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A Systematic Literature Review of Servant Leadership Theoryin Organizational ContextsDenise Linda Parris • Jon Welty PeacheyReceived: 20 February 2012 / Accepted: 8 April 2012 / Published online: 22 April 2012Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012Abstract A new research area linked to ethics, virtues,and morality is servant leadership. Scholars are currentlyseeking publication outlets as critics debate whether thisnew leadership theory is significantly distinct, viable, andvaluable for organizational success. The aim of this studywas to identify empirical studies that explored servantleadership theory by engaging a sample population in orderto assess and synthesize the mechanisms, outcomes, andimpacts of servant leadership. Thus, we sought to providean evidence-informed answer to how does servant leadership work, and how can we apply it? We conducted a systematic literature review (SLR), a methodology adoptedfrom the medical sciences to synthesize research in a systematic, transparent, and reproducible manner. A disciplined screening process resulted in a final samplepopulation of 39 appropriate studies. The synthesis of theseempirical studies revealed: (a) there is no consensus on thedefinition of servant leadership; (b) servant leadershiptheory is being investigated across a variety of contexts,cultures, and themes; (c) researchers are using multiplemeasures to explore servant leadership; and (d) servantleadership is a viable leadership theory that helps organizations and improves the well-being of followers. Thisstudy contributes to the development of servant leadershiptheory and practice. In addition, this study contributes to themethodology for conducting SLRs in the field of management, highlighting an effective method for mapping outthematically, and viewing holistically, new research topics.We conclude by offering suggestions for future research.Keywords Leadership Leadership theory Servantleadership Systematic literature reviewIntroductionLeadership is one of the most comprehensively researchedsocial influence processes in the behavioral sciences. This isbecause the success of all economic, political, and organizational systems depends on the effective and efficientguidance of the leaders of these systems (Barrow 1977). Acritical factor to understanding the success of an organization, then, is to study its leaders. Leadership is a skill used toinfluence followers in an organization to work enthusiastically towards goals specifically identified for the commongood (Barrow 1977; Cyert 2006; Plsek and Wilson 2001).Great leaders create a vision for an organization, articulatethe vision to the followers, build a shared vision, craft a pathto achieve the vision, and guide their organizations into newdirections (Banutu-Gomez and Banutu-Gomez 2007; Kotter2001). According to Schneider (1987), the most importantpart in building an organization with a legacy of success isthe people in it, which includes the followers (i.e., employeesand volunteers) as well as the leaders. Leadership theoriesattempt to explain and organize the complexity of the natureof leadership and its consequences (Bass and Bass 2008).Over the years, some leadership scholars have called attention to the implicit connection between ethics and leadership.A burgeoning new research area and leadership theory thatD. L. Parris (&)Barney Barnett School of Business & Free Enterprise, FloridaSouthern College, 111 Lake Hollingsworth Drive,Lakeland, FL 33801-5698, USAe-mail: [email protected] W. PeacheyDivision of Sport Management, Department of Health andKinesiology, Texas A&M University, 4243 TAMU,College Station, TX 77843, USAe-mail: [email protected] Bus Ethics (2013) 113:377–393DOI 10.1007/s10551-012-1322-6has been linked to ethics, virtues, and morality is servantleadership (Graham 1991; Lanctot and Irving 2010; Paroliniet al. 2009; Russell 2001; Whetstone 2002).Servant leadership theory’s emphasis on service to othersand recognition that the role of organizations is to createpeople who can build a better tomorrow resonates withscholars and practitioners who are responding to the growingperceptions that corporate leaders have become selfish andwho are seeking a viable leadership theory to help resolve thechallenges of the twenty-first century. Despite servantleadership being coined by Robert K. Greenleaf over threedecades ago in 1970, it remains understudied yet stillprominently practiced in boardrooms and organizations(Bass and Bass 2008; Spears 2005). It has received significant attention in the popular press (e.g., Fortune magazineand Dateline) (Spears Center 2011) and leading organizational management authors have discussed the positiveeffects of servant leadership on organizational profits andemployee satisfaction; see Max DePree (Leadership is anArt 1989), Stephen Covey (Principle Centered Leadership1990), Peter Senge (The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Stylesof the Learning Organization 1990), Peter Block (Stewardship: Choosing Service over Self Interest 1993), and Margaret Wheatley (Finding Our Way: Leadership in anUncertain Time 2005). However, Greenleaf’s (1970, 1977)conceptualization of servant leadership as a way of life ratherthan as a management technique perhaps has slowed theacceptance of this leadership theory in academia as scholarsask the question: If it is a way life—a philosophy, how can itbe empirically tested? Even Greenleaf admitted servantleadership is unorthodox and would be difficult to operationalize and apply, as ‘‘it is meant to be neither a scholarlytreatise nor a how-to-do-it manual’’ (Greenleaf 1977, p. 49).The majority of research to date on servant leadership consists of developing theoretical frameworks and establishingmeasurement tools with the intention that future scholars canapply these tools to explore servant leadership in practiceand as a tenable theory. Only a limited amount of researchhas empirically examined this construct.As an aid in advancing servant leadership theory, wesought to identify these empirical studies that investigatedservant leadership by engaging a sample population in orderto assess and synthesize its mechanisms, outcomes, andimpacts. Currently, there does not exist a comprehensivesummary of empirical studies exploring servant leadershiptheory in organizational settings (e.g., a systematic literature review (SLR)), which is a gap in the extant literature.Through exploring empirical studies investigating servantleadership theory in organizational contexts, we provideevidence that servant leadership is a tenable theory.As a promising new field of research, servant leadershipfaces the challenges once addressed by the early servicesmarketing and sport management scholars whose new ideasand concepts were accepted slowly within the conservativeculture of academia (Shannon 1999). Similarly, servantleadership scholars have sought a variety of publicationoutlets for their work while they confront a debate on thedistinctiveness and significance of this leadership theory fororganizations as well as employees. In addition, the acceleration of knowledge production in the management fieldhas resulted in a body of knowledge that is increasinglytransdisciplinary, fragmented, and interdependent fromadvancement in social sciences. In management research theliterature review is a key tool used to manage the diversity ofknowledge for an academic inquiry; however, a critique ofthese reviews is that they are typically descriptive accountsof contributions of selected writers often arbitrarily chosenfor inclusion by the researcher, and that these reviews maylack a critical assessment of included studies (Tranfield et al.2003). In contrast, a SLR is different from traditional narrative reviews in that it adopts a replicable, scientific andtransparent process that aims to mitigate bias throughexhaustive literature searches and by providing an audit trailof the conclusions. A current gap in management research isa discussion of how to conduct a SLR, how to criticallyassess studies, and how to integrate the conclusions. In