This summary is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center.

Both internal and external publics are increasingly expecting and demanding organizations and their leaders to act ethically and serve all stakeholders’ needs. Not surprisingly, servant leadership, which suggests that leaders should prioritize ethical behavior and the well-being of their followers, customers, and community over their self-interest, has recently received increasing attention. Overall, servant leaders prioritize the realization of their followers’ requirements and exemplify a “servant first” instead of a “leader first” mentality. These leadership characteristics are essential in paving the way for organizational citizenship behaviors (i.e., employees’ discretionary actions that contribute to organizational effectiveness, but are generally not included in formal job responsibilities). Employee advocacy, which is described as a type of organizational citizenship behavior in which employees voluntarily promote or defend the organization is one of the possible contributions of servant leadership.

With this in mind, this study examined the relationship between servant leadership and employee advocacy. They also analyzed how employee empowerment and perceived relationship investment act as a bridge between these two variables. The researchers suggested that a supervisor’s servant leadership behavior can foster the development of an environment that empowers employees and increases their perception that their organization is invested in building relationships with them; consequently, the perceptions of these emotional and cognitive resources prompt employees to reciprocate by advocating on behalf of the organization.

Through an online survey, the authors analyzed the responses of 357 full-time employees working across various industries in Chile. Participants in this study included 54.3% females and 45.4% males. The sample had an average age of 41 years. Among those in management positions, 18.8% were in medium-level management, 9.8% were in lower-level management, and 5.9% were in top management. Additionally, 28.3% of participants responded affirmatively when asked if their organization had ever encouraged them to say positive things about it or defend it on social media or through other communication means.

Key Findings
1.) Organizations with servant leaders are more likely to have employees who feel empowered concerning the level of control, competence, impact, and meaning they have in their work environments.
2.) Empowered employees are more likely to advocate on behalf of their organizations to both internal and external stakeholders using verbal and nonverbal manifestations.
3.) Employees tend to believe their organizations are trying to build and maintain relationships with them when their leaders set aside their self-interest and prioritize employees’ interests.
4.) Perceived organizational investment in employee-organization relationships can increase employees’ willingness to promote and defend the organization.

Implications for Practice
Organizational leaders and communication practitioners should:
1.) Put effort into the development of servant leaders by providing supervisors and managers with the proper tools to improve and develop a wide range of skills, such as listening, empathy, persuasion, supporting others, and self-awareness.
2.) Make efforts to increase employees’ loyalty and show that they are interested in developing a long-term relationship with them by showing genuine care.
3.) Empower employees to engage in advocacy behaviors by properly explaining how their advocacy can benefit the organization and by providing them with exciting content to share.

Thelen, P. D., & Yue, C. A. (2021). Servant leadership and employee advocacy: The mediating role of psychological empowerment and perceived relationship investment. International Journal of Communication, 15, 3802–3826.

Location of Article
This article is available online here.
(full article free)

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
Follow on Twitter

Leave a Reply