Comparison of leadership styles and Servant Leadership

“A new moral principle is emerging which holds that the only authority deserving ones allegiance is that which is freely and knowingly granted by the led to the leader in response to, and in proportion to, the clearly evident servant stature of the leader. Those who choose to follow this principle will not casually accept the authority of existing institutions. Rather, they will freely respond only to Individuals who are chosen as leaders because they are proven and trusted servants. To the extent that this principle prevails in the future, the only truly viable institutions will be those that are predominantly servant-led.” ~ Robert K. Greenleaf


In the current environment, confidence has been shaken in business leadership (i.e Enron,Worldcom & Anglo), such that interest has been increasing in the development of leaders who set aside self-interest for the betterment of their followers and organisations (Goleman et al, 2005). Bennis (2002, p. 105) stresses that leaders must “generate trust” while others (Fayol, 1949; Ciulla, 1998) emphasise that leaders must practice management that does not violate moral principles.

There are many concepts of leadership in the literature such as transformational, transactional, leader-member exchange (LMX), psychodynamic and servant leadership. These are just concepts and it is important to quickly discuss the differences and similarities of some of the more popular concepts from the point of view of servant leadership. Paterson & Russell (2004) juxtaposed transformational and servant leadership and found that while there are many similarities between the two, it is the moral grounding of servant leadership which makes it distinctive. The table below illustrates the similarities of the two concepts.

Table I Comparison of attributes (Patterson & Russell, 2004)

Conger (1990) argued that there can be a dark side to leadership. For example, leaders who are driven to accomplish their visions may ignore problems and misrepresent the realism of their visions. Clements and Washbush (1999) specifically assailed transformational leadership models for having overlooked potentially negative issues in leader-follower dynamics. Similarly, Kets de Vries (1993) cited personality problems that can lead to poor leader-follower relationships. For example, some leaders have narcissistic tendencies – they thrive on power and enjoy manipulation. Some followers have dependent dispositions and form strong connections to leaders who satisfy their dependency needs (Kets de Vries, 1989).

Such imperfect human tendencies can lead to problems among charismatic leaders and their followers. History is replete with examples of political, religious, business, and other charismatic leaders who have manipulated their followers. Charisma may have allowed them to ascend to leadership positions, but they ultimately used their charisma in oppressive ways. Of course, such leaders whose standards are poor really function outside the genre of the ideal transformational leadership paradigm.

Since servant leaders do not rely on charisma, the risk of manipulation in this form of leadership comes from a different source. Servant leaders rely upon service, and in so doing, they endear the followers to the leaders in reciprocal relationships. Cialdini (2001) identified reciprocation as a primary means by which to influence people. According to the principle of reciprocation, when you do something for another person they are psychologically obliged to return the favour. Optimally, servant leaders have motives that have the best interest of others in mind. Therefore, they should develop a positive form of reciprocation whereby they encourage followers to respond not by serving the leader but by serving others. Of course, this law of reciprocity can potentially be used negatively. Persons, who seek to be servant leaders, but have poor motives, can take advantage of others by inducing them to return acts of service. Such self-centred service can rapidly degenerate into a form of manipulation that can be more subtly coercive than overt exploitive behaviour. However, those who use service for manipulative purposes abdicate the real responsibility of genuine servant leadership.

Clearly, both transformational leadership and servant leadership, like other leadership models, have potentially negative aspects. Yet the benefits of the two concepts far outweigh their negative side (Patterson & Russell, 2004).

Servant leaders, however, derive influence from service itself. They develop relationships where followers are encouraged to follow their lead of service. Paterson et al, (2003) notes that servant-power is a category of influence outside the traditional kinds of power. Real servant hood is a leadership style that relies upon the influence of self-giving without self-glory.

Some empirical evidence supports the distinctiveness of servant leadership from related leadership theories. For example, Ehrhart (2004) reported that servant leadership significantly predicted an additional 5% of the variance in employee commitment, 7% of the variance in satisfaction with supervisor, 4% of the variance in perceived supervisor support, and 8% of the variance in procedural justice above and beyond that of both leader-member exchange and transformational leadership. Similarly, Liden et al. (2008) reported that servant leadership behaviour explained variance in citizenship behaviour and in-role performance beyond that predicted by leader-member exchange and transformational leadership

Liden et al (2008) evaluated the leadership style servant leadership which is based on the premise that to bring out the best in their followers, leaders rely on one-on-one communication to understand the abilities, needs, desires, goals, and potential of those individuals. With knowledge of each follower’s unique characteristics and interests, leaders then assist followers in achieving their potential. Servant leadership differs from traditional approaches to leadership in that it stresses personal integrity and focuses on forming strong long-term relationships with employees. It also is unique in that it extends outside the organization-servant leaders serve multiple stakeholders, including their communities and society as a whole (Graham, 1991)