thisSLR, we not only ascertain the current state of the field inservant leadership research and synthesize divergent studies,but also advance a rigorous methodology for conducting aSRL in management research.Thus, the purpose of this study was to systematicallyexamine and organize the current body of research literature that either quantitatively or qualitatively exploredservant leadership theory in a given organizational setting.In this SRL we only included empirical studies thatinvestigated servant leadership in an organizational contextand excluded studies with a primary focus on modeldevelopment or testing measurement instruments. Earlierreviews on the concept of servant leadership focused on:identifying key characteristics (Russell and Stone 2002),measurement development (Barbuto and Wheeler 2006),and proposing a theoretical framework (Van Dierendonck2011). Although these reviews help provide insight intohow researchers have attempted to operationalize servantleadership, none of them was done in a systematic manner(i.e., no methodology to select articles or limit bias), andnone of them specifically explored empirical research.The following research questions guided this SLR:(a) How was servant leadership defined? (b) In what contextswas servant leadership theory empirically investigated?(c) How was servant leadership examined (i.e., the methodology)? and (d) What were the results of the examination?We begin this paper by summarizing the origin of servantleadership and follow with a short discussion of the development of servant leadership as a theory and a new researcharea. Next, a summary of the method used for selecting and378 D. L. Parris, J. W. Peachey123reviewing the literature is explained, with details on searchstrategy, analysis, and assessment of the quality of thereviewed studies. Then, we present our findings of the SLRon empirical studies that have explored servant leadershiptheory. In addition, we discuss the methodological contribution of conducting SLRs in the field of management as aneffective method for mapping out thematically, and viewingholistically, new research topics. We conclude by offeringsuggestions for future research and practice.Origin of Servant Leadership by Robert K. GreenleafServant leadership was introduced into an organizationalcontext through Greenleaf’s three foundational essays—The Servant as Leader (1970), The Institution as Servant(1972a), and Trustees as Servants (1972b)—all of which hepublished after retiring from 40 years of management workat AT&T. Greenleaf (1977) defined servant leadership asnot just a management technique but a way of life whichbegins with ‘‘the natural feeling that one wants to serve, toserve first’’ (p. 7). Greenleaf (1977) conceptualized theservant as leader from his impressions of Journey to theEast by Hesse (1956) and used the character Leo todescribe a true servant: ‘‘Leadership was bestowed upon aman who was by nature a servant… His servant nature wasthe real man, not bestowed, not assumed, and not to betaken away’’ (p. 21). Servant leaders are distinguished byboth their primary motivation to serve (what they do) andtheir self-construction (who they are), and from this conscious choice of ‘doing’ and ‘being’ they aspire to lead(Sendjaya and Sarros 2002). Greenleaf (1977) believedservant leadership was an inward lifelong journey.Upon retirement in 1964, Greenleaf launched a secondcareer, which spanned 25 years, in which he articulated hisnew leadership paradigm—servant leadership. He promoted servant leadership in many publications and presentations, including lectures at Massachusetts Institute ofTechnology’s (M.I.T.) Sloan School of Management,Harvard Business School, Dartmouth College, and theUniversity of Virginia; and served as leadership consultantto institutions such as Ford Foundation, Lilly Endowment,M.I.T., R.K. Mellon Foundation, and the American Foundation for Management. In 1964 he founded the Center forApplied Ethics, renamed the Robert K. Greenleaf Centerfor Servant Leadership in 1985, which helps peopleunderstand the principles and practices of servant leadership (Greenleaf Center 2011). Over 20 % of Fortunemagazine top 100 companies have sought guidance fromthe Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, such asStarbucks, Vanguard Investment Group, Southwest Airlines, and ID Industries (Greenleaf Center).Although the contemporary study of servant leadershipevolved largely from Greenleaf (1970, 1977), the practice ofservant leadership is not a new concept, with roots datingback to ancient teachings of the world’s great religions, aswell as to statements of numerous great leaders and thinkers(Sendjaya and Sarros 2002). The concept of servant leadership echoes the messages of Mother Theresa, Moses, HarrietTubman, Lao-tzu, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King,Jr., Confucius, andmany other religious, historic, and currentleaders (Keith 2008). Many scholars model Jesus Christ’steachings to his disciples as the ultimate example of servantleadership (Ebener and O’Connell 2010; Lanctot and Irving2010; Winston 2004). Whereas other leadership theories aretraditionally defined only by what the leader does, servantleaders are defined by their character and by demonstratingtheir complete commitment to serve others. This createsone of the core challenges for theorists; how to constructmodels that encompass Greenleaf’s theoretical message of‘‘servanthood-through-leadership-through-practice’’ (Prosser 2010, p. 28) that operates not only on a surface-level butdeep within a person’s being. Although scholars have agreedtheories, frameworks, and models will increase our understanding of the meaning, implications, and applications ofservant leadership, it is important to remain aware of themore abstract, underlying principles and concepts of a servant as a leader (Spears 1998; Keith 2008; Prosser 2010).Servant Leadership as a TheoryAlthough servant leadership is a growing trend being practiced by private and non-profit organizations alike, there isstill a lack of research in this area (Farling et al. 1999). Themajority of research in servant leadership has streamed fromGreenleaf’s (1977) foundational texts and the GreenleafCenter (see Akuchie 1993; Bordas 1995; Brody 1995;Buchen 1998; Chamberlain 1995; Frick 1995; Gaston 1987;Kelley 1995; Kiechel 1995; Kuhnert and Lewis 1987; Leeand Zemke 1995; Lloyd 1996; Lopez 1995; McCollum 1995;McGee-Cooper and Trammell 1995; Rasmussen 1995;Rieser 1995; Senge 1995; Smith 1995; Snodgrass 1993;Spears 1995, 1996; Tatum 1995; Vanourek 1995). Many ofthese writers present narrative examples of how servantleadership is being used in organizational settings; however,this is also the primary limitation of much of the servantleadership literature, which is anecdotal in nature instead ofempirical (Bowman 1997; Northouse 1997; Sendjaya andSarros 2002). Bass (2000) acknowledged that servant leadership requires extensive research, emphasizing that ‘‘thestrength of the servant leadership movement and its manylinks to encouraging follower learning, growth, and autonomy, suggests that the untested theory will play a role in thefuture leadership of the learning organization’’ (p. 33). TheServant Leadership Theory in Organizational Contexts 379123promise of servant leadership has since motivated scholarsand practitioners to explore the possibilities of the servantfirst paradigm.Since Farling et al.’s (1999) call for empirical studies,there have emerged three streams of research (Van Dierendonck and Patterson 2011): (a) a conceptual stream (Spears1998; Laub 1999; Patterson 2003); (b) a measurement stream(Page and Wong 2000; Wong and Page 2003; Ehrhart 2004;Barbuto and Wheeler 2006; Dennis and Bocarnea 2005;Liden et al. 2008; Sendjaya et al. 2008; Van Dierendonck andNuijte 2011); and (c) model development (Russell and Stone2002; Van Dierendonck 2011). Notably absent from theabove streams are empirical studies that explore servantleadership theory in a given organizational setting. In addition, in spite of the growing amount of research on servantleadership, the theory is still under-defined, with