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Introduction

by Patricia Marlette Black BA, MEd.

from Women’s Leadership in Community-Profit Organisations,
Doctoral Thesis , Queensland University of Technology, 1999, pp. 1-23.
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions

1.1 Background to the Research

I have been challenged and confronted by leadership questions for most of my life - as a child whose father was absent much of the time because of positions of responsibility held in his company; as a student, mesmerised by the power of the petite woman who was principal of the school; as a young woman who found herself in leadership positions, keen to implement new theories and to be as creative and collaborative as possible; as the principal of a high school and member of the leadership team of a religious congregation of women where attempts at collaborative leadership were often met with resistance and an unwillingness to disturb the security of bureaucratic inertia; as an employee of an organisation where the leaders operated as an autocratic elite despite an organisational rhetoric which extolled collaboration and shared responsibility. My personal experience and reflective reading suggest that there is a new, emerging understanding of reality that demands a new understanding and practice of leadership; and yet it seems that new understandings are seen by many as a threat to be resisted. The research problem that captured my interest, therefore, is to what extent does women’s leadership in community-profit organisations exhibit new understandings and practices of leadership which are consonant with distinctive features of an emerging holistic world view and which have the potential to provide a creative response to discontinuous change?

There is an increasing interest in leadership in Western societies (Peters 1987; Bass 1990a; Gardner 1990; Nanus 1992; Moore 1996; Pinchot 1996; White, Hodgson & Crainer 1996; Townsend & Gebhardt 1997). Although behavioural scientists have accumulated a superabundance of empirical data on the topic, many theorists agree that understandings of leadership remain disintegrated and bewildering (Stogdill 1974, p. vii; Burns 1978, p. 2; Jago 1982, p. 315; Rost 1993, p. 5).

The increased interest in leadership in the past decade -witness the proliferation of books and journal articles on the topic - is perhaps a result of this bewilderment, as well as a sign of the erosion of confidence in the ability of traditional leaders to manage the growing levels of complexity in society so as to create a more humane and productive social order. Perhaps, too, as people in postmodern times experience their lives as teetering on the critical edge of political, social and economic extinction there is both a demand that ‘somebody be prescient enough to guide us’ and an understanding of leadership as ‘a deep desire to be both in control of our circumstances and to alter them for the better’ (Foster 1989, p. 39). Gemmill and Oakley (1992) go so far as to describe the fascination with the topic of leadership as the result of a sense of social despair and massive learned helplessness stemming from the social myth about the need for great leaders, a myth which causes a social lobotomisation that keeps non-leaders in a state of lifeless dependence. Block (1996, p. 14) concurs with this opinion when he describes the wish for leadership in part as our wish to rediscover hope, a hope that resides in those with power.

This chapter identifies three overlapping contexts which impact on the exploration of the concept of leadership which is at the heart of the research problem: the contemporary context, characterised by discontinuous change, the most dominant characteristic of Western societies; the historical/cultural context, a major paradigm shift which profoundly impacts long-term social, political, economic and intellectual developments within the contemporary context; and the organisational context, describing the nonprofit sector as the particular organisational environment in which this research is carried out.

Discontinuous Change: The Contemporary Context of Leadership

While theorists and researchers have been unable to come to a common understanding of what leadership is, there is almost unanimous agreement in the recent literature on leadership and management that the contemporary context of leadership is discontinuous change (Peters 1987; Handy 1989; Dunphy & Stace 1992; Limerick & Cunnington 1993; Hames 1994; Reger, Mullane, Gustafson & DeMarie 1994b; O’Toole 1995; Waitley 1995; James 1996; Nevis, Lancourt & Vassallo 1996; Ashkenas 1997; Harmon 1997; Kanter 1997; Prahalad 1997; Somerville & Mroz 1997). During the last twenty years there have been numerous descriptions of and explanations for the unprecedented changes that have faced Western society in the last decades of the twentieth century. Characteristics of discontinuous change highlighted in these descriptions include increasing diversity and decentralisation (Toffler 1981), the move from representative to participatory democracy (Naisbitt 1982), social disruption, escalating violence, the threat to the global ecosystem and an increasing sense of alienation among many of those who are marginalised by society (Capra 1982). Discontinuous change is also reflected in a global economic system characterised by the separation of primary products from the industrial economy, the emergence of a symbol economy based on capital movements and credit flow, the geographic restructuring of the economy to emphasise Asia and the Pacific, and fierce competition (Drucker 1986; Dunphy & Stace 1992; Schmidheiny 1992). The effects of absorbing a rate and degree of discontinuity that previous generations could not even begin to imagine has meant ‘uncertainty, new technologies, new kinds of skills, workers and organisations, competition from the least expected quarter, corporate collapse and extraordinary economic circumstances’ (Hames 1994, p. 34). Technological discontinuity, social disruption and economic turbulence are common themes in any discussion of the context of leadership in contemporary times.

Some of the images used to describe leadership today reflect the turbulence and uncertainty of discontinuous change. Leadership involves managing organisations in a state of permanent white water (Vaill 1989; White, Hodgson & Crainer 1996). Hames (1994, p. 8) uses the image of bungee-jumping to describe dealing with the changes we are facing - they are frightening, painful, frustrating or even enigmatic. Leaders must deal proactively with an environment that is nothing short of chaotic (Peters 1987). Ornstein and Ehrlich (1989, pp. 8-9) indicate the scope and significance of the challenge facing leaders in this era of discontinuous change:

The world that made us is now gone, and the world we made is a new world, one that we have little capacity to comprehend. The old world for which our perceptual systems were designed was one where the overall environment was a relatively stable, limited one in which threats were signalled by short-term changes and action was usually required immediately...Human beings, however, have changed the world more in the last ten thousand years than their ancestors did in the preceding four million.

