Servant leadership as a driver of employee service performance: Test of a trickle-down model and its boundary conditions
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Wang, Z. and Xu, H. and Liu, Y. Servant leadership as a driver of employee service performance: Test of a trickle-down model and its boundary conditions. Human Relations. 71 (9): pp. 1179-1203. Copyright © 2017 The Author(s). Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications
Previous research has demonstrated the role of servant leadership, a leadership style emphasizing serving others, in promoting frontline employees’ service performance. It is unclear, however, how servant leadership by leaders at different organizational levels would exert such an influence. Integrating insights from both social learning theory and the trickle-down paradigm of leadership, we develop a cross-level model in which we argue that servant leadership by high-level managers could cascade downward through the organizational hierarchy to influence frontline employees’ service performance and that this trickle-down effect is contingent on the extent to which subordinates identify their leaders as embodying the organization. Using a matched sample of 92 supervisors and 568 frontline employees across 92 sub-branches of a large banking company, we found that servant leadership by high-level managers could indeed promote employees’ in-role and extra-role service performance through its effect on low-level supervisors’ servant leadership. We also found that this trickle-down effect was stronger when high-level managers and low-level supervisors were perceived by their subordinates as more fully embodying the organization. Implications, limitations and future directions are discussed.
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