Seeking and measuring the essential behaviors of servant leadership

Bruce Winston (School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship, Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA, USA)
Dail Fields (School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship, Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA, USA)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Publication date: 1 June 2015



The purpose of this paper is to clarify the nature of how servant leadership is established and transmitted among members of an organization. The second goal was to identify and evaluate the unique actions by a leader essential to establishing servant leadership. The authors’ efforts resulted in identification and validation of ten leader behaviors that seem to be essential to servant leadership.


The authors’ methodology consisted of two stages. In the first stage, The authors developed an item pool of 116 items drawn from previously developed operationalizations of servant leadership. The authors then engaged a panel of 23 researchers attending a conference focused exclusively on the study of servant leadership to evaluate the. Each participant was asked to independently rate each item using a four-point scale where 1=not useful in describing servant leaders and 4=contributes greatly to describing servant leaders. The authors retained only the most highly rated items. This resulted in retention of 22 leader behaviors for further analysis. In the second stage, the authors developed a questionnaire including these items as well as items measuring transformational leadership behaviors, transactional leader behaviors, servant leadership as measured by the instrument developed by Liden et al. (2008), and a measure of leadership effectiveness developed and used by Ehrhart and Klein (2001). The questionnaire was placed in internet-based survey software and the link provided to students and faculty at a private mid-Atlantic university and to university alumni and colleagues in a variety of organizations. Each respondent was asked to describe a leader he/she had worked for in the past five years and included specification of the job role for both the respondent and the leader.


The ten-item scale accounts for 75 percent of the variance with a scale reliability α=0.96. Convergent validity was determined through comparison to Liden et al. (2008) measure of servant leadership. Discriminant validity was established through confirmatory analysis of leader effectiveness, transformational leadership’s four dimensions, a measure of transactional leadership, and an alternative multi-dimensional measure of servant leadership.


This paper clarifies and provides a measure of the essential behaviors of servant leaders. This provides a useful measurement tool for leadership development.



Winston, B. and Fields, D. (2015), "Seeking and measuring the essential behaviors of servant leadership", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 36 No. 4, pp. 413-434.

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