Perceived Organizational Support, Servant Leadership And Psychological Capacity Relationship


Servant leadership is one of the most prominent contemporary leadership styles famous for improving ethical culture in modern companies. Its contributions in promoting more morality-centered work atmospheres and more collaborative and harmonious organizations make many researchers focus their lenses on the subject. It is a special form of leadership that includes a specific focus on followers as well as all the other related stakeholders. It has a tendency to focus on others’ needs, with the goal of helping them grow and develop. In this study it is proposed that servant leadership style will be effective on psychological capacities of individuals and perceived organizational support will have a mediating effect in this relationship. To test propositions of this study, a field survey using questionnaires was conducted on 176 companies and we applied 815 usable surveys. The data obtained from the field study has been analysed by SPSS statistical packaged software. After analysing validities and reliabilities of the measures, a series of regression analysis was conducted to test the hypotheses. Results of the study confirmed the propositions regarding the relationships among the servant leadership, psychological capital and perceived organizational support. Findings of the study are consistent with the propositions that perceived organizational support acts as a mediator in the relationship between servant leadership and psychological capital.

Keywords: Servant leadershippsychological capacityperceived organizational supportpositive psychological behaviour


Servant leadership is a leadership style that is prominent with its service-focused, moral, follower-centric leadership style, and its holistic mindset (Sendjaya & Sarros, 2002). The servant leadership literature borrowed many concepts from different disciplines. With the help of servant leadership literature, many psychological and religious terms such as God, spirit, soul and self-awareness have been integrated into management literature (Page & Wong, 2000). Related literature associates servant leadership with leadership behaviour involving high levels of authenticity, care, accountability, empowerment, ethics, and even spirituality (Russell & Stone, 2002; Sendjaya, Sarros, & Santora, 2008). It is a unique and unselfish kind of leadership that is in congruent with positive organizational atmosphere and promotes flourishing of individuals. Greenleaf, creator of the term servant leadership, claims that servant-leader has the innate inclination to serve other people especially his followers (Greenleaf, 1977, p.13). They are compassionate and they often ignore hierarchical obsessions. They are different from self-serving leaders who serve others only when it is convenient or meaningful. That is to say, they willingly search for opportunities to serve their stakeholders independent of the terms (Sendjaya & Cooper, 2011). The most prominent feature of servant leaders is their credibility. They are ethical, impressive, open-minded and competent leaders and by this way they can gain trust of their followers (Kouzes & Posner, 2007). Servant leaders also ensure that their followers develop and succeed by providing opportunities to enhance their capabilities (Ehrhart, 2004). They tend to spend energy in order to increase capacities of their followers. With the aim of developing their followers, they invest in their education, training and growth. That is why servant leaders are effective in building psychological capacities of their followers. The Servant has no motive for acceptance and appreciation in the organization. Behind the request of the leader to serve others lies his inner motivation for supporting others, rather than providing individual benefits. That is why, under servant leadership perceptions of followers regarding organizational support is very important in increasing effects of servant leadership behaviour on the psychological capacities of followers.

Literature Review and Theoretical Framework

Servant Leadership

Servant-leadership is a novel kind of leadership encompassing both ethical and empowering dimensions. It is a consultative and relational kind of leadership often contributing to self -efficacies of followers. Servant leader is both an empowerer and developer that seeks opportunities for inspiring his followers towards their best. They have a natural inclination to support and inspire their followers (Winston, 2003). Servant leaders give priority to their followers. They tend to listen to their followers and they are often very empathetic. They are eager to help others. They willingly give importance to their follower’s progress, they are trustworthy and empowering (Burrell & Grizzall, 2010). Prominent attribute of servant leaders is portraying a resolute conviction in taking the role of a servant and melting servant hood and leadership in the same pot. With the help of their idiosyncratic attributes, they go beyond holding the inclination to serve others. Instead, they serve other parts by a spiritual insight and humility (Graham, 1991). That is why, power distance and status symbols as means of establishing distance between themselves and their followers are unimportant for them. They prefer to treat all stakeholders with radical equality, as equal partners to themselves. Therefore, they feel themselves accountable to third parts such as stockholders, clients, owners etc. (Page & Wong, 2000).