variousauthors grappling with definitions (Anderson 2009). This isas Greenleaf (1977) predicted, when he warned that servantleadership would be difficult to apply and operationalize. Hedid not provide a management how-to-do-it-manual; instead,he challenged readers to reflect, ponder, and grow (Frick2004; Spears 1995).To date, three reviews of servant leadership have beenconducted, which help provide insight into how researchershave organized the complexity of Greenleaf’s concepts onservant leadership into a theoretical framework. Russelland Stone’s (2002) review revealed the following ninefunctional attributes, or operative qualities and distinctivecharacteristics of servant leaders; vision, honesty, integrity,trust, service, modeling, pioneering, appreciation of others,and empowerment. In addition, Russell and Stone determined 11 accompanying attributes, which are interrelatedand supportive of the nine core attributes listed above:communication, credibility, competence, stewardship, visibility, influence, persuasion, listening, encouragement,teaching, and delegation. From this assimilation of attributes, Russell and Stone developed a model of servantleadership to spark future application and research. Whiletheir review provides a conceptual overview of servantleadership, it lacks a methodology. Barbuto and Wheeler(2006) developed an integrated model of servant leadershipafter conducting a literature review, which synthesized theattributes of servant leadership into five factors; altruisticcalling, emotional healing, persuasive mapping, wisdom,and organizational stewardship. The third review by VanDierendonck (2011) also concludes with another conceptual model, which identifies six key characteristics of servant leadership: empowering and developing people,humility, authenticity, interpersonal acceptance, providingdirection, and stewardship. All of these reviews exemplifydifferent interpretations of Greenleaf’s writings employingdifferent terminologies; however, all include the fundamental dimension of servanthood or the willingness toserve others. These reviews highlight the plurality of servant leadership theory, leaving the researcher, student, orpractitioner to ponder exactly what servant leadershiptheory is. As DiMaggio (1995) pointed out ‘‘there is morethan one kind of good theory’’ (p. 391).Given that previous reviews have examined the development of conceptual frameworks and measurement toolsfor servant leadership, the present review focuses only onempirical studies that have explored servant leadershiptheory in an organizational context. As such, the currentstudy is the first review to provide a synthesis, based uponevidence in published peer-reviewed journals, of empiricalstudies conducted on servant leadership theory in organizational settings.MethodologyThe SLR is often contrasted with traditional literaturereviews because systematic reviews are objective, replicable, systematic, comprehensive, and the process isreported in the same manner as for reporting empiricalresearch (Weed 2005). The origin of SLRs is in the medical, health care, and policy fields, where they have beenused to assemble the best evidence to make clinical andpolicy decisions (Cook et al. 1997; Tranfield et al. 2003).SLRs in management are used to provide transparency,clarity, accessibility, and impartial inclusive coverage on aparticular area (Thorpe et al. 2006). Klassen et al (1998)define SLR as ‘‘a review in which there is a comprehensivesearch for relevant studies on a specific topic, and thoseidentified are then appraised and synthesized according to apre-determined explicit method’’ (p. 700). This SRL specifically explored research studies that have examinedservant leadership theory in a given organizational setting.Since our focus was gaining insight on the empiricalinvestigation of servant leadership theory, we excludedstudies with a primary focus on model development ortesting measurement instruments. The approach of thisreview entailed extensive searches of relevant databaseswith the intention of ensuring, as far as possible, that allliterature on servant leadership was identified whilemaintaining the focus on literature of greatest pertinence tothe research questions (i.e., empirical studies that haveinvestigated servant leadership theory in organizationalsettings). Next, we discuss our search methods, inclusionand exclusion criteria, sample, and data analysis.Search MethodsPublished studies were identified through searches ofelectronic databases accessible through the authors’ university library system. Databases included in this review380 D. L. Parris, J. W. Peachey123were: PsycInfo, Eric, Sociological Abstracts, PAIS International, Social Services, Communication Abstracts,International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS),Physical Education Index, World Wide Political Abstractsfrom the vendor CSA, Academic Search Complete, Business Source Complete, Communication and Mass MediaComplete, Education and Administration Abstracts, Gender Studies, CINAHL, Health Source: Nursing/AcademicEdition, Human Resources Abstracts, and Medline throughthe vendor EBSCO. All results were limited to Englishonly peer-reviewed journal articles. The searches for published studies were conducted in a systematic manner,following the order of the databases listed above.Inclusion and Exclusion CriteriaThe initial search required that articles included in thereview were studies that must: (a) be published in a peerreviewed journal; (b) be in the English language; and(c) use the keyword ‘‘servant leadership.’’ No restrictionwas placed on year of publication. The number of articlescontaining the keyword ‘‘servant leadership’’ retrievedfrom each database was recorded. Next, we examined ifthere were any external duplicates from the current database being searched and the previous databases that hadalready been searched. We recorded the number of externalduplicates, and then deleted the duplicated journal articlesfrom the last database searched while keeping a runningtotal of new articles found.Once all possible studies had been identified, we conducted a second screening to assess eligibility againstinclusion criteria and then full text articles were retrievedfor those that met the inclusion criteria. The inclusioncriteria for the second screening required that the publishedpeer-reviewed article meet all of the following four specifications: (a) be in the English language; (b) be anempirical study (i.e., not an essay, book review, letter,literature review, editorial, opinion, journalistic or antidotalarticle); (c) discuss servant leadership as the main topicaltheme; and (d) examine servant leadership theory eitherquantitatively or qualitatively. Articles were excluded ifany of these four components was not addressed in theabstract, results, or discussion sections of the respectivestudy. Finally, additional articles meeting the inclusioncriteria were found by examining the bibliographies ofresources identified through the secondary screening.SamplePeer-reviewed publications were identified using the keyterms outlined in the inclusion and exclusion criteria section above. In all, a total of 381 articles where retrieved;however, after duplicates were deleted there remained 255articles meeting the initial inclusion criteria. After thesecondary search process was conducted, a final sample of44 appropriate studies was obtained. Upon retrieving fulltext articles, an additional five articles were excluded afterfurther examination because they did not satisfy thescreening criteria. The final sample of articles constituted39 empirical studies. Peer-reviewed articles meeting theoutlined criteria were published between 2004 and 2011.The 39 published articles were drawn from a variety ofpeer-reviewed journals (n = 27). Table 1 depicts the list ofjournals included in the study, the number of articlesincluded from each journal, and the database they wereaccessed through.We grouped the journals by their area of focus, whichshowed a concentration of research taking place in leadership (n = 9), education (n = 7), business (n = 6), andpsychology (n = 6), with