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Women's Experience of Leadeship in Community-Profit Organisations

Women's Experience of Leadeship in Community-Profit Organisations

by Patricia Marlette Black BA, MEd.

from Women’s Leadership in Community-Profit Organisations,
Doctoral Thesis , Queensland University of Technology, 1999, pp. 177-212.
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions

8.1 Introduction

The research findings with regard to the research participants and their organisations were presented in Chapter 6. The participants, whether designated or non-positional leaders, emerge from the findings as a group of women who generously and enthusiastically commit themselves to the exercise of leadership in community-profit organisations and who see themselves as relational leaders with good organisational and communication skills. Communication, integrity and honesty, openness, vision and collaboration are seen by the participants as key components in the leadership interaction. The research organisations are characterised by the struggle to find a balance between what participants describe as formal structures and collaborative and participative principles and processes. Chapter 7 presented the research findings about the participants’ understandings of leadership based upon their lived experience of that reality. The keystones of the participants’ understandings of leadership are mutual relationship, collaboration, responsibility, intentionality and purpose.

This chapter presents the research findings that illustrate the participants’ experience and practices of leadership. The findings include what the participants hope to achieve through their exercise of leadership, the major issues facing the participants in their exercise of leadership, leadership strategies and leadership styles of the participants and conflicts experienced by the participants in their exercise of leadership. An exploration of the participants lived experiences of leadership provides an insight into their agendas for leadership and whether those agendas reflect the values of a mechanistic or a holistic world view.

8.2 What the Participants Hope to Achieve through their Exercise of Leadership

The participants’ understandings of leadership inform what it is they hope to achieve through their exercise of leadership in community-profit organisations. In order to gain some insight into what the participants hope their leadership will achieve, they were asked what motivates them to accept the responsibility of leadership. What the participants understand about leadership is linked to how they put their understandings into practice by their desire to achieve particular outcomes through their exercise of leadership. Table 8.1 shows the frequency distribution of factors that motivate participants to engage in leadership in community-profit organisations. The factors that emerge in the data have been categorised by the researcher under the headings of service, perceived inequities and search for excellence.

Table 8.1 Frequency distribution of factors that motivate participants to engage in leadership in community-profit organisations

Factors as described by formal participants

% of total formal participants

% of designated leaders

% of non-positional leaders




Care for others




Service to the community




Commitment to the organisation’s goals and values







Desire for social transformation




Sense of integrity




Desire to empower others







Personal fulfilment




Career opportunities





Over one third of the participants identify service as the factor that motivates them to accept the responsibility of either designated or non-positional leadership in their organisations. A very small percentage of participants understand service as care for others. Several of the participants feel a sense of duty or obligation to return something to the community. Service to the community as a motivating factor for taking on leadership is described in the following extracts from the interviews with Eve and Ida:

I came from a political family. We talked politics all the time. Volunteer organisations were also part of my family and we were very involved in unions and still are. I just think it’s a normal part of life in a way. I was also brought up to be caring and compassionate and everything like that. I’ve always felt like I have to return something to the community in some way for the life that I have. So I’m going to also do some volunteer work in literacy and numeracy with indigenous people. (Eve)

A sense of duty was instilled in me that it was important to make a contribution to society. That sounds a bit self-righteous. But I know that I’ve made a contribution to society. Certainly I could probably have done more but I’ve tried to do my best.” (Ida)

The majority of the participants who cite service as a motivating factor for engaging in leadership speak of their passionate belief in and support for the goals and the vision of the community-profit organisation in which they are involved. It is the goals and vision of the organisation that they serve by accepting the responsibility of leadership in the organisation. Eve succinctly describes this motivating factor:

Where you’ve got organisations that don’t have such a hierarchy or where a certain amount of commitment is required in terms of why you are working for that organisation there is no concept of a glass ceiling. Work is done in those organisations because you’ve got a passion and commitment for what they’re on about and not so that you can get to the top and be rewarded with higher pay and greater status. If you do additional work in hierarchical organisations it’s done because you’re given brownie points. In the nonprofit sector you’re not just committed to the organisation, you’re also committed to the values of the organisation. (Eve)

Serving the goals of the group involves a great deal of responsibility according to the participants. Lea expresses this in her response:

It was a commitment to the group. Other aspects of leadership I don’t find exactly thrilling. So I think anyone who takes it on takes it on out of a sense of responsibility to the group and a wish to make whatever contribution the group thinks you can make. I see it as part of a call from the group which I have a responsibility to answer. If the majority of people in the group say they would like me to do this, then I would do it. (Lea)

Perceive Inequity

The responses of over one third of the participants indicate that they are motivated by perceived inequity to accept responsibility for leadership in their organisations. These participants commit themselves to working in a leadership capacity to bring about justice and social equity in those areas of society where they perceive justice and equity to be lacking.