Unfortunately, it is often misunderstood by those who reject this leadership style as a proper type of leadership for attending organizational goals. Researchers that reject servant leaders’ congruence for sustainable and high performance organizations claim that overemphasis on followers and too much obsession regarding followers’ welfare may negatively effect performance of the overall organization. And may contribute to a caring ethical work climate (Deconinck & Deconinck, 2017). Under servant leadership, followers tend to reciprocate their leaders’ attitudes and behaviours by prosocial behaviours towards their leaders and other members of the organization (Ehrhart, 2004). Moreover, they are successful problem solvers and they are good at understanding what is happening within the organization, communicating ideas effectively (Page & Wong, 2000). Furthermore, servant leaders are important and credible role models for their followers and create a cycle of servanthood. That is why, under servant leadership, followers become aware of their leaders’ altruism (Brown,Trevino & Harrison, 2005) and in return, they reciprocate their leaders’ altruism with social exchange behavior in which followers prefer to pay back the service they obtain by mimicking servant leadership behaviour of their leaders (Blau, 1964).

Perceived Organizational Support

Perceived organizational support is a contextual resource that helps employees achieve their goals (Halbesleben & Wheeler, 2015). In other words, perceived organizational support is the extent to which individuals think that their organization cares about their well- being, give importance to them and appreciate their contributions to the work, and fulfil their socioemotional needs (Sihag & Sarikwal, 2015). It is one of the main concepts of positive organizational behavior concentrating on individuals’ strengths and virtues rather than dysfunctions and weaknesses, namely, focusing on positive sides of individuals (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).

In fact, organizational support theory claims that, attributing humanlike characteristics to organizations is the basis of organizational support perceptions of individuals (Eisenberger, Huntington, Hutchinson, & Sowa, 1986). Perceptions of employees regarding their organizations’ fair treatment and caring behaviour towards them, create a reciprocal relationship that contributes to increased commitment, and performance (Eisenberger, Stinglhamber, Vandenberghe, Sucharski, & Rhoades, 2001) and useful in meeting socioemotional needs of individuals (Chen, Eisenberger, Johnson, Sucharski, & Aselage, 2009). Moreover, according to perceived organizational support theory individuals act in accord with the norm of reciprocity, namely, they trade their effort and loyalty to their organization for perceived organizational support and its further benefits. Relying on the extant literature, it can be suggested that employees experiencing high levels of perceived organizational support tend to judge their jobs more favourably, experience increased job satisfaction, have better moods and lower stress levels, they tend to invest in the good of their organization more often (Rhoades & Eisenberger, 2002) and they are inclined to feel more confident, resilient, hopeful and optimistic. Moreover, in the psychology literature we come across the information that when employees perceive organizational support are less likely to experience anxiety and depression (Liu, Hu, Wang, Sui, & Ma, 2013).

Psychological Capital

Positive organizational behavior (Luthans, 2003; Luthans & Youssef, 2007) and psychological capital derived from it (Luthans, Luthans, & Luthans, 2004; Luthans, Avolio, Avey & Norman, 2007; Luthans & Youssef, 2004; Peterson, Walumbwa, Byron, & Myrowitz, (2009) can be considered as a projection of positive psychology (Sheldon & King, 2001; Snyder & Lopez, 2002). And it focuses mainly on strengths, health and vitality rather than weaknesses, illnesses and pathologies (Luthans, Avolio, Walumbwa, & Li, 2005). Psychological capital is a second order construct encompassing the four prominent state-like psychological capacities of positive organizational behaviour, namely; hope, optimism, resilience and self efficacy. These capacities are proper for being measured, developed, and effectively managed. They contribute to high performance, efficiency, job satisfaction, loyalty, commitment, and well-being in the organizational settings (Luthans, Avolio, Avey, & Norman, 2007). Psychological capital can be described as individuals’ positive psychological states of development and encompasses the dimensions of self efficacy, optimism, hope and resilience. Self efficacy, can be described as having confidence in succeeding at specific challenging tasks and, optimism, as having a positive state of mind that helps individuals to become successful now and in the future; hope, as having goals and planning alternative routes to reach these goals; and resilience as the tendency of individuals to sustain and bounce back and even go beyond to attain success when they face with problems and adversities (Luthans, Avolio, Avey, & Norman, 2007).

