Valparaiso University researchers have found that stewardship, community-building and similar traits linked to serving others may give a boost to the effectiveness of leaders.
Dr. Michael McCuddy, Morgal chair of Christian business ethics, and Matt Cavin, a 2008 Valparaiso graduate now working for EMSystems in Milwaukee, conducted a survey of people involved in church-related higher education or religious life.
"From a pragmatic perspective, our results assert that making decisions and taking actions in light of moral considerations, developing one's behavioural capacity to serve others and leading people effectively do not exist in isolation, but must be understood and utilized in the context of a holistic approach to leadership," said Dr. McCuddy.
For the study, the researchers questioned almost 300 people regarding their Fundamental Moral Orientations in both personal and work life, practice of servant leadership behaviours and leadership effectiveness.
The research showed significant positive correlations between leadership effectiveness and 9 of 10 servant leadership characteristics, along with a composite servant leadership score combining those 10 individual characteristics.
Also a strong and significant positive correlation was found between a leader's work life Fundamental Moral Orientation (selfishness, self-fullness or selflessness) and the practice of servant leadership behaviours.
Other results demonstrate a small but significant positive correlation between a leader's personal life FMO and his or her practice of several servant leadership behaviours.
The researchers' data also revealed limited support for a potential difference between leaders' personal and work lives with respect to FMO-servant leadership relationships.
For example, the characteristics of active listening, empathy, foresight and community building had significant positive correlations with work life FMO, but not with personal life FMO.
McCuddy has earlier studied individuals' Fundamental Moral Orientation, a concept that reflects differing combinations of concern for one's own interests versus concerns for the interests of others. People are motivated by selfishness at one extreme and selflessness at the other, while a healthy balance of the two is known as self-fullness in the FMO model.
"What's more likely to be beneficial across a wide range of organizations is balancing self-interest with the welfare of the community as a whole. If you are going to be able to effectively serve others you have to protect yourself first so that you have the ability to serve others," said McCuddy.
The researchers said that its not surprising that people who embrace some servant leadership behaviours tend to be more effective leaders, given that leadership is a process involving interacting with and influencing followers. Having a mindset amenable to serving followers can strengthen the quality and effectiveness of that process.
McCuddy said that the first key takeaway for business leaders is to recognize the tension between self-interest and serving the good of the broader community or organization.
Second, he said, business leaders should recognize that the concept of self-fullness is perhaps the best, most useful and most productive moral orientation for people to possess.
The paper titled "Fundamental Moral Orientations, Servant Leadership, and Leadership Effectiveness: An Empirical Test," appears in the current issue of the Review of Business Research by the International Academy of Business and Economics. (ANI)