Misconception #6: Servant Leadership Lacks a Strong Research Base

This is the 7th in a series on the topic of Misconception and Objections to Servant Leadership. Why, after all these years, is servant leadership not more practiced? Why is this powerful approach so easily dismissed as being irrelevant or impractical to day to day organizational life? This series explores the common misconceptions that often result in leaders ignoring a way of leading that can bring their organizations greater health and higher performance.

Misconception #6: Servant Leadership Lacks a Strong Research Base

If you get much into the academic literature on servant leadership it won’t take long to hear someone state emphatically that there is not much of a research base to support the concept of servant leadership. Some will then dismiss it out of hand and determine that the approach lacks credibility and scholarly support. Actually, the research base on servant leadership is actually quite strong and growing each year.

The development of the Organizational Leadership Assessment (OLA) in 1999 created the beginning of quantitative research on servant leadership. Since that time over 81 research studies have been conducted using the OLA.

If you want to review those studies go to the OLA section here on the site at: https://www.servantleaderperformance.com/ola-research-studies/ where you can also obtain a document that summarizes the research completed over the past 20 years and this is just a small portion of all the research being conducted worldwide on this important leadership approach. Several other conceptual models have been proposed in the past 2 decades with new and powerful assessment instruments to broaden and deepen the research base in support of servant leadership.

The Servant Leadership Effect

So what are we learning about servant leadership?

Here is a quick summary and it is very encouraging. Servant leadership correlates with:

  1. Higher Employee Job Satisfaction
  2. Higher Team Effectiveness
  3. Higher Organizational and Leader Trust
  4. Higher Student Performance on Standardized Tests
  5. Lower Employee Absenteeism and Attrition
  6. Higher Employee Productivity Scores

In other words, several organizational health factors are correlated in a significant way with the practice of servant leadership in organizations. This suggests that servant leadership helps to create healthier, higher performing organizations. To review the detail provided in the research summary go to: https://www.servantleaderperformance.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Summary-of-OLA-Research.pdf

Yes, this is very encouraging, but it is just the tip of the iceberg. Much more is being done by leadership scholars throughout the world. In 2016, servant leadership researchers met in Iceland from the United States, Spain, Finland, South Africa, Turkey, New Zealand, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Iceland, Belgium and Sweden to share their latest studies confirming that servant leadership research is alive and well and is presenting a very positive picture of the potential benefits of this often ignored leadership mindset.

What does this provide us?

One, it helps us see that servant leadership does have a meaningful research base to support it and this research is growing. Second, servant leadership, as many of us expect, is able to encourage more satisfied and productive workers, more effective teams and more healthy organizations. So, be encouraged servant leaders. You are on the right track.

Your fellow servant,


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