Luthans, Norman, Avolio, and Avey (2008) describe self efficacy as individuals’ confidence about their abilities to successfully execute a specific task in a specific context, namely, it is not a generalized conviction, it is about a specific task or responsibility. According to positive psychologists’ optimism is a state rather than a dispositional trait that involves an objective assessment of what can be accomplished in a specific situation (Peterson, 2000) and it is based on detailed and realistic assessments. Furthermore, in clinical and positive psychology hope is described as a construct encompassing (1) agency, a kind of goal directed energy and (2) pathways, namely, the alternative ways and plans to meet goals) (Snyder et al., 1996). In this context, agency involves the motivation to succeed at a given task. And lastly, resilience can be described as positive coping in the face of adversities (Masten, 2001). Regarding business life, it can be designated as ‘the positive capital capacity to rebound and bounce back from problems, shocks, adversities, conflict, failures and even including positive shocks (Luthans, 2002a). As a second order construct, these four dimensions together explains who you are’’ and ‘‘what you can become in terms of positive development (Peterson, Luthans, Avolio, Walumbwa, & Zhang, 2011). These four capacities lie on a trait-state continuum and synergic effect of these four capacities can be accepted as a higher order core construct in which organizations can invest. And by this way, organizations can develop in their employees in order to attain sustained growth and success (Luthans, Avey, & Patera, 2008).


As it is mentioned before, the focus of servant leadership theory is prioritization of follower’s interests (Joseph & Winston, 2005). According to the extant literature, the type of relationship between servant leader and his followers is a covenant-based relationship. That is to say, there is a significant personal bond involving shared values, commitment, trust, and concern that cannot be broken easily and result in positive feelings including organizational support perceptions. On the one hand, perceived organizational support encompasses feelings of employees regarding their organization’s caring behaviour about their well-being, interests, values, accomplishments. And beliefs of employees regarding their organizations’ tendency to assist their development and needs (Eisenberger, et al., 2001).

According to extant literature, servant leader is distinguishable due to the fact that he is a caring leader and for him serving followers is the highest priority (Greenleaf, Covey, & Senge, 2002).That is why, servant leadership-related interactions between managers and subordinates have the capacity to increase perceptions of individuals regarding organizational support (Baranik, Roling, & Eby, 2010). In servant leadership, extended support provided to followers go beyond formal employment relationships owing to trusting and caring relationships (Dannhauser & Boshoff, 2006) gives way to high levels of perceived organizational support.

Related literature confirms that employees that participate in developmental activities are more likely to feel supported (Kraimer, Seibert, Wayne, Liden, & Bravo, 2011). Empowerment is one of the main characteristics of servant leadership (Russell & Stone, 2002), but it is not the ultimate purpose for attaining financial goals. It gives equal importance to the success of individuals within the organization as well as attaining organizational goals (Sendjaya & Cooper, 2011).

By the same token, Liden, Wayne, and Meuser (2015) suggested that caring leadership style of servant leaders and their supportive attitude towards their followers that extends beyond the formal usual employment relationship create a kind of benevolent dependency between the parts and effects perceptions regarding organizational support. Although scarce in numbers, there are studies in the related literature on the above mentioned relationship. For example; In DeConinck and Deconinck’s study (2017) the effect of servant leadership on perceived organizational support of sales people have been investigated. And the study was applied to 385 people and results showed that servant leadership has a direct relationship with salespersons’ level of perceived organizational support. By the same token Rhoades and Eisenberger (2002) made a meta-analysis on perceived organizational support and they found that perceived supervisor support is highly correlated with perceived organizational support. And further research on perceived organizational support confirmed that immediate supervisors has the power to change employees’ perceptions of organizational support (Eisenberger et. al., 2002). Considering all those studies, in this model we proposed that servant leadership may have a meaningful effect on perceived organizational support, thus we proposed that:

H1: There is a meaningful relationship between servant leadership and perceived organizational support.

As mentioned before, servant leadership can be considered as one of the most positive forms of leadership, that emphasizes service, development of followers, ethics, and altruism, namely fosters positivity in organizational atmospheres (Barbuto and Wheeler, 2006; Newman, et. al., 2017, Sousa and Van Dierendonck, 2017, Sendjaya et. al, 2008, Van Dierendonck, 2011), and servant leadership contributes to many of the positive behavioural outcomes studied in the psychological literature (Lopez & Snyder, 2003), that is why we suggested that it may have a positive effect on positive psychological capacities of individuals that can be enhanced by positive forms of leadership (Luthans, et. al. 2005). Servant leaders’ desire for positive development in individuals, their capability to ability to enhance spiritual recovery from hardships (Barbuto & Wheeler, 2006), their wisdom that comforts their followers (Bierly et. al., 2000), their stewardship behaviour that prepare their followers to make a positive change in their organization and society (Barbuto & Wheeler, 2006) and their contribution to intellectual, and moral development of followers (Graham, 1991) strengthened our conviction regarding positive effect of servant leadership on psychological capacities of followers. Since positive psychological capacities can be developed by supportive, caring, and challenging environment created by servant leadership we hypothesized that:

H2: There is a meaningful relationship between servant leadership and psychological capacities of employees.