Because leadership is always shaped by the environment in which it is exercised, the way in which the dramatic changes taking place in contemporary society are understood will determine the way in which leadership is understood and exercised. Before the 1970s the common understanding of change was that it was intrinsic, continuous and occurred gradually within the context of stable structures. Organisations grew at an incremental pace to respond to the incremental growth of the external environment. Leadership involved maintaining organisational order and equilibrium with the external environment. Organisations had a tendency to do what they knew best, and change involved doing that better or doing more of it.

During the volatile 1980s it became apparent that incremental changes were not providing solutions to many of the problems faced by organisations operating in an environment of discontinuous change. Change has come to be understood as punctuated equilibrium, ‘as a rare discontinuous event interspersed with relatively long periods of structural stability’ (Limerick & Cunnington 1993, p. 167); as tectonic change, ‘change that is large enough to overcome the inertia that plagues large organisations while avoiding the cataclysmic side effects of massive revolutions’ (Reger et al. 1994b, p. 38); as ‘continuous improvement that is revolutionary in its scope’ (Stace & Dunphy 1994, p. 16). An organisation is facing discontinuous change when its past does not prepare it for the future (Ansoff 1988, p. 92; Limerick & Cunnington 1993, pp. 13, 14, 50). Whether change is understood as discontinuity, radical transformation, tectonic change, or punctuated equilibrium there is no doubt that organisations, communities and their leaders are confronted with not only an increasing rate of change but with a new kind of change never before experienced in Western society.

A Paradigm Shift: The Historical/Cultural Context of Leadership

There is a growing realisation among many theorists, in both scientific and cultural disciplines, that this new kind of change is the inevitable result of a profound cultural transformation caused by a radical paradigm shift. The wider context which influences the understanding and practice of leadership at the present time is the shifting understanding of social, cultural, political and intellectual realities that comprise this paradigm shift.

The word paradigm comes from the Greek word paradigma, ‘pattern’ or ‘framework’. The concept of paradigm shift was first discussed in detail by Kuhn in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970). Kuhn defined a scientific paradigm as a framework of thought in which certain aspects of reality could be understood and explained. This framework is ‘an entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques and so on, shared by the members of a given community’ and used by that community to identify problems and derive solutions (Kuhn 1970, p. 175). The concept has also been used in the sociological community to refer to ‘a world view or general perspective’ (Sarantokos 1993, p. 30) and in the academic community to refer to ‘a loose collection of logically-held together assumptions, concepts or propositions that orient thinking and research’ (Bogdan & Biklen 1982, p. 30). Many writers on contemporary culture use the term to refer to the way people of a certain period of history conceptualise life as a whole - their overall way of looking at life, or their mindset (Winter 1981; Birch 1990b; Barker 1992; Starratt 1993; Nevis, Lancourt & Vassallo 1996; Wheatley 1998).

Paradigms are characterised by three important elements - they are inherently self-perpetuating; they are emotional as well as intellectual constructs; they are shared constructs, and hence enforced in and by a community (Nevis, Lancourt & Vassallo 1996, p.11). Paradigm shifts occur when problems or anomalies emerge in the dominant paradigm. Usually the paradigm shift is resisted out of the conviction that the anomalies can be incorporated into the paradigm. There comes a time, however, when people realise that there are limitations in the paradigm itself, not just in its dysfunctional parts, and the paradigm eventually changes because of these limitations. A paradigm shift is born from the old paradigm; in a paradigm shift the same bundle of information is being handled, but it is placed in a different system of relations and given a new framework for interpretation (Kung 1980).

The distinctively new way of seeing the world and its problems is not slowly and painstakingly figured out through the use of deductive reasoning. It is suddenly seen and arises as ‘a type of quantum leap in human understanding’ (Ramey 1991, p. x). In describing evolutionary change, biologists and evolutionary theorists say that there are relative periods of stability where nothing much happens and then all of a sudden a number of things happen at once. It is these periods of creative expansion that are the paradigm shifts (Montuori & Conti 1993, p. 173). Once a sufficient number of people have gone through a transformation of consciousness about how they view the world, then the change in world view happens quite dramatically. Kung (1991, p. 143) states that:

what is decisive for the replacement of a paradigm is the breakthrough of many individual innovative signals of the past (in pioneering thinkers, critical groups of all kinds which are before their time ...), so that it becomes an overall trend which is perceived by the broader masses.

Such a shift tends to be manifested more as a diffuse sentiment or a vague certainty that the survival of humankind demands a reexamination of the values, assumptions and techniques of the present time. In Western society today, the radical questioning of individualism, of capitalism, of the world of privilege based on a Western, colonial, white, male hegemony is a sign that our present conceptual models have outlived their usefulness, and that there is a need to reexamine the premises on which Western culture is based (Merchant 1980; Capra 1982; Birch 1990b; Starratt 1993; Blank 1995). This radical questioning is rendering our present systems and understandings unstable, and the potential for transformation is present at certain bifurcation points where systems and ways of viewing reality can choose between or among more than one possible future. Fluctuations localised in small parts of the system may exceed a threshold and spread to the whole system (Prigogine & Stengers 1984, pp. 169-170; Eisler 1990, p. 136; Colins and Chippendale 1995, p. 201).

