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Avoiding the scenario of “The farmer and the snake”: the dark side of servant leadership and an intervention mechanism

Riguang Gao (School of Business Administration, Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics, Nanchang, China)
Bo Liu (Jiangxi Agricultural University, Nanchang, China)

Journal of Managerial Psychology

ISSN: 0268-3946

Article publication date: 31 May 2023

Issue publication date: 7 June 2023




This study aims to reveal the potential dark side of servant leadership by exploring its differential impact on followers with varying degrees of Machiavellianism and to uncover the role of leader negative feedback as an intervention mechanism in attenuating this negative impact.


A three-wave survey with one-month intervals was conducted with 344 participants from different industries.


The results suggest that servant leadership triggered psychological entitlement among followers with high Machiavellianism, leading to organizational and interpersonal deviance, but only when negative feedback from the leader was weak.

Practical implications

When leaders implement servant leadership, they should beware of breeding psychological entitlement among highly Machiavellian followers, as this can activate their deviant behavior, and should make full use of negative feedback as an intervention mechanism.


This study is one of the first to use the self-evaluation perspective to examine the negative impact of servant leadership on follower behavior via attitude and to explore boundary conditions to overcome this effect.



The authors are profoundly thankful to Professor Robert C. Liden for the illuminating remarks on this construct model, to Professor John M. Schaubroeck for the generous help and professional advice on the initial manuscript, and to the associate editor, Professor Jeremy D. Meuser and the two anonymous reviewers for constructive guidance and insightful comments in improving the manuscript.

Funding: This study has been funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos 72162023, 71962015, 71762016, 72172054), the Humanities and Social Sciences Youth Foundation and the Ministry of Education of China (Grant No. 21YJC630143).


Gao, R. and Liu, B. (2023), "Avoiding the scenario of “The farmer and the snake”: the dark side of servant leadership and an intervention mechanism", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 38 No. 4, pp. 289-302.



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