Moreover, in this study the relationship between organizational support and follower psychological capacities have been examined. Nigah, Neelam, Davis, & Hurrell (2012) suggest that supportive organizational work atmospheres may play an important role in the development of employees’ personal psychological resources. According to Luthans, Luthans, & Luthans, (2004) social persuasion, a kind of social support that positively effects psychological capital provides employees with objective information, and by encouraging them to attain their goals, organizations help their employees increase their psychological capacities. Employees that experience perceived organization support in their organizations may be more likely to experience higher levels of PsyCap (Luthans, Norman, Avolio, & Avey 2018; Tian & Xie, 2010), support leads to an increase in employees’ skills and competencies (Kozlowski & Farr, 1988). Although scarce in numbers in the extant literature there are some empirical studies focusing on the relationship between supportive organizational climate and psychological capacities of individuals. For example; Nielson et. al., 2017 investigated the influence of support on psychological capital of individuals and applied a study on postgraduate business students and wanted to see whether the instructor support and family support has an effect on psychological capital (PsyCap). Results confirmed the proposed effect of instructor and family support on psychological capacities and the study also showed that PsyCap mediates the relationship between perceived instructor & family support and well-being of students. Inspired by the extant literature we proposed that servant leadership’s persuasive and supportive leadership behaviours may increase followers’ psychological capacities. Thus we suggested that:

H3: There is a meaningful relationship between perceived organizational support and psychological capacities of employees

Moreover, although in the literature there is not any previous study related to the the mediator effect of organizational support perceptions of employees in the relationship between servant leadership behavior and psychological capital of individuals, we suggested that perceived organizational support may act as a mediator in the above mentioned relationship. So we hypothesized that:

H4: Perceived organizational support acts as a mediator in the relationship between servant leadership and psychological capacities of employees

Research model regarding this study has been shown in the following in Figure 1 .

Figure 1: Research Model
Research Model
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Research Method

Sample and Data Collection

Within this research, 815 valid questionnaires were obtained from 176 different companies from manufacturing and service operations. Of the respondents who completed our survey, 5.6% were in the public sector and 94.4% were in the private sector. 26.2% of them were senior executives, 16.1% were middle managers, 42.4% were subordinate managers. And 34.9% of the applicants were male and % 64.8 were female. When the education levels were examined, we can see that 7.9% of the applicants are high school school graduates, 4.8% are vocational school graduates, 58.9% are university graduates and 28.4% have postgraduate education.

Measurement and Sample

In this study, in order to measure psychological capital, Luthans et al.’s, (2007) 24-item scale that involves four main dimensions of psychological capital, namely, hope, optimism, resiliency and, self-efficacy has been used. And perceived organizational support has been measured by Eisenberger et al.’s (1986) one dimension (with 10 items) Perceived Organizational Scale. And 23 item-5 dimension servant leadership scale of Barbuto and Wheeler (2006) has been used in order to measure servant leadership behavior.

The data obtained from the study were analyzed in the SPSS package program and subjected to factor analysis, reliability analysis (Cronbach alpha), regression and correlation analysis. The data are handled in terms of descriptive and inferential statistics. For this reason, frequency distributions of demographic questions are considered and the meaningful data are evaluated. Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin Measure of Sampling Adequacy analysis was conducted to test whether the data from the study sample were sufficient. The sufficiency coefficient of the sample was found to be 0,961.

Furthermore, Principal Component Analysis has been conducted and results of the factor analysis are given below in Table 1 .

Table 1 -
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In order to analyze how and to what extent servant leadership, perceived organizational support and psychological capital influence each other factor analysis and correlation analysis has been conducted. Results of factor analysis pointed out 47 variables gathered under 9 basic factor components. Related cronbach alfa values, pearson correlation coefficients, means, standard deviation and correlation analysis results of the variables are given in Table-3.