A cultural transformation of the size of this paradigm shift ‘must naturally be accompanied by a profound modification of most social relationships and forms of social organization’ (Capra 1982, p. 15). Leadership is at the heart of such ‘modifications’, and the quality of leadership is a major determinant of the outcome of the cataclysmic bifurcation at the heart of this paradigm shift (Colins & Chippendale 1995, p. 194). The way in which leadership is exercised in organisations, communities and countries both affects and reflects what society is becoming in this period of transformation.

This research explores whether the exercise of women’s leadership in community-profit organisations is perhaps acting as what mathematicians call a ‘strange’ or ‘periodic’ attractor (Eisler 1990, p. 136; Wheatley 1992, pp. 75-99; Colins & Chippendale 1995, pp. 176-201; Covey 1998, p. xii) which, acting in a far-from-equilibrium state, unpredictably could become a nuclei for the buildup of a new system. Clegg (1990, p. 20) emphasises the difficulty involved in recognising potential new systems because of a state of ‘theory-dependence’ to which we succumb, a state of mind in which we will only ever see what our theories enable us to focus upon, for ‘all ways of seeing are simultaneously ways of not seeing’.

Paradigm change is not simply ‘a quick shift in the wind’; it is, rather, ‘a permanent change in global weather conditions’ (Grillo 1994, p. 45). If organisations, communities and their leaders are to have the internal motivation and the external competency to ‘create a better world, not just build a better mousetrap’ (Ramey 1991, p. 10), then change must be understood as a change in cultural consciousness, a change in world view, a changing ‘window on the world’ (Hames 1994, p. 146). Chapter 2 more fully explores the paradigm shift from a mechanistic to a holistic world view as the historical/cultural context for leadership. In Chapter 2 the main ‘ways of seeing’ within the mechanistic and the holistic world views are described as the theoretical framework for differing understandings of leadership in these two world views.

Nonprofit Orgnisations: The Organisational Context of Leadeship

The third overlapping context which impacts on the understanding of leadership at the heart of the research problem is that of the nonprofit sector which is the organisational context for leadership in this research. The nonprofit sector is one of four sectors which comprise the socioeconomic arena in Western society - the private sector, the public sector, the third sector and a fourth sector, the household or informal sector (Van Til 1988; Lohmann 1992). The third sector - variously termed the nonprofit, voluntary, independent, charitable, non-government or tax-exempt sector or the commons - has come to be accepted as occupying a distinct social space outside of both the market and the state. Recently the concept of civil society has been used to describe the distinct sphere of social interaction between the market and the state (Smith 1994; Cox 1995).

There are a variety of descriptions of the nonprofit sector. According to O’Neill (1994, p. 3) the sector consists of:

incorporated nongovernment organizations granted tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service and usually state agencies. These include both charitable, or public benefit, organizations such as social service groups, churches, arts organizations, environmental and other advocacy efforts and “mutual benefit” nonprofits such as fraternal organisations, social clubs, political parties, and professional associations. ... The definition does not include - but one should not forget - the many unincorporated associations such as self-help groups, the activities of which parallel those of nonprofit sector organisations.

Lohmann (1995, p. 28) identifies voluntary action and philanthropy as the essential characteristics of nonprofit organisation and he finds these characteristics in:

the clubs, mutual aid societies, neighborhood associations, community churches, and other commons displaying uncoerced participation, shared purposes and resources, mutuality, and indigenous standards of fairness, rather than in the giant foundations, national oligarchies, and quasicommercial nonprofit firms that so often position themselves to speak in the name of the contemporary third sector.

Nonprofit organisations are also described as human-change agencies which, free from political and economic mandates, exist to bring about change in individuals and society (O’Neill 1989; Drucker 1990). There is also a range of legal definitions (for example, Hansmann’s [1987] nondistribution constraint definition), economic/financial definitions (for example, the UN System of National Accounts) and functional definitions (for example, the service and social change definition of McCarthy, Hodgkinson and Sumariwalla 1992) to describe the nonprofit sector.

The ‘terminological tangle’ (Salamon & Anheier 1992a, p. 132) and diversity of definitions is reflected in the variety of attempts to derive an appropriate classification scheme for nonprofit organisations, whether they are classified by the nature of the market, the nature of the product or service, the type of mission, their economic impact, or their tax exemption status (for example, Anthony & Young 1984; Van Til 1988; Salamon & Anheier 1992a; the IRS classification scheme; the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities). For the purposes of this research, the definition of the nonprofit sector developed by Salamon and Anheier (1992a) and the International Classification of Nonprofit Organisations (ICNPO) developed by Salamon & Anheir (1992b) have been adopted. They define the nonprofit sector as a collection of organisations that are formal, that is, institutionalised to some extent; private, that is, institutionally separate from government although they may be supported by it and may even be at its service; non-profit distributing, that is, not returning profits generated to their owners or directors; self-governing, that is, equipped to control their own activities and voluntary, that is, involving some meaningful degree of voluntary participation, either actual conduct of the agency’s activities or in the management of its affairs (Salamon and Anheier 1992a, p. 135). This definition does not emphasise the purpose of a nonprofit organisation or its sources of income. It is, rather, a structural/operational definition.

