RUI: Antecedents of Servant Leadership Experiences for Underrepresented Students

Project Details


This project will investigate the cognitive and developmental antecedents of servant leadership. The benefits of leading by serving the needs of others are well-known, especially in the context of organizational leadership. Yet, few studies have investigated predictors of servant leadership and none have investigated how leaders develop to think and behave in ways that create a cycle of servant leadership. Motivated by state-of-the-art leadership and cognitive psychology theories, this project will systematically investigate the antecedents of servant leadership. The project integrates established measures from organizational and cognitive psychology and tests how the following relate to one's practice as a servant leader: (1) Theory of Mind (i.e. one's understanding of the thoughts, emotions, and intentions of another), (2) ability to recognize (i.e., perceive and categorize) the essential characteristics of servant leadership, and (3) specific first-hand experience in serving and/or leading. This project will examine the nature of experiences that influence these factors. Specific aims include studying how Theory of Mind and leadership recognition affect leadership development to advance knowledge about how such cognitive and social processes interact and systematically capturing the antecedents of servant leader development to inform the practice of organizational servant leadership development, by clarifying how components of cognition, and specific experiences, play a role in leadership emergence. The proposed research is interdisciplinary, integrating cognitive and organizational psychology, building a bridge between areas of psychology that have traditionally been studied separately. This project promotes the involvement of a diverse set of students from underrepresented groups. Undergraduate students will be mentored through all aspects of the research by two faculty PIs (each with a different area of expertise – I/O and Cognitive Psychology), as well as a Faculty Associate (who has expertise in Human Development - character analysis, positive youth development, longitudinal design, and pathway modeling), thus offering students a unique exposure to interdisciplinary scientific research, with the goal of instilling in them an appreciation for scientific discovery. Data collection will involve a series of survey and other measures administered longitudinally to participants in the Benne Leadership program both during and after college graduation.

This award is funded in whole or in part under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (Public Law 117-2).

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date1/09/2131/08/24


  • National Science Foundation: $474,079.00


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