Purpose The purpose of this study is two-fold. First, it systematically reviews and synthesizes research on servant leadership in management and hospitality management literature. Second, by reviewing and comparing the characteristics of the hospitality industry and servant leadership attributes, this study provides insights concerning the conceptualizations and theorization of servant leadership in hospitality management and discusses future research directions. Design/methodology/approach The current study reviewed 106 articles published during the period of 1970 to 2018 in hospitality management and broader management literature. Findings The characteristics of the hospitality industry and servant leadership attributes were found to be mutually inclusive, both consisting qualities such as trust, integrity, honesty, care, servant behavior, listening and community focus. Practical implications Scholars should concentrate on exploring what makes servant leaders unique in the hospitality industry. Originality/value The study reviews the hospitality characteristics, and servant leadership attributes offer new research avenues.

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