As is the case with most definitions it has limitations. It reflects foundational third sector theory which ‘depends on identifying dimensions of society based on the definition of formal organisational sectors, on the assumption of public/private domains, or on liberal notions of the private individual in contrast to the state’ (Nyland 1995, p. 43). This theory poses certain problems for feminists because of the emphasis on liberalism which denies social construction and power relations and because of the public/private domain divisions which marginalise women. These feminist concerns would not be fully addressed by adopting another theory such as Lohmann’s (1992) theory of the Commons, although the adoption of the Commons definition would certainly break down the public/private dichotomy. Despite this concern and the disadvantages of the definition highlighted by Salamon and Anheier (1992a, pp. 136-140) in terms of their criteria of economy, significance and predictive powers this definition offers a workable, comprehensive and, given the wide range of nonprofit organisations in an international social terrain, cross-national approach to defining the nonprofit sector. The cross-national aspect of the definition adopted for this research is particularly important as the majority of theory and research in the nonprofit sector has, to date, come out of an American context which is not always compatible with an Australian context. This researcher concurs with Salamon and Anheier that ‘although more elegant, more rigorous, or more economical definitions may ultimately be found, we consider this one a useful foundation on which to build serious thinking and research’ (1992a, p. 149).

Little research on leadership has been situated in the nonprofit sector (Brudney & Durden 1993; Smith 1994). In the eyes of many corporate and government managers and management scholars ‘the voluntary sector often appears to be a poor and weak sister’ whose administrators are treated with the same combination of ‘charity, pity and patronizing [that] we lavish on our unfortunate kin’ (Van Til 1988, p. 174). For example, Hall (1995, p. 11) criticises much of the nonprofit research and the nonprofit researchers who ‘continue to churn out organization-focused studies within a didactic managerialist framework.’

Research conducted on leadership in the nonprofit sector presents a varied picture of leadership in the sector. According to Van Til (1988, p. 61) leadership in countless voluntary organisations at all societal levels is ‘the bailwick of a single dominant leader’. A study conducted by Perkins and Poole (1996, p. 85) suggests that many nonprofit organisations are troubled by the iron law of oligarchy because ‘social status in a small community, power to affect the culture of an organization, and the ability to influence who participates can be seen as large rewards’ in a system of rewards that is often created by leaders.

These findings are in contrast to the earlier findings of Pearce (1980). Her study on the compensations or rewards of voluntary participation found that there are few rewards in the form of power or status for those assuming leadership roles in voluntary organisations; indeed, ‘in voluntary organizations leadership brings more labor, no more real autonomy than any volunteer has, and little of the reward and coercive power available to most employee leaders’ (Pearce 1980, p. 90). The lack of rewards means that many volunteers find that it is in their own self-interest not to become leaders and the continuing viability of voluntary organisations depends on finding ways to increase the attractiveness of voluntary leadership positions. Onyx and Maclean (1996, p. 337) found that the three reasons third sector employees enter the nonprofit sector - that is, some form of personal commitment to the work itself, in particular a commitment to social change; convenience; and earlier life experiences either as volunteers or service users -have little to do with status and reward.

The findings of Adams and Perlmutter (1995) show that leadership in the nonprofit sector has shifted from a mission-centred focus to a resource-driven focus and that both professional and volunteer leadership is internally oriented, with comparatively little attention paid to the external environment. The priority given to fiscal concerns and the emphasis on marketing suggest that many leadership strategies in the nonprofit sector mimic those used by profit-seeking firms.

Onyx’s (1994) model of leadership within organisational context (Table 1.1) suggests the significance of the nonprofit sector in leadership studies, especially in democratic participative organisational contexts. Onyx (1994, p. 7) shows that

Either type of organisation, whether bureaucracy or participatory democracy, can be found in any sector. However, while not all third sector organisations are empowering, or even designed to enact the creative vision of its members, those organisations that do fit this description are likely to originate in the third sector, and some would argue epitomise it. ... the third sector is necessarily the location of all movements that espouse a participatory democratic philosophy, all local organisations that emerge from a community development philosophy, as well as all organisations that endeavour to provide an advocacy function, or otherwise aim to empower a disadvantaged people, or who wish to develop alternative expressions of human endeavour.

Table 1.1 Leadership within organisational context

Bureaucratic control organisation

Participatory democracy organisation

Autocratic leadership style

Military relationship

Master/disciple relationship

Democratic leadership style

Human relations management

Mutual facilitation

Source: Onyx (1994, p. 5)

Because democratic empowering organisations are inherently unstable (Milofsky 1988b) leadership is both essential and extremely problematic in such organisations. A meta-analysis of gender and leadership style conducted by Eagly and Johnson (1990) suggests that democratic and participative leadership styles tend to be more prevalent among women than men. An inherent problem in developing participative leadership structures in nonprofit organisations is that many of the women in them are volunteers who carry out routine tasks under the supervision of paid professional staff. In their attempts to survive as alternative organisations, many women’s nonprofit organisations, especially feminist organisations, find a clash between avoiding dependency on established institutions and using ‘unpaid service providers even though the feminist movement is hesitant about the use of women service volunteers because of the potential for exploitation’ (Metzendorf & Cnaan 1992, p. 264).

The scarcity of research on leadership in the nonprofit sector and the lack of a coherent picture of leadership in that sector is mirrored in the topic of women’s leadership in nonprofit organisations. A prevailing view has been that women have found opportunities for leadership, power and influence in the nonprofit sector in a way that has been denied them in the business and government sectors. A more recent view suggests that while women may constitute the majority of the nonprofit workforce, they experience the same barriers to advancement toward the top executive positions - especially in the larger, more prestigious nonprofit organisations - as do their counterparts in the business and government sectors (Bradshaw, Murray & Wolpin 1996; Shaiko 1996).

A key factor preventing women from reaching top leadership positions in the nonprofit sector is that the nonprofit sector is ‘gendered female’ (Steinberg & Jacobs 1994; Odendahl & Youmans 1994). Gender ideologies, processes and structures are present in the nonprofit sectors along a number of dimensions. For example, the overwhelming majority of workers are female. In Australia it is estimated that in 1986 81% of the nonprofit workforce were women compared with 39% of the workforce in all sectors being women (Lyons 1993b, p. 35). O’Neill (1994, p. 2) points out that it is because of this statistical domination of the sector by women that some people see the sector as removed from real power and confined to service roles.

