Serving while being energized (strained)? A dual-path model linking servant leadership to leader psychological strain and job performance

Fuli LI, Tingting CHEN, Yun BAI*, Robert C. LIDEN, Man-Nok WONG, Yan QIAO

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Drawing on demands–resources theory, we develop and test a dual-path model to unpack the energizing and draining mechanisms, captured by leader need satisfaction and role conflict, through which servant leadership affects leader psychological strain and job performance.We further identify leader–leader exchange (LLX) as a critical resource moderator that can strengthen the energizing benefit and buffer against the draining cost of servant leadership behaviors. Using five-wave, multisource field data from 474 team leaders, 3,712 followers, and 97 superior leaders, we find support for the energizing benefit, in that servant leadership satisfied leader psychological needs, which subsequently reduced leader psychological strain. This energizing benefit was stronger when LLX was higher. In parallel, servant leaders experienced role conflict, which subsequently increased their psychological strain and deteriorated their job performance when LLX was lower. Overall, our research contributes to a fine-grained understanding of the double-edged effects of servant leadership on leaders and sheds light on how and when leaders can benefit from practicing servant leadership.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)660-675
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number4
Early online date15 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a grant from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant 71872143) and an MOE (Ministry of Education in China) Research Planning Foundation Project of Humanities and Social Sciences (Grant 18YJA630050) awarded to Fuli Li; a grant from General Research Fund (GRF), Research Grants Council of Hong Kong (Grant LU13500119) and a grant from Lingnan University, Hong Kong (Grant DR19A3) awarded to Tingting Chen; and a grant from National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant 72102081) awarded to Yun Bai. The authors are grateful for valuable comments and suggestions from Xu Huang. The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest to disclose

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 American Psychological Association


  • servant
  • leadership
  • role conflict
  • need satisfaction
  • psychological strain
  • leader-leader exchange (LLX)
  • Role conflict
  • Servant leadership
  • Leader–leader exchange (llx)
  • Need satisfaction
  • Psychological strain


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