A small percentage express perceived inequity in terms of a desire to empower others. For example, Ria says:

What started me in this whole field was being frustrated by the system and thinking, well, there’s got to be a better way to do this. So having come from being, the word is now a ‘street kid’ in Kings Cross in the late sixties and able to look at the glass ceiling and say, no, pass, I’ll go sailing thanks, but to be able to move through that, to have the freedom to move through that, to have the freedom to move through that is to sus out and manipulate systems ... It’s not challenging the system that motivates me because I don’t see that the work that I do changes the system; it’s seeing the effect that empowerment has on people’s lives is the most rewarding part of what I do and why I do it. (Ria)

Several express their response to perceived inequity as a sense of integrity, a driving conviction that grows out of their principles. Amara explains what it means to be motivated by this sense of integrity:

The thing I found, truly by accident, is you can always apply your principles to whatever field you are in and equity is my ‘thing’. Everyone has got to have a fair go and that equity principle fits beautifully into recruitment and selection and performance planning and conflict resolution and all those things that I enjoy doing and you get better decisions when people follow those equity principles. You get more talent. I get a lot of pleasure when I see that principle applied because I think it is just fairer. (Amara)

The motivating factor for the majority of the participants in this category and for the majority of participants overall is the desire for social transformation. Some of the participants express their motivation to accept leadership as the basic desire to make a difference. Ita explains that it is important for her ‘to do something really worthwhile that is going to make a difference for the world long term’ and Jade agrees that she needs ‘to make a difference and if [she’s] going to put [her] efforts into something it has to be worthwhile’. Keely says:

I guess in life itself I couldn’t imagine going through life without wanting to put a little bit more back in. I wouldn’t see any point in living if you hadn’t added something to make it a bit better. I am morally and philosophically committed to working towards change that hopefully brings improvement and I have done this in a number of areas in my life. No matter what I do I have always tried to be involved in something that would lead to trying to bring about social change to improve things. I like to bring about change for the better and I spend time doing that. (Keely)

Some of the participants identify particular aspects of change within the wider spectrum of social transformation as the motivating factor for their accepting either designated or non-positional leadership responsibilities. Daisy is particularly motivated by trying to bring about greater equity. She says:

And I think people in the community could do a lot more than they do if they join together to do things. Yes, I’ve seen change happen - governments bringing in certain policies and certain groups of people writing and doing all sorts of things and change resulting. Yes, of course, we can be very effective; we just need to organise. And I guess I like to have a role in getting people organised to do that stuff. I’m motivated by trying to get more equity for people; that’s why I’m working here at this point of time. (Daisy)

Margot sees her focus for social transformation as the liberation of women in the system:

I think I could do something towards liberating people in this system. It didn’t scare me because I had had some experience prior to it and I thought, oh well, I know the difficulties and I know the demands but if I can just do something with the people on our team to free women up to be the best possible people they can be in this system I would like to be able to do that. (Margot)

The desire to bring about social change in response to sexism and racism is what motivates Erica:

Because I want to see social change, and I believe there is so much work to be done in the areas of, broadly, feminism, but I think that the perspective of a very large number of women in the community just isn’t in the parliament. And I want to see it there. And on issues like racism which are broadly under the social justice umbrella I just think that it’s frightening the level of public awareness and I would like to see parliaments taking a greater lead in education and liaising with the community about those basic issues. And also I’m about change. I want to see it different. And I think if you just sit back it will never be different. (Erica)

Kay encapsulates the motivating factors expressed by several of the participants in her emphasis on the need to express justice, peace and social equity as the key values in her life:

With ENV I think I’d just had another child; she was about 10 months old and I think that I just became aware that there was a lot of malpractice going on and I was contributing to it and I didn’t feel confident enough or strong enough to change my ways independently. And that’s when I thought ‘What if the solution to that is to have a group of people giving each other support?’ Because our habits are very ingrained in us. So I had a desire for social change for a world in which my children would be safe and healthy and a general desire to see a change for the better in most areas of society. I have a very strong sense of justice even on a personal level in the family and I come from a family that considers justice and peace and social equality as strong values to be lived. (Kay)

The participants who are motivated by social transformation to accept leadership in their organisations express sentiments similar to those of Mia who says that exercising leadership ‘had nothing to do with the concept of leadership or anything like that; it was about the very altruistic “save the world” stuff’.

Search for Excellence

The responses of one quarter of the participants suggest that the search for excellence, that is, striving to achieve personal fulfilment or to achieve their career aspirations, is the factor that motivates them to engage in leadership in community-profit organisations. Only a very small percentage describe the search for excellence as the desire to fulfil their career aspirations. As table 8.1 shows, 26 per cent of designated leaders and 14 per cent of non-positional leaders are motivated by the search for excellence in terms of their own personal fulfilment.

For most of the participants who spoke of personal fulfilment it was the opportunity to rise to a challenge that led to their sense of fulfilment. Beryl says:

I really like a challenge and my personality is one where I can’t sit still so I don’t like, I used to work in a bank and I couldn’t stand doing work that was repetitious in nature and didn’t carry with it a great deal of responsibility. I find I really like a challenge. I like to be busy all the time and by nature I like success. I like the slight risk you take sometimes. (Beryl)

Angela agrees that she took on her designated leadership role in response to the challenge of the position but also because she saw it as ‘an opportunity to give something of myself and an opportunity to gain something for myself; I thought it would be interesting; I’d never done anything like that before’.

