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CEO Servant Leadership: Exploring Executive Characteristics and Firm Performance


  • We thank Blake Ashforth, David Waldman, Fred Walumbwa, and Zhen Zhang for their helpful comments on an earlier version of the paper.

Suzanne J. Peterson, Department of Management, W.P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University, P.O. Box 874006, Tempe, AZ 85287-4006;


This study offers an examination of the relationships between chief executive officer (CEO) servant leadership, the executive characteristics of narcissism, founder status, and organizational identification, and firm performance in a sample of 126 CEOs in technology organizations. Analysis of data gathered over multiple periods revealed a negative relationship between CEO narcissism and servant leadership, and a positive relationship between founder status (i.e., founder or nonfounder) and servant leadership. Furthermore, CEO organizational identification served as a partial mediating mechanism linking narcissism and founder status to servant leadership. In turn, CEO servant leadership predicted subsequent firm performance (measured as return on assets). The results of this study have implications for researchers interested in better understanding the predictors and consequences of servant leadership and for practitioners concerned with combating negative or selfish executive leadership behaviors and employing servant leadership for the organization's benefit.

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