the fields of nursing (n = 3),management (n = 2), personal selling and sales management (n = 2), ethics (n = 1), parks and recreation administration (n = 1), services marketing (n = 1), and sports(n = 1) representing a smaller number of empirical studies.Data AnalysisThe Matrix Method (Garrard 1999) was utilized as thestrategy for organizing and abstracting pertinent information from these publications. For this study, the followinginformation was abstracted from each article: (a) How wasservant leadership defined? (b) In what contexts was servant leadership theory empirically investigated? (c) Howwas servant leadership examined? and (d) What were theresults of the examination? Last, for each publication, themethodology used to examine servant leadership wasevaluated. For qualitative studies, we used a criticalappraisal tool designed by Letts et al. (2007), and forquantitative studies we used a critical appraisal tooldesigned by the Institute for Public Health Sciences (2002).In addition to these two appraisal assessments we usedStoltz et al.’s (2004) critical appraisal tool, which assessedboth quantitative and qualitative studies. We adopted thesethree critical appraisal tools to create a three-point scale toreflect the quality of studies: high (I); medium (II)—used ifstudies did not meet criteria for high (I) or low quality; andlow (III). Table 2 describes our classification for high tolow quality studies, which was based on the three criticalappraisal tools mentioned above.The findings from these studies were summarized andplaced into matrixes (i.e., tables). Our SLR findings consistof a synthesis of the results from all 39 empirical studiesalong with the assessment of quality for each study. Further, we assess the level of supporting evidence for thematic conclusions drawn from combining the results ofmultiple studies.Servant Leadership Theory in Organizational Contexts 381123FindingsOverall, this review highlights that servant leadership theoryis being researched and tested across a variety of contexts,cultures, disciplines, and themes. Our sample included 11qualitative studies, 27 quantitative studies, and one mixedmethod study, all empirically assessing servant leadershiptheory. Thus, this review illustrates that servant leadership isTable 1 Database and journalsincluded in systematic literaturereviewDatabase Journal CountEric Alberta Journal of Educational Research 1PsycInfo Business Ethics: A European Review 1Eric Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry & Practice 1Eric Educational Management Administration & Leadership 2PsycInfo European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 1Scopus Global Virtue Ethics Review 1CINAHL Health Care Management Review 1PsycInfo Home Health Care Management & Practice 1Business Source Complete International Journal of Business Research 1Eric International Journal of Leadership in Education 2Scopus International Journal of Leadership Studies 2PsycInfo International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching 1PsycInfo Journal of Applied Psychology 3Business Source Complete Journal of Business & Economics Research 1Academic Search Complete Journal of Interprofessional Care 1PsycInfo Journal of Management Development 1Academic Search Complete Journal of Park & Recreation Administration 1PsycInfo Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management 2Business Source Complete Journal of the Academy of Business & Economics 1Eric Journal of Women in Educational Leadership 1PsycInfo Leadership 1PsycInfo Leadership & Organization Development Journal 6PsycInfo Nonprofit Management and Leadership 1PsycInfo Personnel Psychology 1Business Source Complete Review of Business Research 2Business Source Complete Services Marketing Quarterly 1PsycInfo The International Journal of Human Resource Management 1Table 2 Classification and quality assessment of studiesI = High II = Medium III = LowQNT Study using quantitative analysis of data. Clearly focusedstudy, sufficient background provided, well planned,method appropriate, measures validated, applicable andadequate number of participants, data analysissufficiently rigorous with adequate statistical methods,findings clearly stated– Not focused study, insufficient background provided,poorly planned, inappropriate method, invalidatedmeasures, inapplicable and inadequate number ofparticipants, data analysis insufficiently rigorous, withinadequate statistical methods, unclear findingsQAL Study using qualitative analysis of data. Purpose statedclearly, relevant background literature reviewed, designappropriate, identified researcher’s theoretical orphilosophical perspective, relevant and well describedselection of participants and context, procedural rigor indata collection strategies and analysis, evidence of thefour components of trustworthiness (credibility,transferability, dependability, and confirmability) resultsare comprehensive and well described– Vaguely formulated purpose, insufficient background, fewor unsatisfactory descriptions of participants and context,trustworthiness inadequately addressed, lacks indescription of data collection, data analysis, and resultsQNT quantitative study, QAL qualitative study, I high quality, II medium quality, III low quality382 D. L. Parris, J. W. Peachey123being explored both quantitatively and qualitatively, and thetopic has an international appeal with studies being conducted in 11 countries. In the quality assessment, 22 studieswere classified as high, 12 as medium, and five as lowquality. Conclusive statements were made based upon thesynthesis of findings from each article. The conclusions (seeTable 3) were classified as A (strong evidence) or B (moderate evidence) based on scientific strength.If two or more studies of high quality supported aconclusion or one study of high quality in addition to twoor more studies of medium quality supported the conclusion, we assigned it an (A) rating. On the other hand,conclusions with one study of high quality and one study ofmedium quality or two studies of medium quality wereassigned a (B) rating. If a conclusion(s) did not fall under(A) strong evidence in favor of conclusion or (B) moderateevidence in favor of conclusion, we classified it as insufficiently supported and labeled insufficient evidence. Thefollowing discussion of our findings is organized aroundthe four central research questions.How was Servant Leadership Defined?Servant leadership theory was introduced to readers byauthors of empirical studies by citing one or all three of thefollowing: Greenleaf (1977), Spears (1995, 1998, 2004), andLaub (1999). Generally, authors described servant leadership by quoting one of these three authors in addition to citingmultiple other authors, including, but not limited to: Barbutoand Wheeler (2006), Graham (1991), Ehrhart (2004), Lidenet al. (2008), Page and Wong (2000), and Patterson (2003).Here, we discuss the three most cited authors on servantleadership that have provided definitions.Greenleaf (1970, 1972a, b, 1977), the grandfather ofservant leadership, was cited by 37 of the 39 empiricalstudies. The majority of authors used part or all ofGreenleaf’s description from his original essay, The Servant as Leader (1970):It begins with the natural feeling one wants to serve,to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one toaspire to lead. That person is sharply different fromone who is leader first.… The difference manifests itself in the care taken bythe servant-first to make sure that other people’shighest priority needs are being served. The best test,and difficult to administer, is this: Do those servedgrow as persons? Do they, while being served,become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous,more likely themselves to become servants? And,what is the effect on the least privileged in society?Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?