Just the servant: An intersectional critique of servant leadership

Helena Liu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Servant leadership offers a compelling ideal of self-sacrificing individuals who put the needs of others before their own and cultivate a culture of growth in their organisations. Although the theory’s attempts to emphasise the moral, emotional and relational dimensions of leadership are laudable, it has primarily assumed a decontextualised view of leadership untouched by power. This article aims to problematise servant leadership by undertaking an intersectional analysis of an Asian cis-male heterosexual senior manager in Australia. Through in-depth interviews with the manager and his staff, the article shows how his attempts to practice servant leadership were informed by intersecting power dynamics of race, gender, sexuality, age and class that subordinated him to white power. The findings demonstrate the ways servant leadership is necessarily embedded in wider power structures that shape who gets to be a “servant leader” and who remains merely a “servant”.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1099-1112
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number4
Early online date6 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes


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