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Are women business owners authentic servant leaders?

Cynthia Mignonne Sims (Department of Educational and Organizational Leadership, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina, USA)
Lonnie R. Morris (Business Psychology Division, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Chicago, Illinois, USA)

Gender in Management

ISSN: 1754-2413

Article publication date: 17 July 2018

Issue publication date: 24 July 2018




The study of women business founders provides an opportunity to determine their unique leadership characteristics. Starting a business may be a way for women business owners to be authentic and create more people-centered businesses. Servant leadership’s gender integrative attributes where both agentic and communal behaviors are valued may be more congruent and reflective of the leadership behaviors of women entrepreneurs. Recently, the motivation of compassionate love was theorized to be an antecedent to servant leadership and, it is argued, exists in conjunction with authenticity. Thus, the purpose of this study is to investigate compassionate love, authenticity and servant leadership and determine whether they exist in the behaviors of founding female business owners.


This qualitative research study used summative content analysis of telephone interviews conducted with 12 women business owners of professional service firms in four US states to determine whether these women’s motivations, traits and behaviors were consistent with the compassionate love servant leadership model and whether authenticity was the cornerstone of servant leadership.


The analyses found that these women revealed a strong authenticity orientation as they enacted a compassionate love servant leadership style within their businesses. Themes that emerged from the study were agency, calling, humility, trust and respect, self-development, stewardship, authenticity and providing direction. The study revealed support for some of the characteristics associated with compassionate love servant leadership and two characteristics which were unique to this study.

Research limitations/implications

As a qualitative study of 12 individuals, these findings may not be generalizable beyond the four US states of professional service enterprises of women business founders. Future research should test the full servant leadership model of women business owners on a larger group of business founders and the sub-themes where little support exists.

Practical implications

The more gender integrative style of compassionate love servant leadership may be beneficial for women owners to employ as business leaders.


This research revealed support for a variation of compassionate love servant leadership model. The resulting servant leadership model herein was a mixture of agentic and communal leadership motivations, traits and behaviors useful to women business founders. Behaviors of authenticity were found to complement compassionate love. These women were able to extend the boundaries of what it means to be a leader and incorporate behaviors associated with both their gender and leadership roles, thus expanding their ability to successfully empower and equip themselves to navigate barriers unique to women leaders.



Sims, C.M. and Morris, L.R. (2018), "Are women business owners authentic servant leaders?", Gender in Management, Vol. 33 No. 5, pp. 405-427.



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Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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