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Neubert et al (2008) looked at the effects of servant leadership as a variable in the amount of regulatory focus the employee has. Their results supported the theory that servant leadership significantly induces promotion-orientated regulatory focus. Regulatory focus theory (RFT) stems from the “notion that people are motivated to minimize discrepancies between actual and desired end states (i.e., seek pleasure) and maximize the discrepancy between actual and undesired end states (i.e., avoid pain)” (Meyer, Becker, & Vandeberghe, 2004, p. 996). The orientation toward seeking pleasure is considered a promotion focus, whereas the orientation toward avoiding pain is considered a prevention focus (Higgins, 1997). Compared with prevention-focused individuals, promotion-focused individuals are more likely to focus attention on (a) nurturance needs rather than security needs (Higgins et al., 1994), (b) hopes and aspirations rather than rules and responsibilities (Higgins et al., 1994), and (c) gains rather than losses (Shah, Higgins, & Friedman, 1998).

Paterson, Parolinni & Winston (2003) have developed a working theory of servant leadership that creates a platform for more specific research by defining the values on which servant leadership is based – values she calls the component ‘constructs’ of leadership. In Patterson’s view, popular leadership theories such as transformational leadership have not adequately explained the values – for example, altruism – that are sometimes demonstrated by leaders. According to Patterson and Russell (2004), “Transformational leadership shows leaders focused on the organization, and is insufficient to explain behaviour that is altruistic in nature, or follower-focused; thus servant leadership theory, which is follower focused, explains such behaviour”(p. 353). These virtues or morals are qualitative characteristics that are part of one’s character, something that is internal, almost spiritual (Whetstone, 2001).

Robert K. Greenleaf (1904-1990) is credited with initiating the servant leadership concept among modern organizational theorists. In Greenleaf’s (1977) opinion, leadership must primarily meet the needs of others. The focus of servant leadership is on others rather than upon self and on understanding of the role of the leader as a servant (Greenleaf, 1977). Self-interest should not motivate servant leadership; rather, it should ascend to a higher plane of motivation (Greenleaf, 1977). The servant leader’s primary objective is to serve and meet the needs of others, which optimally should be the prime motivation for leadership (Russell and Stone, 2002). Servant leaders provide vision, gain credibility and trust from followers, and influence others (Farling et al., 1999).

James Dittmar (2006) interviewed Larry Spears, the president & CEO for the Greenleaf centre for servant leadership and concluded that Robert Greenleaf’s writings incorporated ten major attributes of servant leadership. These included:









Commitment to the growth of people; and

Building community.

As you will see in the next section, certain dimensions of servant leadership can be observed in the workplace and has some have some academic grounding. Walumbwa et al (2010) conducted a detailed investigation of servant leadership, procedural justice climate, service climate and organisational citizenship behaviour (OCB). Their research looked at the extent to which servant leaders recognise their moral responsibility to the success of the organisation as well as the success of their subordinates, the organisation’s customers and other stakeholders. Their hypothesis that Servant leadership positively relates to organizational citizenship behaviour was supported as servant leadership significantly predicted OCB

While servant leadership is an increasingly popular concept, throughout much of its history the concept has been systematically undefined and lacking in empirical support (Farling et al., 1999). In an attempt to give cohesion to the development of a theory, Russell and Stone (2002) established a practical model for servant leadership. They also identified functional and accompanying attributes of servant leadership

Servant leadership dimensions

According to Russell and Stone (2002) the servant leadership literature offers an inconsistent set of dimensions that define this construct and as a consequence, their exhaustive research was designed to define and validate the dimensions that constitute servant leadership as a construct. Based on their interpretation of servant leadership as well as existing taxonomies of servant they identified nine dimensions:

Emotional healing-the act of showing sensitivity to others’ personal concerns

Creating value for the community-a conscious, genuine concern for helping the community

Conceptual skills-possessing the knowledge of the organization and tasks at hand so as to be in a position to effectively support and assist others, especially immediate followers

Empowering-encouraging and facilitating others, especially immediate followers, in identifying and solving problems, as well as determining when and how to complete work tasks

Helping subordinates grow and succeed-demonstrating genuine concern for others’ career growth and development by providing support and mentoring

Putting subordinates’ first-using actions and words to make it clear to others (especially immediate followers) that satisfying their work needs is a priority

Behaving ethically-interacting openly, fairly, and honestly with others

Relationships-the act of making a genuine effort to know, understand, and support others in the organization, with an emphasis on building long-term relationships with immediate followers

9. Servant hood-a way of being marked by one’s self-categorization and desire to be characterized by others as someone who serves others first, even when self-sacrifice is required

Their scale delivered a Cronbach’s alpha = .8.