(Greenleaf 1970 as cited in Greenleaf 1977, p. 27).The majority of authors in our sample, like Greenleafhimself, defined servant leadership theory in a descriptivemanner. These descriptions usually cited multiple scholarlyworks in the conceptual and measurement researchstreams, in addition to citing leading organizationalmanagement authors.The second most referenced author defining servantleadership theory was Larry Spears. Like Greenleaf, Spearsgained his knowledge from practice with most of his worksbeing non-empirical. He served for 17 years as the head ofthe Greenleaf Center, has authored more than 10 books onservant leadership, and in 2008 established the Larry C.Spears Center for Servant Leadership, Inc. (Spears Center2011). Spears (1995, 1998, 2004) identified 10 characteristics of servant leaders from Greenleaf’s writings: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, philosophy,conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment tothe growth of people, and building community. Theseattributes are described in Table 4.Four of the qualitative studies in our sample usedSpear’s 10 characteristics to inform their analysis (Crippen2004; Crippen and Wallin 2008a, b; Sturm 2009).The third most cited author in defining servant leadership theory is Laub (1999). His Organizational LeadershipAssessment (OLA) was an outcome of his dissertation. TheOLA assesses an organization’s health based upon the sixkey areas of an effective servant-minded organization byexploring the perceptions of top leaders, managers andsupervisors, and the workforce; however, it does not assessthe servant leadership of individual leaders (OLA Group2011). Authors in our sample used Laub’s definition, whichterms the practice of servant leadership as placing ‘‘thegood of those led over the self-interest of the leader’’(1999, p. 81). In addition, authors would list and describeLaub’s six key variables of an effective servant-led organization: (a) values people—believing, serving, and nonjudgmentally listening to others; (b) develops people—providing learning, growth, encouragement and affirmation; (c) builds community—developing strong collaborative and personal relationships; (d) displays authenticity—being open, accountable, and willing to learn from others;(e) provides leadership—foreseeing the future, taking initiative, and establishing goals; and (f) shares leadership—facilitating and sharing power. The OLA has been widelyused in health organizations (OLA Group), and was used insix quantitative studies in our sample (Herman 2010; Black2010; Cerit 2010; Cerit 2009; Irving and Longbotham2007; Joseph and Winston 2005).In summary, our results confirm Anderson’s (2009) andVan Dierendonck’s (2011) assessments that servant leadership theory remains under-defined with no consensus onits definition or theoretical framework. Scholars are stillseeking to articulate Greenleaf’s conceptualization ofServant Leadership Theory in Organizational Contexts 383123Table 3 Overview of conclusionsResult themes Conclusion Evidence ReferencesCross-culturalapplicabilitySL is accepted and practiced invarious cultures; however,components of SL have differentweightsStrong evidence in favor of statement (A) Cerit (2009, 2010) (QNT I, QNT I); Hamilton and Bean (2005)(QAL III); Hale and Fields (2007) (QNT I); Han et al. (2010)(QAL II); Pekerti and Sendjaya (2010) (QNT I)SL attributes Spears’ (1998) 10 characteristicsare representative of a servantleader applied in differentcontextStrong evidence in favor of statement (A) Boroski and Greif (2009) (QAL III); Crippen (2004) (QAL II);Crippen and Wallin (2008a) (QAL II); Crippen and Wallin(2008b) (QAL II); Sturm (2009) (QAL I)Patterson (2003) and Winston(2003) models of SL aresupportedStrong evidence in favor of statement (A) Winston (2004) (QAL I); Dingman and Stone (2007) (QAL II)Team leveleffectivenessSL leads to increased leader trustand organizational trustStrong evidence in favor of statement (A) Joseph and Winston (2005) (QNT I); Reinke (2004) (QNT II);Senjaya and Pekerti (2010) (QNT I); Washington et al (2006)(QNT I)SL fosters organizationalcitizenship behaviorStrong evidence in favor of statement (A) Ebener and O’Connell (2010) (QAL I); Hu and Liden (2011)(QNT I); Ehrhart (2004) (QNT I); Walumbwa et al (2010)(QNT I)Procedural justice is positivelyassociated with SLStrong evidence in favor of statement (A) Ehrhart (2004) (QNT I); Walumbwa et al (2010) (QNT I);Chung et al. (2010) (QNT II)SL increases team effectiveness Strong evidence in favor of statement (A) Irving and Longbotham (2007) (QNT I); Schaubroeck et al(2011) (QNT I); Hu and Liden (2011) (QNT I)SL is associated with greaterleadership effectivenessStrong evidence in favor of statement (A) Taylor et al. (2007) (QNT II); Mayer et al. (2008) (QNT I);McCuddy and Cavin (2008) (QNT III)SL enhances collaboration Moderate evidence in favor of statement (B) Garber et al. (2009) (QNT II); Sturm (2009) (QAL I); Irvingand Longbotham (2007) (QNT I)Followers’well-beingSL increases employee jobsatisfactionStrong evidence in favor of statement (A) Cerit (2009) (QNT I); Jenkins and Stewart (2010) (QNT I);Mayer et al. (2008) (QNT I); Chung et al. (2010) (QNT II)SL creates a positive work climate Strong evidence in favor of statement (A) Neubert et al. (2008) (QNT I); Black (2010) (Mixed Method:QNT II and QAL III); Jaramillo et al. (2009a) (QNT I)SL supports employee creativityand helping behaviorsStrong evidence in favor of statement (A) Jaramillo et al. (2009b) (QNT I); Neubert et al. (2008) (QNT I)SL improves followers well-being Strong evidence in favor of statement (A) Jaramillo et al. (2009b) (QNT I); Rieke et al. (2008) (QNT I)SL lowers employee turnover Strong evidence in favor of statement (A) Jaramillo et al. (2009a) (QNT I); Babakus et al. (2011) (QNT I)SL increases commitment Strong evidence in favor of statement (A) Cerit (2010) (QNT I); Hamilton and Bean (2005) (QAL III);Hale and Fields (2007) (QNT I); Han et al. (2010) (QAL II);Pekerti and Sendjaya (2010) (QNT I) Jaramillo et al. (2009a)(QNT I); Jaramillo et al. (2009b) (QNT I)Spirituality SL is associated with workplacespiritualityInsufficient evidence Herman (2010) (QNT II)384 D. L. Parris, J. W. Peachey123servant leadership by using a variety of definitions sourcedfrom multiple works.In What Contexts was Servant Leadership TheoryEmpirically Investigated?Our sample illustrates servant leadership theory is beingstudied across cultures, contexts, and across a diversity ofresearch foci. Overall, the sample consisted of studies in 11countries, which included four cross-cultures studies.These findings demonstrate that servant leadership is beingpracticed in various cultures, specifically: U.S. (n = 23),Canada (n = 4), China (n = 2), Turkey (n = 2), Indonesia(n = 1), New Zealand (n = 1), Kenya (n = 1), and theRepublic of Trinidad (n = 1), with five cross-culturestudies comparing U.S. and Ghana, U.S. and UK, U.S. andChina (n = 2), and Indonesia and Australia.A contextual analysis of the sample revealed that servantleadership theory is being applied in the following organizational settings: education (n = 17), which consisted ofreligious schools (n = 6) and secular schools (n = 11);secular for profit organizations (n = 17), which notablyincluded financial services (n = 4) and nursing (n = 3);public organizations (n = 2); religious organizations(n = 1); non-profit organizations (n = 1); and in a historical context (n = 1). It is important to note that servantleadership was examined in a religious context in seven ofthe 39 studies, and that the education field represents 44 %of the contextual environment for the entire sample.This synthesis also revealed seven key research themes,with some studies containing more than one area of focus.The themes and their associated studies are presented inTable 3. An overall count and description of each theme isas follows: (a) cross-cultural applicability—acceptance,practices, and different weights of servant leadership in avariety of cultures (n = 7); (b) servant leadership attributes—conceptual models characteristics were studied(n = 7); (c) team level effectiveness—effects of servantleadership explored at the unit level (n = 20); (d) followers’ well-being—effects on employees in a servantled environment (n = 20); (e) spirituality—connectionbetween spiritual workplace and servant-led workplace wasinvestigated (n = 1); (f) demographics (n = 3); and(g) implementation of servant leadership (n = 3). Wediscuss a synthesis of these themes below in the last sectionof our findings, where we provide an overview of theresults of studies included in the sample.How was Servant Leadership Examined(i.e., the Methodology)?All of the 27 quantitative studies used surveys as the datacollection method. The two most popular measures ofTable 3 continuedResult themes Conclusion Evidence ReferencesDemographics Propensity toward engaging in SLis associated with demographicvariablesInsufficient evidence Fridell et al. (2009) (QNT II); McCuddy and Cavin (2009)(QNT III); Taylor et al. (2007) (QNT II)Implementationof SLKnowledge and framing of SL canaffect adoptionInsufficient evidence Hamilton and Bean (2005) (QAL III); Savage-Austin andHoneycutt (2011) (QAL III)Positive relationship betweensuccession planning and SLInsufficient evidence Dingman and Stone (2007) (QAL II)SL servant leadership, QNT quantitative study, QAL qualitative study, I high quality, II medium quality, III low qualityServant Leadership Theory in Organizational Contexts 385123servant leadership theory used by these empirical studieswere Laub’s (1999) OLA instrument—used by six studies(Herman 2010; Black 2010; Cerit 2009, 2010; Irving andLongbotham 2007; Joseph and Winston 2005) and theServant Leadership Scale developed by Ehrhart (2004)—used by six studies (Ehrhart 2004; Jaramillo et al. 2009a, b;Mayer et al. 2008; Neubert et al. 2008; Walumbwa et al.2010). Instruments that were utilized by two studiesincluded: Barbuto and Wheeler’s (2006) instrument (Jenkins and Stewart 2010; Garber et al. 2009); Liden et al.’s(2008) instrument (Hu and Liden 2011; Schaubroeck et al.2011); and Sendjaya et al.’s (2008) survey (Pekerti andSendjaya 2010; Sendjaya and Pekerti 2010). Taylor et al.(2007) used Page and Wong’s (1998) self-assessmentmeasure. Washington et al. (2006) used Dennis and Winston’s (2003) instrument, which was an adopted version ofPage and Wong’s (2000) instrument. Rieke et al. (2008)used Hammermeister et al.’s (2008) instrument, which wasalso an adopted version of Page and Wong’s instrument.Babakus et al. (2011) and Hale and Fields (2007) usedlesser known scales, those of Lytle et al. (1998) and Dennis(2004), respectively. One study tapped a survey designedby the U.S. Office of Personal Management (OPM). Fourstudies used surveys developed specifically for theresearch: Fridell et al. (2009), Reinke (2004), andMcCuddy and Cavin (2008, 2009). In summary, out of 27survey studies, there were 14 different measures used. It isimportant to note that the majority of authors combinedmultiple measurement scales to construct their surveys. Inaddition, the majority of these measures explored servantleadership theory at the unit level of analysis (i.e., group orteam performance) while only a few examined it at theindividual level of analysis (i.e., individual performance).Similarly, the 11 qualitative studies used a variety ofservant leadership frameworks to inform their analyses,while three studies did not provide any information onframeworks. Four of the qualitative studies used Spears(1998) 10 characteristics to inform their analyses (Crippen2004; Crippen and Wallin 2008a, b; Sturm 2009). Twostudies used Patterson (2003) and Winsten’s (2003) models—Dingman and Stone (2007) and Winston (2004). Hanet al. (2010) used multiple dimensions and definitions ofservant leadership in Western literature including but notlimited to: Barbuto and Wheeler (2006); Liden et al.(2008); Ehrhart (2004); and Sendjaya et al. (2008). Themultiple quantitative and qualitative measures used by thestudies in our sample reinforce our findings for researchquestion one, where it was found that authors have definedservant leadership in various ways. Similarly, as thisreview demonstrates, there is still not an agreed uponmeasurement strategy for servant leadership theory.What were the Results of the Examination?Our sample of empirical studies illustrates that servantleadership is a tenable theory. It is viable and valuable onan individual and an organization level, which can lead toincreased overall effectiveness of individuals and teams. InTable 3, a synthesis of the conclusions from our sample ofarticles is divided by theme, with a rating of the evidence tosupport each individual conclusion. We discuss the resultsof these empirical studies by theme below.Table 4 Spears’ (1998) 10 characteristics of a servant leaderCharacteristic DescriptionListening Automatically responding to any problem by receptively listening to what is said, which allows them to identifythe will of the group and help clarify that willEmpathy Striving to accept and understand others, never rejecting them, but sometimes refusing to recognize theirperformance as good enoughHealing Recognizing as human beings they have the opportunity to make themselves and others ‘whole’Awareness Strengthened by general awareness and above all self-awareness, which enables them to view situationsholisticallyPersuasion Relying primarily on convincement rather than coercionConceptualization Seeking to arouse and nurture theirs’ and others’ abilities to ‘dream great dreams’Foresight Intuitively understanding the lessons from the past, the present realities, and the likely outcome of a decision forthe futureStewardship Committing first and foremost to serving others needsCommitment to the growthof peopleNurtures the personal, professional, and spiritual growth of each individualBuilding community Identifies means of building communities among individuals working within their institutions, which can givethe healing love essential for health386 D. L. Parris, J. W. Peachey123Cross-Cultural ApplicabilityThe cross-cultural studies (Hamilton and Bean 2005—U.S.and UK; Hale and Fields 2007—U.S. and Ghana; Han et al.2010—U.S. and China; Pekerti and Sendjaya 2010—Indonesia and Australia; Schaubroeck et al. (2011)—U.S.and China) all indicate servant leadership’s acceptabilityacross a variety of cultures. However, these studies alsoshow that the different attributes perceived to make upservant leadership are not weighted equally across cultures.For example: Hale and Fields (2007) found that vision hada significantly stronger relationship with leader effectiveness for Ghanaians in comparison to North Americans; Hanet al. (2009) found ‘‘being dutiful’’ to be an extended formof servant leadership in China; Hamilton and Bean (2005)discovered that introducing servant leadership within aChristian context was perceived as obtrusive in the UnitedKingdom; and Pekerti and Sendjaya (2010) found thatAustralian leaders exhibited more behaviors with authenticself (leadership flows out of who we are as opposed to whatwe do), while Indonesian leaders exhibited more behaviorswith responsible morality (reflective moral reasoningemployed to assess whether or not the process and outcomes of one’s leadership are ethical) and transforminginfluence (articulation and implementation of a sharedvision which provides inspiration, meaning to one’s work,and creates a positive work environment). In contrast tothese findings, Schaubroeck et al. (2011) found no significant differences in perceptions of servant leadershipbetween Hong Kong and the U.S. These cross-culturalstudies, along with studies conducted in different countries,imply that servant leadership might be practiced across avariety of cultures, but culture-specific perceptions of servant leadership exist based on socialization and nationalcontext.Servant Leader AttributesSeven studies explored the conceptual definitions of servant leadership, and found Spears (1998), Patterson’s(2003), and Winston’s (2003) attributes to be representative of servant leadership in different contexts. Five studies(Boroski and Greif 2009; Crippen 2004; Crippen andWallin 2008a, b; Sturm 2009) within three different contexts (schools, community, and nursing) supported Spears10 characteristics (see Table 3). Two studies (Winston2004; Dingman and Stone 2007) provided support forPatterson’s (2003) leader-to-follower and Winston’s (2003)follower-to-leader models of servant