The correlation coefficients given in Table 2 can also be used to test the hypotheses of the model due to the fact that the coefficients of the individual correlations, in fact denote the same meaning as the simple regression between the two variables. In this context, it can be argued that there is a positive significant relationship between the two factors for each relationship as shown Table-2 (ρ <0.01, ρ <0.05 level).When we examined our research model, we found a relationship between all of our factors. The results of the correlation analysis show that our hypotheses H1, H2, H3 can be accepted.

Table 2 -
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The regression coefficient obtained as a result of the regression analysis shows how the independent variable (s) influence the dependent variable. The independent variable (s) is affected by the dependent variable by each unit of variation in the regression coefficient. Beta coefficient symbolizes the standardized regression coefficient. As a result of the regression analyses H1 hypothesis was accepted. The model as seen in Table-4 is significant in F = 123,45 p = 0,000 level. The explanatory rate of independent variables is R2 = 0.429. Namely, servant leadership factors, affects perceived organizational support in the positive direction.

According to the results of the regression analysis of the obtained data, there found to be a positive relationship between servant leadership's emotional healing, sacrifice, persuasion ability and organizational service dimensions and perceived organizational support. There was no relationship between the wisdom dimension of the servant leader and perceived organizational support. The significance level of the relationship and the percentage of disclosure are as shown in Table 3 .

Table 3 -
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Results of the regression analyses also proved significant relationships between the sub dimensions of servant leadership-wisdom, emotional healing, altruism, persuasive mapping and servanthood and psychological capacities of followers. The level of significance of the relationships and the percentage of relevance are shown in Table 4 .

Table 4 -
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As a result of the related analysis H2 Hypothesis has been accepted. As seen in Table 4 model is quiet meaningful. Furthermore, in Table 5 details regarding the relationship between perceived organizational support and psychological capacity can be found. According to relevant regression model a positive and significant relationship between these two variables can be seen.

Table 5 -
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In order to test the fourth hypothesis, namely, to see whether perceived organizational support act as a mediator between servant leadership and psychological capacity, a detailed regression analysis has been conducted. In order to measure this relationship, each dimension under psychological capacity have been analysed separately. These relationships are shown in Table 6 . According to the results of related regression analysis perceived organizational support acts as a mediator in the relationship between servant leadership and psychological capacity. The method developed by Baron and Kenny (1986) was used to test our hypothesis and to be able to see mediating effects. Perceived organizational support has found to have a partial effect as a mediator variable between servant leadership and psychological capacities of followers. Thus H4 is accepted.

Table 6 -
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Conclusion and Discussions

This study, conducted on banking sector in Turkey, in İstanbul province, highlighted the relationship among servant leadership style, perceived organizational support felt by followers and psychological capacities of followers. The most prominent result that can be deduced from this study is that, servant leadership is effective on both psychological capacities and organizational support perceptions of individuals and perceived organizational support acts as a partial mediator in the relationship between servant leadership behaviour of the leader and psychological capacities of followers. Results reveal that that positive and empowering leadership style of servant leadership touches emotions and perceptions of followers and encourages them to be more proactive and resilient in business life. And empowering leadership style of servant leaders is highly effective in this function. Especially, servanthood dimension of servant leadership behaviour has found to be the most decisive dimension on psychological capacities of individuals. Even though, there are so many studies focusing the authentic leadership- psychological capacity relation in the literature (Jensen & Luthans 2006; Rego, Sousa, Marques & e Cunha, 2012, Wang, Sui, Luthans, Wang & Wu, 2014), effects of servant leadership and mediator effect of perceived organizational support in the relationship between servant leadership and psychological capacity is examined and confirmed for the first time through this study, which makes it an important contribution to the related literature. This work proves that the through their supportive tendencies servant leaders show the inclination to develop and empower their employees. Namely, their follower- focused leadership behavior positively effect followers’ psychological strengths. Confidence in the good will of the leader leads the employee to be more hopeful, more optimistic, more flexible and more self-reliant.

However, this survey is conducted on only banking sector; that is why findings of the study may not be valid to all types of sectors and organizations. Thus, in further studies researches can test the same model in other sectors or even in in different countries in order to ensure generalizability of the results.


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28 January 2019

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Baykal, E., & Zehir, C. (2019). Perceived Organizational Support, Servant Leadership And Psychological Capacity Relationship. In M. Özşahin, & T. Hıdırlar (Eds.), New Challenges in Leadership and Technology Management, vol 54. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 739-753). Future Academy.