Listening and Persuasion: Examining the Communicative Patterns of Servant Leadership
Mark A. Rennaker
Greenleaf (1977) proposed that communication is a crucial component of servant leadership. He suggested that the leader’s communicative patterns comprised of listening and persuasion influence followers to attribute the servant quality to the leader. Following Greenleaf (1977), literature has supported both the general notion that communication is an important topic for servant leadership research and the specific consideration that listening and persuasion are paramount to servant leadership. Despite literature support for the importance of communication to servant leadership, no empirical studies have focused on servant leaders’ communicative patterns or explained the relationship between communicative patterns and servant-leadership attribution. Thus, following Lynham’s (2002) general method of theory building, the present research sought to infer an answer to the research question: Is there a relationship between leaders’ communicative patterns and servant-leadership attribution by followers? A population of 243 individuals including (a) top leadership, (b) management, (c) workforce, and (d) students at a Midwestern, Christian, liberal-arts university were invited to self-select into a cross-sectional survey. Data were collected utilizing an online instrument comprised of (a) the Servant Leadership Assessment Instrument (Dennis, 2004), (b) the Servant Leadership Inventory (Longbotham, 2007), and (c) the Relational Message Scale (Burgoon & Hale, 1987). Hypotheses predicted a positive relationship between the independent variables, listening and persuasion, and an attribution to leaders by subordinates of the dependent variables: (a) love, (b) humility, (c) vision, (d) trust, and (e) empowerment. Demographic data were also collected including (a) gender, (b) age, (c) education level, (d) organizational level, and (e) tenure. Multiple regression analysis indicated statistically significant support for all research hypotheses with no demographic covariates contributing significantly to the regression models. Results from ANOVA suggested some significant differences for (a) age, (b) organizational level, and (c) educational level but no significant differences for gender or tenure. Findings suggest that future servant leadership research should include communication as a primary topic and should develop a communication-based servant leadership instrument. Additionally, practitioners should focus on improving the attitudes and skills associated with listening and persuasion as a method for developing servant leaders.
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