Another example of gendering is that the nonprofit sector is characterised by organisations in which a small male elite sets the agenda and holds the power over the predominantly female employees and volunteers (Steinberg & Jacobs 1994, p. 94). There are, however, discrepancies in the wide variations of organisational subsectors. For example, such gendering is obviously true in many religious organisations where male leadership is divinely sanctioned, but does not hold true for the social services which tend to have a flatter organisational structure.

A third aspect of the nonprofit sector’s gendered character is the distribution of occupations found within it. Ideas, stereotypes and assumptions are embedded in the selection of personnel for jobs which in the nonprofit sector tend to be seen as extensions of the women’s household roles of serving and nurturing (Steinberg & Jacobs 1994, pp. 96-97). As a result, wages, work conditions and compensation are unfair when compared to men’s jobs. Women’s relative power in nonprofit organisations can be undermined by the fact that these organisations are themselves often subjugated by organisations in the public and private for-profit sectors.

A fourth way in which the sector is gendered involves the images, ideologies and metaphors used to describe the work, and the values which underpin inadequate wage structures in comparison to the for-profit sector. Steinberg and Jacobs (1994, p. 100) explain how, relative to the for-profit sector:

the images associated with the nonprofit sector project a feminine cast. The missions of nonprofit organizations are “soft” - encompassing the provision of services, a preoccupation with moral and ethical concerns, producing beauty, helping people. They must, at the very least, give the appearance that such hard-nosed concerns as making money are secondary to service provision or to the maintenance of culture and moral standards.

The view that women’s access to power and executive leadership positions is as hampered in the nonprofit sector as in the other sectors is not widely held at this stage. There are so many variations within organisations in the sector that it is difficult to hold the position as true for all organisations. Such diversity is also present in the for-profit sector.

O’Neill (1994) argues that the ways in which the nonprofit sector has served to empower women have usually been ignored in the mainstream nonprofit literature. It is, however, important to research women’s leadership in the nonprofit sector in general as well as in the feminist organisational context (for example, Weeks 1994, 1996a; 1996b) and in the for-profit sector. The profile of the labour force in the nonprofit sector is different from that of business and government. Women are more likely to have leadership roles in this sector than in the business or government sectors where the opportunities for women emerging within new organisational trends are contained within a masculinist perspective of leadership (Ferguson 1984; Pringle 1988; Blackmore 1989, 1995; Acker 1990; Ozga & Walker 1995). Substantial assets are held in the sector, and the government spends significant amounts of its budget through the sector. This research contributes to what is at present a small amount of research on women’s leadership in the nonprofit sector as well as to the little research that there is in the wider context of leadership in the nonprofit sector.

A review of the nonprofit literature indicates that research on leadership in the nonprofit sector needs to be attentive to a number of emerging key issues. The key issue facing nonprofit organisations at this time is the continuing shrinkage in economic resources needed to carry out their missions coupled with a shift in responsibility from the government to the nonprofit sector for many of the social and economic needs of society (Bush 1992). These combined factors have led, it is claimed, (Adams & Perlmutter 1995) to the shift from a mission-centred focus to a resource-driven focus on the part of leaders in nonprofit organisations. They have also led to territorial competition - environmental in nature - over turf and resources between nonprofits themselves and between nonprofit and for-profit organisations, as well as organisational competition more structurally defined over definition of issues, recruitment of staff, recruitment of members, and leadership styles (Van Til 1988, p.116; Hall & Hall 1996). Bush (1992, p. 402) highlights the importance of this issue when he states that ‘emphasis on economic competition alters the nature of organisational focus, staff relationships, relations with volunteers, and relations with key external stakeholders, including clients.’ The shrinkage of economic resources in the face of growing responsibilities in the nonprofit sector has meant increasing dependence upon government financial support, the consequent bureaucratisation of the management of nonprofits and the distancing of governance from grass-roots sources of control and influence (Van Til 1988, p. 116). Drucker (1990) warns that fundraising must remain subordinated to mission, a position supported by Bush (1992, p. 397) in his warnings about the danger of ‘margin over mission’ and his reminder that few nonprofits will ever have a resource base sufficient to fulfil their missions completely (Bush 1992, p. 400). Drucker (1990, p. 41) concurs that ‘almost by definition, money is always scarce in a non-profit institution.’

A second major issue facing nonprofit organisations is their industrialisation and the intrusion of public sector management ideology (McDonald 1994). Industrialisation is evident in the acceptance of awards for staff, the competition between the nonprofit and for-profit sectors (Hilmer 1993) and in the extension of fundraising into commercial venturing. The intrusion of public sector management ideology is evident in such practices as contracting and the use of performance indicators and benchmarking. Bush (1992, p. 392) warns of the dangers of adopting a public sector management ideology:

It is possible for nonprofits, through unquestioning acceptance of private sector values and methods to risk losing sight of the spirit of cooperation and participation traditional in the nonprofit sector. The emphasis on private sector philosophy and technique that is increasing within the sector may, in my experience, lead to a disengagement from mission as the primary focus of nonprofit activity and for evaluation of a nonprofit’s accomplishments, altering in the process the internal culture and the external vision of the nonprofit organization.

The introduction of a for-profit orientation in terms of management techniques and organisational outcomes tends to shift the centre of decision making from the voluntary board members to the professional management staff in the nonprofit organisation.

