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Measuring Servant Leadership

Servant leadership is focused on serving followers first with ethical, empowering, supportive, and empathetic behaviors.

Whereas other leadership approaches, such as transformational leadership, focus on aligning follower behavior with the goals of the organization, servant leadership has a strong focus on providing followers with the tools and support they need to reach their full potential. When followers are empowered, supported, and trust their leaders, their engagement in required, and especially, discretionary behaviors, naturally follows. Over time, followers serve coworkers and customers without being directed to do so by the leader. In order for the power of servant leadership to be harnessed by organizations, it is essential to be able to accurately measure it. Two major research efforts conducted by UIC researchers have resulted in the development of a valid measure of servant leadership. The research has revealed that servant leadership is comprised of seven components or dimensions:

  1. emotional healing, which involves the degree to which the leader cares about followers’ personal problems and well-being
  2. creating value for the community, which captures the leader’s involvement in helping the community surrounding the organization as well as encouraging followers to be active in the community
  3. conceptual skills, reflecting the leader’s competency in solving work problems and understanding the organization’s goals
  4. empowering, assessing the degree to which the leader entrusts followers with responsibility, autonomy, and decision-making influence
  5. helping subordinates grow and succeed, capturing the extent to which the leader helps followers reach their full potential and succeed in their careers
  6. putting subordinates first, assessing the degree to which the leader prioritizes meeting the needs of followers before tending to his or her own needs
  7. behaving ethically, which includes being honest, trustworthy, and serving as a model of integrity.

The development of the 28-item, 7-dimension measure of servant leadership (SL-28) was conducted with a sample of 298 students, followed by an organizational sample of 182 individuals and their immediate supervisors. Results, published in a 2008 article in Leadership Quarterly, revealed that the 28 items provide a reliable and valid measure of servant leadership. Specifically, even when controlling for transformational leadership and leader-member exchange, servant leadership dimensions were shown to be positively related to:

  • job performance
  • commitment to the organization
  • participation in community service activities