, and as such, it may even be understood as a prerequisite for the real constitution and action of servant leaders. This would be so because, under such line of reasoning, serving and leading become almost exchangeable vectors, acknowledging that, on the one hand, configuring oneself as a servant agent allows a person to lead; and on the other hand, being a leader infers that a person serves (Van Dierendonck, 2011).

Further developing such breakthrough approach to people management and leadership, Liden et al. (2008) systematized that it is possible to summarize that Servant Leadership entails seven dimensions, which assume as vital prerequisites for providing help to followers, namely: (1) emotional sensibility in face of the personal hindrances of followers; (2) creating value for the community; (3) conceptual abilities and tasks’ knowledge; (4) empowering others; (5) helping subordinates to grow and succeed; (6) prioritizing subordinates; and (7) behaving ethically. Derivations, both theoretical and empirical, exist throughout literature on this topic, nevertheless, is it clear and consensual to sustain that all of those are presented in a communion to the below points highlighted, and this being said, all of them originate around the core value of empathy from the leader towards the followers, being such empathy operationalized by a constant intent to serve.

Hence, and deriving from this summarized presentation, it is possible to also systematize the very core of the Servant Leadership concept, which claims that, when leaders place a vivid and strong priority on providing tangible and emotional support to their followers (Miao et al., 2021), it then derives the premise that followers will legitimate the leader as a role model, and, by subsequent expansion of this assumption, they will engage in appropriate corporate behaviors, not via coercion, instead because they (as an individual fully aware decision) indeed want to do so (Greenleaf, 1970). Hence, it turns clear and consensual to suggest that Servant Leadership roots on the premise that leaders who present themselves as being best able to motivate followers, also configure as those who focus least on satisfying their own personal needs.

Not disregarding the fact that other conceptual approaches to Leadership include, at their very core, dynamics directed at supporting followers, the fact is that a robust emphasis on leading by serving followers has been assuming, on the academic and managerial debate, as a unique and fruitful perspective among leadership approaches. Hence, among the moral and ethical leadership perspectives nowadays found in literature, it is possible to clearly highpoint an incitement to Servant Leadership. Following this line, and firstly providing a background on the origins and relevance of the conceptual construct of Servant Leadership, the chapter then proceeds, on a first section, to suggest the significance of this breakthrough people management approach by highlighting the paradigm shift it impels on understanding leadership dynamics, both under a theoretical as well as under a managerial level. Concerning this, the chapter indeed proceeds by dissecting this leadership style as a core evolution from Newtonian to Quantum archetypes in which entails Organizational People Management perspectives.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Organizational Justice: It involves the employees’ perceptions of fairness and transparency in the workplace, which are key in leveraging organizational performance, given that they connect to substantial individual and organizational outcomes. Thus, it is entails three core vectors: distributive justice (including the range to which employees understand the outcomes of their work), procedural justice (encompassing the scope to which employees perceive the pay system and other work outcomes), and interactional justice (which refers to the extent that employees feel treated with respect, care, and dignity).

Organizational Citizenship Behaviors: Refers to a person's voluntary commitment within an organization, therefore, refers to the individual and discretionary attitudes and behaviors of an organizational agent as an employee, which go beyond of his/her contractual tasks, so, that are not explicitly recognized by the formal organizational rewards’ system. Those social attitudes and behaviors are imprinted of an ethical character because they drive towards the societal well-being, contributing to improve the corporate sustainable management.

Psychological Ownership: Refers to the psychologically experienced phenomenon in which an employee develops possessive feelings for the target. Hence, it entails the state of consciousness in which individuals, as personalized organizational agents, assume a certain goal, task, or responsibility as inherently theirs, proactively assigning themselves accountable for those.

Positive Occupational Psychology: It refers to the scientific study of the optimal employee functioning, whose goal consists of identifying and enhancing the factors fostering employees and organizations to thrive.

Positive Organizational Behavior: Refers to the investigation, assessment, application and monitoring of positively oriented human resources’ psychological capabilities, which configure as being able to measurement, development, management and monitoring, whose goal is, then, to enhance them in order to act as an engine to leverage organizational performance.

Psychological Capital: Refers to a set of resources – which can be developed, trained, and coached along time, in an evolving logic – that a person can make use of, in order to help himself/herself to leverage job performance, thus, providing beneficial inputs on the work-related success. It entails an individual’s positive psychological state of development, in the sense that it is via the synergy of the individual psychological capital capacities (namely, self-efficacy, confidence, optimism, hope, and resilience) that each of such vectors, then, adds unique variance and, as a corollary, turns additive to overall psychological capital.

Work Engagement: Acknowledging that, for modern organizations, mental capital increasingly assumes of key relevance at a managerial organizational level, this concept, then, refers to a positive, affective-motivational state of consciousness and fulfillment which characterizes by feelings of vigor, dedication, commitment, devotion, and absorption on the part of employees.

Personality Traits: They reflect people’s idiosyncratic patterns of thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and behaviors, hence, imply consistency and stability. These distinctive traits reflect continuous distributions all along with a spectrum (rather than distinct, predefined, and rigid personality types), because such psychological aspects rely on the idea that people differ from one another in terms of where they stand on a set of basic trait dimensions, which persist over time and across situations, nevertheless are able of change and evolution.

Servant Leadership: This ethical leadership approach centers on the leader’s role towards the fulfilment of the followers’ needs, demands, wishes and aspirations, hence, supports and promotes the followers’ interests in the first place, being that the leader’s main organizational and managerial role is to serve people, advocating acceptance, tolerance, respect, genuine care, empathy, love, fairness, and forgiveness all along with his attitudes and behaviors.

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