A third issue in the nonprofit sector is that nonprofits are prone to become inward looking (Drucker 1990). This issue has been substantiated by the research of Adams and Perlmutter (1995), which shows that leadership in nonprofit organisations is internally oriented with comparatively little attention paid to the external environment. Drucker (1992) also emphasises that the results of a non-profit organisation are always outside the organisation, not inside. A final issue in the nonprofit sector is finding volunteer professionals who get satisfaction out of their work for the organisation (Drucker 1992); for the greatest nonprofit resource is people, not money.

Many of the terms used to describe the nonprofit sector are derivative and residual, indicating that this sector is seen by some as ‘a kind of Victorian attic of the unrelated and irrelevant castoffs of a profit-oriented civilization’ (Lohmann 1992, p. 3). Nonprofit and voluntary action scholars agree that the absence of profit is not a sufficient indicator of a nonprofit organisation, for many nonprofit organisations do make a financial as well as a social profit. While this section has used the term nonprofit organisation Section 1.5 indicates that throughout the rest of the thesis, the term nonprofit organisation will be replaced by the term community-profit organisation in order to acknowledge the sector as socially if not always economically productive.

Eva Cox in the 1995 Boyer Lecture, A Truly Civil Society, emphasises the importance of social capital as well as the three dominant social measures: financial capital, physical capital (the environment), and human capital (the total of our skills and knowledge). Social capital refers to the processes between people which establish networks and social trust and facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit. Social capital is increased when people work together voluntarily in egalitarian organisations, such as community-profit organisations. Social trust is essential if people are going to be able to cope with discontinuous change in a postmodern world. There is some debate about whether or not the community-profit sector has a special place in generating social capital. However, voluntary activity in particular is always a form of civic engagement which is likely to generate social capital and there seems to be a large number of people, including philanthropic and political leaders, who want to organise their lives around service and commit themselves to building a civil society.

This brief review of the nonprofit sector shows that it is a neglected yet fertile area for leadership research. Community-profit organisations have, therefore, been chosen as the potentially fruitful organisational context for this research which seeks new understandings and practices of leadership.

1.2 Research Problem and Research Questions

Given the broad field of enquiry outlined in section 1.1 and the important role leadership plays in determining the outcome of the bifurcation at the heart of the paradigm shift from a mechanistic to a holistic world view, there is a clear need to explore contexts where new understandings and practices of leadership might be emerging. As indicated in section 1.1, examples of a leadership appropriate for an emerging holistic world view are unlikely to be found in the malestream, bureaucratic organisations which are so deeply embedded in the mechanistic world view. Paradigm shifts are more likely to occur at the margins of society (Nielsen 1990, p.28; Arbuckle 1988, p. 40; Yeatman 1993b), which are both the sites of resistance and the locations of radical possibility.

It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that new understandings of leadership may appear in very disparate fields. New leaders are going to come from ‘the ranks of females, minorities and outside of industry’, and ‘rather than slowly climbing the corporate ladder like so many leaders of the past, the new leaders are “busting out” of the rigid corporate structures that have no place for innovation and questioning’ (Capowski 1994, p. 14). Women’s leadership in community-profit organisations can be considered marginal insofar as the dominant images and agendas of leadership in our society are derived from malestream and profit-driven contexts. In the search for possible new understandings of leadership, this research is, therefore, located in the organisational context of women’s community-profit organisations.

This research is not a comparative study between male and female leaders, but focuses on women leaders and on the understandings that women leaders in community-profit organisations attach to their exercise of leadership. The study also explores whether the leadership of women in community-profit organisations creates any new understandings or practices of leadership beyond those characteristic of the mechanistic world view. As such it is exploratory research intended to explore the meanings of the social reality called leadership, and is based upon understanding the lived experience of that social reality from the point of view of women who exercise designated or non-positional leadership in community-profit organisations.

The research problem is, therefore, to what extent does women’s leadership in community-profit organisations exhibit new understandings and practices of leadership which are consonant with distinctive features of an emerging holistic world view and which have the potential to provide a creative response to discontinuous change?

Some questions which underlie this problem are:

The research is limited to small and/or marginal community-profit organisations, as they are less likely to be constrained by bureaucratic structures and have the potential to be a hybrid form of organisation combining the best elements of both bureaucratic and alternative structures in which leadership beyond a bureaucratic-managerial model could emerge. Small community-profit organisations are a neglected area in third sector research as much of the focus has been on larger, formal organisations dominated by paid staff - the foci most amenable to the application of standardised social science methods of measurement (D.H. Smith 1995; Scott 1995). The organisations chosen for this research have been limited to those in which the exercise of leadership is predominantly in the hands of women, whether they be in designated or non-positional leadership roles.

1.3 Significance of the Research

As section 1.1 demonstrated, the character of a society’s leadership may substantially determine how that society defines change and copes creatively with the disruption and distress that accompanies a major paradigm shift (Work 1996, p. 73). As the review of relevant literature in Chapter 3 of this thesis illustrates, the majority of writing about and research on leadership has been done from within a bureaucratic managerial model or understanding of leadership. Organisational and social transformation are not being achieved through this model of leadership (Covey 1996; Senge 1996). The theoretical framework developed in Chapter 2 of this thesis highlights the inadequacy of the bureaucratic-managerial model of leadership which is typical of the dominant, mechanistic world view. This model is outmoded in a world characterised by the transition to an emerging holistic world view which is providing increasingly larger numbers of people with a new set of assumptions and values for restructuring social reality, including that of leadership. Starratt (1993, p. 89) emphasises that, in the light of this major cultural transformation, the serious exercise of leadership cannot be carried on ‘with the tacit assumptions underlying modernity or the industrial age ... at least not without serious qualifications of those assumptions’.

