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Systematically reviewing servant leadership

Katie Elizabeth Mcquade (School of Business and Creative Industries, University of the West of Scotland, Lanarkshire, UK)
Christian Harrison (School of Business and Creative Industries, University of the West of Scotland, Lanarkshire, UK)
Heather Tarbert (School of Business and Creative Industries, University of the West of Scotland, Paisley, UK)

European Business Review

ISSN: 0955-534X

Article publication date: 25 September 2020

Issue publication date: 6 April 2021




The purpose of this paper is to provide a comprehensive overview of the literature concerning servant leadership. The paper identifies the existing themes present within the servant leadership literature. This allows it to determine where the research concerning servant leadership lies at present and make recommendations as to further potential areas for research. It further identifies the skills necessary for servant leadership.


The paper follows a rigorous three-step systematic literature review (SLR) process to identify the relevant evidence to answer the research questions. The paper disseminates the results and presents them by way of a descriptive analysis. It also conducts a thematic analysis to further determine answers to the research questions.


The paper found that the most prominent themes in the servant leadership literature are values, literature reviews, behaviour, assessments, performance, characteristics and antecedents. Additionally, the paper finds that the skills necessary for servant leadership are empathy, listening, communication and trust. The review also identified gaps in the research both methodologically and empirically. It showed that more qualitative research is needed with regard to servant leadership. Furthermore, the development of empirically tested frameworks is necessary within the phenomenon.


Servant leadership is a phenomenon which is lacking in a reliable, validated SLR, which this paper presents. Additionally the originality of this paper lies in its recommendations for further research which are based upon the findings of a thematic analysis. As of yet, such recommendations have not yet been made within the field of servant leadership.



Mcquade, K.E., Harrison, C. and Tarbert, H. (2021), "Systematically reviewing servant leadership", European Business Review, Vol. 33 No. 3, pp. 465-490.



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