Constructs of servant leadership

According to Russell and Stone (2002) the following construct of servant leadership by Patterson (2003), were central to their servant leader dimension creation:

(1) Agapao love; a love derived from the virtues of their religious beliefs

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(2) Acts with humility;

(3) Is altruistic;

(4) Is visionary for the followers;

(5) Is trusting;

(6) Is serving; and

(7) Empowers followers.

Leadership in the African context

Issah Huseini is Ghanaian in birth and has been living in Ireland for the last 12 years. A devote Muslim, his moral beliefs have been leveraged through his religious teachings. These unique characteristics will be discussed later however it is important to discuss leadership in the African and cultural context. To date, servant leadership has been discussed and described almost entirely in the American context (Farling et al., 1999). Unfortunately, there have been few efforts to examine the extent to which followers in the USA actually report having experienced servant leadership while working in a leader-follower relationship.

Hale & Fields (2007) explored the concept of servant leadership in a Ghanaian context and found that while there are many aspects of servant leadership that are similar to leader attributes that may be endorsed across cultures such as motive arousing, confidence building, team building and foresight, some differences among cultures may limit the extent to which the servant leadership approach is viewed as effective. For example, servant leadership often focuses on follower development with the intention of increasing follower capacity to exercise creative approaches and take on greater responsibilities at work. However, these efforts may be viewed as effective primarily in settings where the ability and willingness of followers to exercise initiative and direct their own activities is viewed as desirable (Fields et al., 2006; Hofstede, 2001). In more individualistic and lower power distance cultures such as the USA, leaders who help equip followers to take initiative and undertake creative solutions on their own tend to be viewed very positively (Hale & Fields 2007). However, in higher power distance cultures, leaders whose followers take initiative on their own without waiting for explicit direction may be seen as weak leaders (Hofstede, 2001). In cultures which are more collective, followers may be not feel comfortable with leaders who emphasize follower individual initiative and creativity because these are viewed as being best accomplished through group discussion and decisions.

Given the rich diversity of Sub-Saharan Africa, one must approach any generalization of cultural expressions with caution. However, some African scholars maintain that there are identifiable Sub-Saharan African cultural characteristics (Lassiter, 2000). Through his survey of numerous African thinkers, Lassiter (2000) organized these cultural characteristics into five broad categories:

psychological characteristics

society and the individual

family and community


Response to foreign influences.

Traditional Sub-Saharan African leadership centres on the concept of kingship. Masango (2003) points out that the hierarchy in African society is well defined, with the king at the top of the structure. However, kingship in pre-colonial times was not the autocratic dictatorship that appeared in the colonial and post colonial periods (Masango, 2003; Williams, 2003). Rather, in earlier periods, followers expected the king to function as a servant to the clan, tribe or community (Williams, 2003). In essence, the kingdom was more important than the king. Historical examples document the removal of kings who became a detriment to the kingdom (Williams, 2003). The king used influence to build consensus (Masango, 2003). Finally, the king was the religious leader and guardian of the kingdom’s religious heritage (Williams, 2003).

Leadership & Trust in the not-for profit sector

While the notion of trust is not exclusively attached to servant leadership and may be considered a key element in all leadership models, servant leadership has been particularly considered as strongly associated with trust (De Pree, 1997; Joseph and Winston, 2005; Russell, 2001), that is through servant leader exhibit and translate “their personal integrity into organizational fidelity” (De Pree, 1997, p. 127). Greenleaf (1977) maintained that trust is a building block for servant leaders, who in turn foster environments of trust. In their study of leaders in for-profit and not-for profit organizations in America and West Indies, Joseph and Winston (2005) reported positive correlation between employees’ perceived level of organizational servant leadership and leader trust, and between their perceived level of servant leadership and organizational trust.

Relationships built on trust and services are the basis for the influence of servant leadership (Joseph and Winston, 2005). Greenleaf (1977) advanced that trust was central to servant leadership since leadership legitimacy begins with trust. He noted that “the only sound basis for trust is for people to have the solid experience of being served by their institutions” (p. 83). He asserted further that in servant leadership, leadership is bestowed upon persons who are trusted because of their stature as servants (p. 24). Servant leaders are trusted because they empathize with and fully accept followers (p. 35), because of their dependability, which results from their exceptional intuitive insight (p. 56), and because they lead by example (p. 342). Trust and respect are highest in circumstances where a community is created through service in which the liability of “each for the other” and “all for one” is unlimited (p. 52). Greenleaf (1977) posited that “institutional trust is created when their trustees (leaders) reach distinction as servants who understand the institution and care for all the persons touched by it” (p. 100). Greenleaf (1977) stated that leaders “hold the responsibility for the level and type of institutional performance that would merit trust” (p. 127-8). Therefore, from Greenleaf’s perspective, servant leadership is both a product and an antecedent of leader and organizational trust. This may be due to the fact that servant leadership increases perceptions of leader trustworthiness, which has a reciprocal relationship to leader trust.

