Ethical, Authentic, Servant Leadership: Going Beyond Transformational Leadership

Ethical, Authentic, Servant Leadership: Going Beyond Transformational Leadership

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Ethical, Authentic, Servant Leadership: Going Beyond Transformational Leadership


Transformational leadership: The concept refers to a leadership approach where leaders and managers motivate, inspire and encourage workers to innovate and induce change that grows and shapes the organization’s future success.


The article compares three types of transformational leadership styles: authentic, servant, and ethical. With over ten years of experience researching and teaching about leadership at California State University, Hoch, Bommer, Dulebohn, and Wu (2018) carried out a metadata analysis of literature on transformational leadership to conclude servant leadership shows the highest degree of distinctiveness and effectiveness in shaping employee perceptions, attitudes and behaviours. The authors claim the three different types of transformational leadership have different criterion measures. Therefore, they are not applied similarly and do not result in the same results. The outcome of the metadata analysis highlights the importance of integrating moral dimensions in leadership when seeking to influence followers.


            The two articles identify gaps in antecedent conceptualizations of transformational leadership, including its components and application. According to Paula (2020), conventional transformational leadership focuses on using instructions to support employee orientation. Leaders would focus on having clear and visible messages and conduct to cause effects on worker performance and behaviour. The approach effectively enhanced employee learning, but literature shows it was not associated with sustainable change. Out of 177 schools assessed in an observational study, instructional monitoring was insufficient in inducing permanent positive gains in academic and behavioural outcomes (Paula, 2020). Conventional transformational leadership is presented as a necessary condition for behavioural change but ineffective in influencing the extent of the behavioural changes. Paula’s criticism of instructional leadership aligns with Hoch et al.’s (2018) criticism of traditional leadership models for failing to integrate moral dimensions in transformational leadership. The gap renders traditional leadership unable to consider the overlap of different ethical measures in the adoption of transformational leadership.

Adding new moral dimensions to transformational leadership increases its correlation with emerging forms of leadership. Contemporary management acknowledges the diversity of moral dilemmas, hence the specificity of leadership styles. While authentic, servant and ethical leadership fall under transformational leadership, the moral situation determines their utility and effectiveness (Hoch et al. 2018). Servant leadership is the only one of the three that supports non-redundancy because all actions are based on service. Acting in service of others constantly inspires and motivates others into action despite the type of moral dilemma. Therefore, if a leader cannot determine the best type of transformational leadership style to apply to a problem, servant leadership offers a universal solution. The findings support the common belief that leaders need to be doers instead of talkers. It can be argued that service is the moral dimension that needs to be integrated into transformational leadership to enhance its effectiveness.

Biblical Integration

At its core, leadership is a practice of influence. The book of Proverbs (27: 17) states, “iron sharpens iron, and another man sharpens another.” The verse teaches the virtues of servant leadership, where the leader acknowledges that the world (organization) does not revolve around them. Instead, it is an opportunity to serve, counsel and interact with employees within the context of the organization. Hoch et al. (2018) mirror the verse in their emphasis on nurturing the leader-employee relationship for greater influence. Therefore, leaders must look beyond the boundaries of their offices and seek to transform others through servitude. Working with employees in diverse settings can prove to be more sustainable than using instructions or struggling to remain authentic.


Hoch, J., Bommer, W., Dulebohn, J. & Wu, D. (2016). Do ethical, authentic, and servant leadership explain variance above and beyond transformational leadership? A meta-analysis. Journal of Management, 20(10), 1-30. DOI: 10.1177/0149206316665461

Paula, K. (2020). Is transformational leadership theory passé? Revisiting the integrative effect of instructional leadership and transformational leadership on student outcomes. Educational Administration Quarterly, 56(2).

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