Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

The Relationship between Servant Leadership and Employee Empowerment, Commitment, Trust and Innovative Behaviour: A Project Management Perspective

Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

The Relationship between Servant Leadership and Employee Empowerment, Commitment, Trust and Innovative Behaviour: A Project Management Perspective

Article excerpt

Introduction

Leadership has remained a fascination through the ages, possibly because of its mysterious nature and also because it touches everyone's lives (Yukl, 2013, p. 17). Within the project management field, leadership is recognised as a key practical skill; however, what is more interesting is the extent to which traditional leadership models and theories are able to successfully capture their effectiveness within a project environment (Clarke, 2012, pp. 128- 129). Tannenbaum and Schmidt (1973, as cited in Clarke, 2012, p. 197) argue that leadership style offers a means to categorise the different leaders' behaviours within the current context and provides the mechanism to establish the manner in which a project manager would behave towards the project team.

Most studies focus on understanding the roles and power position of the project manager (Clarke, 2012, p. 128), with very little research being dedicated to understanding the effect of the leadership style on the project team. With the rapid expansion of organisations utilising projects as an everyday form within the workplace (Jessen, 2002, as cited in Clarke, 2012, p. 128) it is important to understand the relationship between the project sponsor's leadership style and the project team's 'outcomes'.

Although Greenleaf's (1970) servant leadership essay sparked much interest, resulting in many articles being written supporting it as a fresh approach to leadership (Sipe & Frick, 2009, as cited by Hayden, 2011, p. 3) it is only in the last 5 years, that it has been possible to measure the servant leadership dimensions within a leader (Hayden, 2011, p. 4). This however only addresses half of the problem, as the ability to measure follower outcomes is also imperative (Greenleaf, 1970, as cited in Hayden, 2011, p. 2). Furthermore, an understanding of followers' 'outcomes' goes beyond those elements identified by Greenleaf , namely, healthier, wiser, freer, autonomous and becoming servant leaders themselves, and requires further investigation. Moreover, although studies have focused on the servant leader in a general organisational environment, very little attention has been given to understanding the servant leader in a project environment, especially the role of a project sponsor. Furthermore, little or no attention has been given to understanding the optimal leadership profile of a project sponsor and even less to understanding the influence that the project sponsor's leadership style has on the individual outcomes within a project team.

In light of the above, the focus of this article is to understand the influence, if any, that a project sponsor's servant leadership traits of altruistic calling, emotional healing, wisdom, persuasive mapping and organisational stewardship have on a project team's 'outcomes', which, for the purposes of this article are defined as: employee empowerment, commitment, trust and innovative behaviour.

Literature review

Leadership

Yukl (2013, p. 26) argues that a leader's characteristics have been the dominant focus of leadership studies, with specific emphasis on one or all of the following characteristics: trait, behaviour, or power. Research in the field of, inter alia, contingency or situational theory states that the ideal leadership style is dependent on the situation, the follower and the leader (Hannay, 2009, p. 2). This approach emphasises the importance of contextual factors that influence leadership processes, the major variables being the type of work to be carried out, the type of organisation and the external environment (Yukl, 2013, p. 29). Emerging leadership theories suggest that the true power of a leader is no longer linked to the leader's position within the organisation, but rather to transforming the organisation and its workers (Burns, 1978 as cited by Stone & Patterson, 2005, p. 7). Today's leadership theory studies have evolved and extend into focusing on the ethical leader, which encompasses transforming, servant, authentic and spiritual leadership styles (Yukl, 2013, p. …

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