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A copy of the interview questions can be found in appendix A

Issah Huseini is CEO and one of the founding members of the grassroots charity the new communities’ partnership (NCP); an independent national network of 116 ethnic minority led groups comprising of 75 nationalities with offices in Dublin, Cork and Limerick. The mission of NCP is to be an effective network, representing and empowering ethnic minority-led groups, at all levels, in order to influence positive change in policies that impact on their lives. The flat structure of NCP is comprised in a flat manner which links in with ethnic led minority organization’s (ELMO) communities such as the Afghan and Cameroon communities to provide support and training. There are now over 120 ELMO communities under the auspicious of the NCP (appendix B) which is supported by Russell & Stone’s (2002) argument that building relationships is an important characteristic of servant leadership. One of NCP’s mission statements is ’empowerment’ where “We believe in our capacity to define our own needs, articulate our hopes and fears and represent ourselves locally, regionally and nationally” (retrieved from on January 5, 2011).

I began by asking Mr. Huseini why he decided part company with Cairde and set up his own company – the NCP. Mr. Huseini described that the reason was twofold. Firstly the degree of freedom and range of services were limited and they felt that they were not providing enough services to their ELMO’s. This idea is supported by supported by Russell & Stone’s (2002) assumption that creating value for the community by having a conscious, genuine concern for helping the community is a significant dimension of servant leadership. Secondly he illustrated the underlying worries that their clients held because as he put it: “some of the people we work with are some of the most disadvantaged in society. Some of them are illegal and shouldn’t even be here. We found that these people didn’t trust us as they believed we were agents of the government”. Certain constructs of servant leadership would support this statement as Patterson (2003) describes acting with humility, is trusting and is altruistic, while meeting the needs of others (Greenleaf, 1977).

As a follow up question I asked what kind of services he expected to deliver and what he actually was giving to his clients. He began by explaining the power politics involved in working with such an institution (Cairde) was “very frustrating”. “There were certain governmental regulations that narrowed the scope to which Cairde could deliver services”. For example, they were “very limited in how much involvement we could have in regards to immigration, visas, green cards etc” and felt that they were not satisfying the needs of ELMO’s. Again this fits in with various researchers positions that a core responsibility of servant leaders is to act and behave ethically (Russell & Stone, 2002; Greenleaf 1977; Dittmar, 2006; Fayol, 1949).

Continuing on from this Mr. Huseini explained the following services the NCP provides: capacity building in terms of forums, workshop, seminars and community cafes, training support for ELMO’s both in terms of leadership training and media and training, secondary lobbying governments on issues of concern, conducting scholarly and legal research on topics of educations and law reform, advocacy services and many more day to day services that cannot be categorized. Paterson et al’s (2003) statement that: “that servant-power is a category of influence outside the traditional kinds of power. Real servant hood is a leadership style that relies upon the influence of Self-giving without self-glory.” (p. 280) would support this kind of multi-faceted support system.

Moving away from the external stakeholders, questioning then focused on the internal dynamics of the organisation. In particular (after clarifying the meaning of regulatory focus) i asked him if he saw his employees’ tendencies to seek promotion was as a result of his leadership style or whether there was a degree of commitment in general to the organisation. Mr. Huseini contemplated this and explained that many of the employees were hired through employment schemes which were generally unpaid such as FAS and the Dublin city council. While at the same time he indicated that ‘the office is so small’ that there was no opportunity for advancement although he did highlight that he thought he employees were generally committed to ‘the cause’. Therefore Neubert et al’s (2008) assertion employees promotion-orientated regulatory focus is because of the servant leadership nature of the organisation is not supported however the marginal declaration that his employees are committed to the company is supported by Ehrhart’s (2004) findings.

Finally I wanted to establish if there was a spiritual or religiously underpinning to his leadership style. Mr Huseini concurred as he described how he started out as a taxi driver in Dublin and although he witnessed many activities he disapproved of he still maintained a level of honesty and integrity (Patterson & Russell, 2004). He went on to describe how “Islam has kept my head on my shoulders” insisting that the laws of Muhammad have “guided me through some difficult times”. This statement is supported by Whetonsone (2001) as he describes these characteristics that are part of one’s character, as something that is internal, almost spiritual. While Patterson concurs that Agapao love – a love derived from the virtues of their religious beliefs are a construct of servant leadership.

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