Pirsig (1974, p. 94) issues a similar warning when he states that ‘the true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality that produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory’. Old agendas for leadership are being torn down and are being replaced with new intellectual, management and behavioural agendas as well as the Women in Management agenda for leadership which are described in Chapter 3 of this thesis. But these new agendas are merely cosmetic changes if the values and assumptions, the rationality, of the mechanistic world view described in Chapter 2 remain standing.

It is not a question of new structures, of behaviours, of strategies, of developing networks or even new organisational mindsets. It is a question of meaning. Because it is so difficult to step outside of our tacit systems of meaning to analyse them, the mechanistic world view remains as the meaning substructure of many organisational and social realities, including the social reality of leadership. Bureaucracies and their leaders are most resistant to change because they best reflect the values and assumptions of the mechanistic world view. Bureaucracies which must change or want to change ‘are faced with the same task as Baron von Munchhausen, who found himself in the morass on his horse. Is it possible to pull yourself out by your own hair?’ (Swieringa & Wierdsma 1992, p. 59). Someone once observed that we cannot know who first discovered water, but we can be certain that it was not the fish. Supported and sustained by the meaning system of a crumbling mechanistic world view, modern bureaucratic organisations are like the fish which have no way of leaping out of the tank to reflect on the water in it. It is not from them that insights about or examples of a new kind of leadership for an emerging holistic world view will be found.

Some research suggests the emergence of a new breed of leaders (below the top level) who are committed to bringing about real change in the skills and behaviours of people in organisations whose goal is high performance (Katzenbach & the Real Change Leaders Team, 1995). But literature searches have not uncovered research which specifically focuses on whether there is emerging a new kind of leadership which is characterised by the assumptions and distinctive features of an emerging holistic world view.

There is a positive advantage in choosing the community-profit sector as the organisational context for exploring new understandings of leadership: the community-profit field is ‘close to the leading edge of social changes that are disrupting all of social science’ (Milofsky 1996b, p. 282). Little research has been done on leadership in the community-profit sector. Research on women’s leadership has until recently been a neglected field of study, and the research that has been done has in the most part been conducted in the for-profit organisational context. Research which has as its purpose the search for new insights into and a better understanding of women’s leadership in community-profit organisations has the potential to make a significant contribution to the understanding of leadership in the midst of a paradigm shift from a mechanistic to a holistic world view.

1.4 Methodology

This study is conducted within the interpretive perspective of social science with the purpose of arriving at understandings and interpretations of how women exercise leadership in community-profit organisations. Chapter 4 of this thesis discusses the methodology underpinning the study, Chapter 5 the research design and methods used in conducting the study. This researcher understands methodology as the assumptions, perspectives and principles which guide the choice of a particular research design and method. Methodology incorporates an acknowledgment of the social, ethical and political concerns of the researcher which influence the assumptions and principles which underpin the research.

The methodology which provides the basis for this study is qualitative methodology. Qualitative methodology is concerned with ‘how humans arrange themselves and their settings and how inhabitants of these settings make sense of their surroundings through symbols, rituals, social structures, social roles, and so forth’ (Berg 1989, p. 6). The arguments to support qualitative methodology are well documented (Bogdan & Taylor 1975; Hammersley & Atkinson 1983; Miles & Huberman 1984; Wolcott 1985; Patton 1990; Glesne & Peshkin 1992; Burns 1994; Neuman 1994). Qualitative research ‘gains much of its contemporary impetus from the strong reaction against positivism and its limitations’ (Finch 1986, p. 7). Chapter 4 discusses in detail the principles of qualitative research methodology used in this research.

Lofland and Lofland (1984, p. 3) speak of the ‘nomenclature chaos’ that confronts those who try to label and distinguish theories, approaches, methodologies and perspectives in the area of qualitative research. Having identified the research methodology as qualitative, this researcher found it useful to name symbolic interactionism as the ‘mode’ (Denzin 1989b) or key (as in music) of qualitative research to be adopted. Qualitative research methodology and symbolic interactionism as the particular mode of qualitative research have been chosen as the methodology for this research for a number of reasons. Because the majority of traditional leadership studies have used a quantitative methodology and because there is need for further case study research with regard to gendered organisations and feminist organisations in the women in management literature, symbolic interactionism with its emphasis on individual cases is an appropriate methodology. Because this research is conducted within the theoretical framework of a paradigm shift and the resulting need to explore new meanings of leadership in order to respond effectively and creatively to such a major shift of consciousness, a methodology such as symbolic interactionism - which holds as a principle that people are able to modify or alter the meanings and symbols they use in action and interaction on the basis of their interpretation of the situation - is appropriate (Ritzer 1983, p. 307).

While symbolic interactionism has been chosen as the most appropriate mode of qualitative research methodology for this research, as a white middle-class woman the researcher has brought a woman-centred focus to the research and has conducted the research according to the principles and assumptions of feminist research, all of which overlap, extend or complement the principles of qualitative research in general. These feminist principles and assumptions are discussed in Chapter 4 of this thesis.

The research methods used in this study refer to the tools or instruments used to gather, manage and analyse empirical data. They are the techniques, the specific sets of research practices used in the study (Stanley & Wise 1983; Harding 1987a; Lather 1991). They include cultural review interviews (McCracken 1988), in-depth interviews and the use of NUDIST (Qualitative Solutions & Research Pty Ltd 1995) software to organise the data and to explore the relation between data and ideas. The research design and research methods are discussed more fully in Chapter 5 of this thesis.