leadership. Patterson’s model of leader–follower interaction starts with theleaders’ agapao´ (love for others) which she conceptualizesas a collection of the following seven values: beingteachable; showing concern for others; demonstratingdiscipline; seeking the greatest good for the organization;showing mercy in actions and beliefs with all people;meeting the needs of followers and the organization; andcreating a place where peace grows within the organization. These seven values are based upon the biblical concept of the seven beatitudes from Matthew 5 (Patterson2003; Winston 2003, 2004). Instead of focusing on leaderfollower interaction as Patterson’s model does, Winston’smodel focuses on the follower-to-leader interactions.Winston’s follower-to-leader model starts with the followers’ agapao´ and then shows how the followers areservant leaders themselves by utilizing the same variablesas Patterson’s model. As stated above, studies confirm theapplicability of the variables in both of these models: trust,empowerment, vision, altruism, intrinsic motivation, commitment, and service (Winston 2004; Dingman and Stone2007). Thus, the attributes identified by Spears, Patterson,and Winston were represented within the measurementinstruments discussed above.Team Level EffectivenessSixteen empirical studies explored servant leadershiptheory at a unit level. Overall, these studies found that aservant-led organization enhances leader trust and organizational trust, organizational citizenship behavior, procedural justice, team and leader effectiveness, and thecollaboration between team members. Several studiesfound that a servant-led environment provided affirmationof justice and fair treatment, which is positively associatedwith procedural justice, or the perception of how a workgroup as a whole is treated (Ehrhart 2004; Walumbwa et al.2010; Chung et al. 2010). Procedural justice fosters trust inthe servant leader and in the servant-led organization(Joseph and Winston 2005; Reinke 2004; Sendjaya andPekerti 2010; Washington et al. 2006). This creates an openand trusting environment, which can enhance collaborationamong team members (Garber et al. 2009; Sturm 2009;Irving and Longbotham 2007). Collaboration in a servantled organization creates a helping culture (i.e., a spirit ofwillingness), which increases team members’ organizational citizenship behavior, defined as pro-social andaltruistic behaviors that have been shown to improveorganizational performance (Ebener and O’Connell 2010;Hu and Liden 2011; Ehrhart 2004; Walumbwa et al. 2010).Servant leadership also improves overall team effectiveness (Taylor et al. 2007; Mayer et al. 2008; McCuddyand Cavin 2008) and can enhance leaders’ effectiveness(Irving and Longbotham 2007; Schaubroeck et al. 2011;Hu and Liden 2011). In summary, servant leadershipcreates a trusting, fair, collaborative, and helping culturethat can result in greater individual and organizationaleffectiveness.Servant Leadership Theory in Organizational Contexts 387123Followers’ Well-BeingFindings from 15 empirical studies illustrate that servantleadership enhances followers’ well-being. These studiesshowed conceptually and empirically how servant leadership influences followers’ well-being by creating a positivework climate (Neubert et al. 2008; Black 2010; Jaramilloet al. 2009a), which is related to greater organizationalcommitment (Cerit 2010; Hamilton and Bean 2005; Haleand Fields 2007; Han et al. 2010; Pekerti and Sendjaya2010). Greater commitment to the organization increasesemployee job satisfaction (Cerit 2009; Jenkins and Stewart2010; Mayer et al. 2008; Chung et al. 2010) and consequently decreases employee turnover (Jaramillo et al.2009b; Babakus et al. 2011). Servant leaders create thesepositive outcomes by developing trust while nurturingfollowers, which encourages the creativity, helpingbehaviors, and well-being of followers (Jaramillo et al.2009a; Babakus et al. 2011; Rieke et al. 2008). Overall,these studies support the notion that servant leadership canimprove followers’ well-being.SpiritualityOne study (Herman 2010) found a positive connectionbetween workplace spirituality and servant leadership, whilesix studies explored servant leadership within religiousintuitions. In addition, many scholars described servantleadership using the teachings of Jesus Christ as a reference(Ebener and O’Connell 2010; Hamilton and Bean 2005;Winston 2004). Although there appears to be a relationshipbetween spirituality and servant leadership, there wasinsufficient evidence to draw conclusions for this review.DemographicsThree studies (Fridell et al. 2009; McCuddy and Cavin2009; Taylor et al. 2007) attempted to identify demographic characteristics conducive to practicing servantleadership. However, these studies lacked methodologicalquality sufficient to support any conclusions. In addition,many of the findings of these studies contradicted eachother as well as other studies within our sample. Forexample, one study found significant differences betweenmen and women’s servant leadership style usage—femaleleaders were more likely to practice daily reflection andconsensus building, foster self worth, and engage in healingrelationships (Fridell et al. 2009), while another studyfound no difference (McCuddy and Cavin 2009). Also, onestudy found that socio-economic factors were positivelyrelated to servant behaviors (McCuddy and Cavin 2009),while another study found that no demographic variableswere significantly related to servant leadership (Tayloret al. 2007) Therefore, it remains to be discovered if thereare in fact demographic characteristics that are related toservant leadership.Implementation of Servant LeadershipThree studies examined servant leadership in variousorganizational processes (Hamilton and Bean 2005—leadership development; Savage-Austin and Honeycutt2011—organizational change; Dingman and Stone 2007—succession planning). Nevertheless, these studies were notsupported by other empirical studies nor were their methodological quality sufficient to provide any conclusions.LimitationsAlthough this SLR was conducted in a disciplined manner,potential limitations must be acknowledged. We limitedthe search process to indexed journals available through theauthors’ university library system that were peer-reviewedpublished articles written in the English language. Thus,this review did not include non-indexed journals or dissertations because they are not peer-reviewed, or peerreviewed servant leadership articles published in a language other than English. Given the apparent universalinterest in servant leadership, as identified in our review,perhaps there are more empirical studies being published inother languages that would complement or contradict someof the conclusions drawn from this review. The methodology and findings of the studies included in the reviewwere assessed by two independent reviewers aided by acritical assessment tool, which was utilized to make theevaluation phase more accurate. However, our attempt tointegrate results conducted with qualitative as well asquantitative data analysis may have limited the ability tosufficiently explore all methodological considerationswhen fusing the findings of both types of empirical studiesinto a coherent text. In order to guide future scholars inconducting SLRs, more work is needed on how to assessthe quality of qualitative and quantitative research in thefield of management. Given SLRs origins are in the medical field, which conduct controlled trial studies, there arefew critical appraisal tools that are applicable to theresearch methods used in other disciplines, such as qualitative inquiry and cross-sectional studies.ConclusionThis SLR demonstrates servant leadership theory is applicable in a variety of cultures, contexts, and organizationalsettings. Even though Greenleaf first coined the philosophy388 D. L. Parris, J. W. Peachey123in the 1970s, it has taken until 2004 for servant leadershipto be explored in an empirical manner. This SLR did notplace any limitation on the publication year of peerreviewed journal articles; however, no empirical studieswere