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Changing the Opportunities for Women as Leaders through Servant Leadership

Dr. Terry Blum, professor, Tedd Munchak Chair in Entrpreneurship and faculty director, Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship

Dr. Terry Blum, professor, Tedd Munchak Chair in Entrpreneurship and faculty director, Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship

Statistically, men still serve in more leadership roles than women. However, a recent study published by Scheller College of Business professor and Tedd Munchak Chair in Entrepreneurship, Dr. Terry Blum, along with former doctoral student and colleague Dr. Jim Lemoine, assistant professor of organization and human resources at the University of Buffalo School of Management assert that where servant leadership is practiced in the workplace, it inverts the paradigm of “think leadership, think male” because it provides an environment that creates servant followers and provides a leadership advantage for women servant leaders. The relationship between servant leadership and subordinate performance is also stronger for women who practice it than for the men who do so. 

Servant Leadership is not a new concept. The phrase was first coined 50 years ago by Robert K. Greenleaf and means that a leader adopts a servant leadership style by placing service first above power. Servant leaders encourage their employees to do the same by providing opportunities for growth, working to help their employees move up the corporate ladder and embracing a communal style that tends to influence their employees to establish servant leadership behaviors within the workplace which also improves their employees' overall performance.

While the servant leader role is often seen against the backdrop of gender bias (women as care-takers, men as power brokers), Lemoine and Blum see this as a positive move by giving women more leadership opportunities where their performance is recognized.

As organizational members prefer leaders who value ethics and relationships, servant leadership is moving from servant leadership as an ideology to embracing leadership behaviors that prioritize communal concerns, caring and developing followers through which performance is positively impacted.

The team conducted a study of 109 managers of 415 employees in six organizations. From their research, they concluded that the long-standing environment in which women faced gender discrimination in obtaining a leadership role, is now working for them. And not only for women leaders but for the employees they lead and the organizations that support them.

The paper is available in the February 20 issue of Personnel Psychology – “Servant Leadership, Leader Gender, and Team Gender Roles: Testing a Female Advantage in a Cascading Model of Performance.”

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