1.5 Definitions

Because definitions adopted by researchers are often not uniform, some key terms are defined here to establish positions taken in this research. These terms and concepts are more fully explored as they appear in relevant sections of the thesis. The terms methodology and method as used in this thesis have already been defined in section 1.4. Rost’s definition of leadership as ‘an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes’ (Rost 1993, p. 102) is adopted. Thus, leadership is understood as a field of interaction rather than as a personal property or attribute. In this research, leadership is recognised as being exercised by those who are non-positional leaders as well as those who hold formally designated leadership positions. This is further developed and clarified in Chapter 2 and in Chapter 3.

The key concept of paradigm used in this thesis is based on Kuhn’s understanding of a paradigm as ‘an entire constellation of beliefs, values techniques and so on, shared by the members of a given community’ (Kuhn 1970, p. 175). This thesis uses the definition of paradigm as a set of assumptions about reality which ‘form an invisible web of beliefs about the world, beliefs that we take to be reality, and [that] function as a compass that guides our lives at an unconscious level’ (Montuori & Conti 1993, p.8). The terms paradigm and world view are used interchangeably to refer to this overall way of looking at life based on a certain set of assumptions (Sarantokos 1993, p. 30; Winter 1981; Starratt 1993; Birch 1990b). The mechanistic world view is a way of looking at life based on the assumptions that scientific knowledge can achieve absolute and final certainty and that rationality, science, progress and technology can bring people happiness. Birch (1990b, p. 57) states that it is ‘mechanistic’ in that ‘everything is interpreted in terms of the mechanical movements of atoms and molecules and all is calculable for ever before and after’. In contrast, the holistic world view is a way of looking at life based on assumptions that take us into a more holistic and systems view of life, understood in terms of wholeness, interconnectedness, relationship, participation and the integration of both thinking and values.

The ‘structural/operational definition’ of the nonprofit sector developed by Salamon and Anheier (1992a) is used. According to this definition, the nonprofit sector is a set of organisations that are formally constituted, non-governmental in basic structure, self-governing, non-profit-distributing and voluntary to some meaningful extent. There are, however, problems of negation inherent in the term nonprofit sector (Lohmann 1995; Drucker 1990). The term community-profit organisation is used by Wayne Schmidt (Frick 1995, pp. 264-270) to avoid the negation inherent in the term “nonprofit” and to highlight that the ultimate purpose of so-called nonprofit organisations is the benefit of the community. In this thesis the definition of Salamon and Anheier (1992a) is adopted, but the term community-profit is used instead of nonprofit . As is explained more fully in Chapter 4, the International Classification of Nonprofit Organisations (ICNPO) developed by Salamon and Anheier (1992b) has also been used as the framework for the selection of sites and sample in the research.

1.6 Outline of the Thesis

With the thesis’ foundations laid in this introductory chapter, the theoretical framework is presented in Chapter 2; that is, the paradigm shift from a mechanistic to a holistic world view. That chapter highlights the understanding of leadership in each of the two world views described. Chapter 3 further develops the theoretical foundation by summarising, synthesising and analysing the relevant literature in order to situate the research problem in the wider body of knowledge and to clarify the research questions related to the stated problem as a basis for further exploration in the research. The wider body of knowledge comes from the fields of leadership, management and women in management theory and research.

Chapter 4 presents the methodology used in the research by explicitly identifying the perspective which frames the research and the assumptions which underpin the choice of method used to conduct the research. Methodology as the perspective and assumptions that guide the research is the content of chapter 4. Chapter 5 outlines the research design and method and describes the concurrent processes of selection of the research sites and research participants; data collection procedures; procedures for managing, recording and protecting the data; data analysis procedures; procedures to maintain the integrity of the research.

Chapters 6, 7 and 8 present the research findings and describe them with reference to the research questions. Patterns of results which emerge from the immersion in the texts, the coding and categorising of the texts, memo writing and critical dialogue about the text are presented. Extracts from the interviews with the research participants are used extensively to illuminate the patterns of results presented. Chapter 6 presents the descriptive data about the formal participants and the research organisations. It describes the employment profile of the formal participants, the leadership paths they have taken and their self-perception as leaders. It also outlines the organisational context and the organisational purpose of each of the research organisations as described by the participants. Chapter 7 presents the research findings about the participants’ understandings of the leadership they exercise in community-profit organisations. It presents their understandings of leadership through their images of leadership, recipes for effective leadership, perceptions of the relationship between designated leaders and non-positional leaders, and their perceptions about power. Chapter 8 presents the research findings about the participants’ experiences of exercising leadership in community-profit organisations in the light of their responses about what they hope to achieve through their exercise of leadership, the major issues facing the leadership of their organisations and how they exercise leadership in their organisations.

The final chapter, Chapter 9, discusses interpretations of the data, draws conclusions about the research problem and presents implications of the research for both theory and practice within the boundaries of the limitations of the research. It shows the distinct contribution that the research findings make to the body of knowledge in a number of related disciplines.

1.7 Conclusion

This chapter has provided a rationale for researching women’s leadership in community-profit organisations as a possible source of new understandings and practices of leadership that are consonant with an emerging holistic world view. The majority of leadership research conducted in the past has been within the framework of the mechanistic world view. The movement from a mechanistic to a holistic world view, the challenge of discontinuous change, the masculinist perspective of much of the previous research on women in management and the lack of research on leadership within the community-profit organisational context suggest that the research problem provides a significant area for research. The next chapter explores the theoretical framework which underpins this thesis.

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