found across all the databases searched before 2004.To date, the majority of research in servant leadership iseither attempting to conceptually define and model thetheory or develop measurement tools to empirical test it.Thus, the greater part of research on servant leadership isaddressing one of the major criticisms of the theoreticalconstruct, which is the difficulty of operationalizing itsconcepts and principles (Brumback 1999; Wong and Davey2007). Quay is not alone in his sentiments on Greenleaf’sworks: ‘‘For all his good advice and many practical ideas,he is a Don Quixote trying to convince managers to pursuegood and eschew evil’’ (1997, p. 83). By Greenleaf’s ownadmission, his ideas are unorthodox, yet the value of thisreview illustrates that servant leadership works and is atenable theory.The first question of this review sought to discover howservant leadership is being defined. Although our findingsindicated the majority of authors use Greenleaf (1970,1972a, b, 1997), Spears (1998), and Laub (1999) to helpdefine servant leadership, there still does not exist anaccepted consensus over its definition. This lack of consensus creates confusion (Van Dierendonck 2011) amongstresearchers, as they create their own variations of definitions and theoretical models. Perhaps one day there will bea generally accepted theory of servant leadership, but theempirical cross-cultural studies in this review highlight thatwhile servant leadership has been researched in a variety ofcultures, it has different meanings based on socializationand national context. In addition, Greenleaf (1977) arguedthat servant leadership is an inward life-long journey,implying that the meaning of servant leadership couldchange throughout one’s life time. Therefore, this reviewdoes not conclude with a model or another definition ofservant leadership; however, it does provide an overview ofmultiple definitions of servant leadership currently beingused in empirical studies in order to further our conceptualunderstanding.Second, this review explored the contexts in whichservant leadership is being empirically investigated. Ourreview illustrates the diversity of cultures, organizationalsettings, and research foci in which servant leadership isbeing explored. There seems to be pronounced interest ininvestigating servant leadership in the U.S. and throughoutthe Asia Pacific region; however, there is a paucity ofstudies being conducted in other parts of the world. Currently, the majority of studies are exploring servant leadership in an educational setting (44 % of our sample).Organizational settings that have received less attentionfrom researchers include medical institutions, publicorganizations, non-profit organizations, and communitylevel organizations. Research on servant leadership isconcentrated in the fields of leadership, education, businessand psychology; whereas, there is only a small number ofstudies in the fields of nursing, management, personalselling and sales, ethics, parks and recreation administration, services marketing, and sports. The research themesbeing explored the least are: spirituality, demographics,and implementation of servant leadership. Thus, thisreview helps researchers identify areas and contexts whichare relatively unexplored in relation to servant leadershipand thus ripe for further investigation.Third, this review examined the tools that can be used tomeasure the existence and outcomes of servant leadership.The multiple quantitative and qualitative measures used bythe studies point to the fact that there is currently not anagreed upon measurement instrument of the theoreticalconstruct. This review can point researchers towards thecurrent measurement tools available, how they are beingused, and in what contexts they are being applied. Last, thisreview synthesized the findings of these empirical studies(see Table 3). Seven research themes emerged: cross-cultural applicability, servant leadership attributes, team-leveleffectiveness, followers’ well-being, spirituality, demographics, and implementation of servant leadership. Thissynthesis can help researchers identify the current findingsin the extant literature and to discover research foci thatremain relatively underexplored.Several intriguing directions for future research emergedfrom our SLR. First, this SLR only identified 39 empiricalstudies that explored servant leadership theory in organizational settings, highlighting the need for researchers toempirically investigate the construct of servant leadershipin a variety of organizational contexts. In the burgeoningfield of entrepreneurship, researchers could explore how tobuild a servant-led organization, or in the field of organizational change, studies could explore how to implementservant leadership in an established organization or duringa merger or acquisition. Second, there is a need to investigate the antecedents of servant leadership development,such as personal attributes of the leader, background of theleader, and organizational history and trajectory. Third,researchers can examine other outcomes of servant leadership, such as voluntarily organizational turnover, succession planning, affective organizational commitment,and employee well-being through generative growth. Last,there is a need to develop critical appraisal tools forquantitative and quantitative research used in the field ofmanagement to conduct SLRs. Perhaps our integration ofseveral appraisal tools can serve as a template, as weassessed the level of supporting evidence for thematicconclusions drawn from combining the results of multiplestudies.Servant Leadership Theory in Organizational Contexts 389123This SLR is the first synthesis of empirical studiesexploring servant leadership theory in organizational contexts that utilizes a rigorous methodology to mitigate biasthrough exhaustive literature searches and by providing anaudit trail of the conclusions. This review enhances ourunderstanding of the definition(s) of servant leadership,illustrates the diversity of cultures, organizational settings,and research foci in which it is being examined, identifiestools that can be used to measure its existence and outcomes, and shows that servant leadership is a viableleadership theory that helps organizations and the wellbeing of followers. Our findings synthesize empiricalresearch on servant leadership theory across the multidisciplinary fields of business, medicine, psychology, religion,leisure, education, and economics and law. Scholarsexploring servant leadership are using theories from otherdisciplines to build upon existing theory and to developtheory that is uniquely applicable to their field (e.g.,organizational behavior, sport, gender). Thus, this SLRvalidated servant leadership as a viable and valuable theory, and therefore, illustrates how servant leadership theorycan be used to inform future empirical studies. In addition,and importantly, this SLR contributes to advancing themethodology of conducting a SLR in the managementcontext. Here, we showcase how a SRL can provide aneffective method for mapping out thematically the currentbody of research literature that empirically explores servantleadership theory in organizational contexts. However, thistype of systematic review with rigorous methodology canbe applied to other research streams within management asan aid in holistically synthesizing the state of the field invarious topical areas.As a viable leadership theory, servant leadership canperhaps provide the ethical grounding and leadershipframework needed to help address the challenges of thetwenty-first century: technological advancements, economic globalization, increased communications, the Internet, rising terrorism, environmental degradation, war andviolence, disease and starvation, threat of global warming,intensifying gap between the poor and rich worldwide, aswell as many other unsolved issues. Servant leadershipcontrasts, traditional leader-first paradigms, which applauda Darwinism, individualistic, and capitalist approach tolife, implicating that only the strong will survive. 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