Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 113, Issue 3, pp 377–393

A Systematic Literature Review of Servant Leadership Theory in Organizational Contexts


DOI: 10.1007/s10551-012-1322-6

Cite this article as:
Parris, D.L. & Peachey, J.W. J Bus Ethics (2013) 113: 377. doi:10.1007/s10551-012-1322-6


A new research area linked to ethics, virtues, and morality is servant leadership. Scholars are currently seeking publication outlets as critics debate whether this new leadership theory is significantly distinct, viable, and valuable for organizational success. The aim of this study was to identify empirical studies that explored servant leadership theory by engaging a sample population in order to assess and synthesize the mechanisms, outcomes, and impacts of servant leadership. Thus, we sought to provide an evidence-informed answer to how does servant leadership work, and how can we apply it? We conducted a systematic literature review (SLR), a methodology adopted from the medical sciences to synthesize research in a systematic, transparent, and reproducible manner. A disciplined screening process resulted in a final sample population of 39 appropriate studies. The synthesis of these empirical studies revealed: (a) there is no consensus on the definition of servant leadership; (b) servant leadership theory is being investigated across a variety of contexts, cultures, and themes; (c) researchers are using multiple measures to explore servant leadership; and (d) servant leadership is a viable leadership theory that helps organizations and improves the well-being of followers. This study contributes to the development of servant leadership theory and practice. In addition, this study contributes to the methodology for conducting SLRs in the field of management, highlighting an effective method for mapping out thematically, and viewing holistically, new research topics. We conclude by offering suggestions for future research.


Leadership Leadership theory Servant leadership Systematic literature review 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Barney Barnett School of Business & Free EnterpriseFlorida Southern CollegeLakelandUSA
  2. 2.Division of Sport Management, Department of Health and KinesiologyTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA

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