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Servant leaders, ethical followers? The effect of servant leadership on employee deviance

Heidi Paesen (Leuven Institute of Criminology, Catholic University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium)
Kristel Wouters (Leuven Institute of Criminology, Catholic University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium)
Jeroen Maesschalck (Leuven Institute of Criminology, Catholic University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Publication date: 8 July 2019

Abstract

Purpose

Leadership is considered to be a crucial situational factor in predicting and explaining employee deviance. The purpose of this paper therefore is to investigate the relationship between servant leadership on the one hand and employee deviance on the other. While previous studies on the impact of servant leadership on employee deviance typically aggregated all its dimensions into a single scale, this study also explores the impact of the various dimensions of servant leadership separately.

Design/methodology/approach

Data were collected via an online survey in two ministries of the Belgian Federal Government (n=3,445). The analyses were conducted using confirmatory factor analysis and multiple linear and negative binomial regression analysis.

Findings

The empirical results suggest that the generic servant leadership scale has the expected negative, protective effect on both self-reported and observer-reported employee deviance. As for the dimensions, the authors found that only the “putting subordinates first” dimension had a significant negative, protective effect on both self-reported and observer-reported employee deviance. The dimensions “behaving ethically” and “emotional healing” negatively impacted only observer-reported employee deviance and the dimension “creating value for society” negatively impacted only self-reported employee deviance. Surprisingly, the dimension “empowering” had a significant positive, strengthening effect on both self-reported and observer-reported employee deviance.

Originality/value

While most research assesses servant leadership’s impact on desirable behaviour, this study is about its impact on employee deviance. Also unlike most previous research, this study looks not only at the overall effect of servant leadership, but also at the impact of the various dimensions of servant leadership separately.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO) and, to a more limited extent, by the Ministry of Budget and Management Control in Belgium. The ministry helped with the implementation of the survey, but they had no access to the data and were not involved in the analysis of the data.

Citation

Paesen, H., Wouters, K. and Maesschalck, J. (2019), "Servant leaders, ethical followers? The effect of servant leadership on employee deviance", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 40 No. 5, pp. 624-646. https://doi.org/10.1108/LODJ-01-2019-0013

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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