For others of the participants who are motivated by the search for excellence through personal fulfilment it is the personal fulfilment that comes from learning and relationships that they value. Tara’s experience of this motivational factor is representative of this group of participants:

I guess it’s what it’s done for me personally. I get a lot out of it as far as my own confidence and self-esteem goes. I have learned a lot. I have made some wonderful friends and I think that’s an underlying factor that keeps so many people involved. It is the friendships they make; they tend to be lifelong friendships. And I think it’s the challenge that’s there that keeps us interested. (Tara)

The main motivational factors that lead the research participants to engage in leadership in community-profit organisations are the desire for social transformation, a commitment to the goals and values of the organisation and the search for and experience of personal fulfilment. The desire for social transformation is a stronger motivation for non-positional leaders and the search for personal fulfilment is a stronger motivation for those in designated positions of leadership.

8.3 Issues Facing the Participants in their Exercise of Leadership in community-Profit Organisations

Asking the participants to identify the issues that confronted them in their practice of leadership was a way of probing their experience of leadership in terms of what it is that challenges and engages those who are both designated leaders and non-positional leaders in community-profit organisations and what questions or concerns they are grappling with. The research participants were asked to identify the major issues that confront the leadership of their organisations. Figure 8.1 is a summary of the relevant importance of the issues identified by the participants. The issues that emerge in the data were categorised according to the number of participants who identified the issue and they include one major issue, three serious issues and five minor issues.

The On-Going Development of Processes and Structures to Best Achieve the Organisational Mission

The major issue, identified by almost 40 per cent of the participants, is the ongoing development of processes and structures that will best achieve the organisation’s mission. In many of the research organisations there is an on-going review of structures and collaborative processes. Many of the participants have had experience in feminist organisations and have found that the lack of structure is not always helpful in achieving the mission of the organisation. Eleanor is one of those participants:

But I think structure is a good thing; I don’t think it’s a bad thing. People need to know who to go to. But a lot of the earliest feminist literature and practice was about ‘Oh no, we all sit around a table and we do not make a decision until everyone agrees’. That’s bullshit! It creates a power vacuum and you get one or two people filling that vacuum anyway. There was de facto decision making for sure in those Women’s Health Centres or those Women’s Community Centres. Somebody was responsible for the money at the end of the day, or the outcomes of a particular policy or decision and she would have to make a decision. She would just have to lobby in the back to make sure most people agreed about it. That I think was even more destructive because women became very disillusioned with that. So I think that’s just down one end of the continuum and it’s not a workable thing. (Eleanor)

For many of the participants it is important to take time, although time is usually at a premium, in order to clarify collaborative and decision making processes in organisations which have made a commitment to non-hierarchical structures. For Dora, the issue being faced by the leadership in her organisation is how to build truly collaborative processes and accountability into a flat organisational structure.

I think the two biggest issues for us are issues about support and accountability. So, when you’re working in a flat structure those systems just don’t seem to be there and that’s just my personal opinion. So in terms of accountability, workers are quite autonomous in their roles and go off and do their work and come together once a week at a staff meeting which is quite often about the business of the organisation other than what you’re doing in your work loads. So there are issues of accountability - like if workers are doing different amounts of work or the quality of that work and then those issues arise. The problem is where do we take them? There are no structures to deal with that besides quite intrusive grievance procedures that require you to go to management and get that kind of involvement. All those issues of accountability - it’s difficult because we’re still struggling with the idea that if we’re going to make people accountable then someone has to have more power and that’s not what we’re on about. And then the support stuff, having no one with the responsibility to provide feedback on your work and things like that. It just doesn’t happen because we’re quite autonomous and you feel isolated and not supported in your work. ... At the moment we are at the point of thinking we can put structures in place and we don’t have to give anyone power but we can put structures in place that ensure that happens. So that’s an issue we’re working on at the moment. (Dora)

The issue of finding an organisational structure that both promotes the purposes of the organisation and allows its members to collaborate and be participative is common to the majority of participants. Alexis and Nora give examples of the way in which this issue takes shape in their particular organisations. Alexis describes the issue as it exists in CR2:

The big issue, the one we’re all thrashing about with at the moment is the relationship of the Working Group to all the local groups. We say all the groups are autonomous, they do what they want to as far as the social things they do, but there needs to be some structure in the organisation, there needs to be some more formalised association between the Working Group and these groups. On the one hand they want to be autonomous, on the other hand they want guidelines. You sort of, if you’re part of a network or part of an organisation it’s difficult to be both autonomous and to have guidelines to work to and when money and finance comes into it it’s important to sort it out. (Alexis)

One of Nora’s designated leadership roles is to address the issue of the ongoing development of structures which will best achieve her organisation’s mission. Her reflection on the challenges posed by getting the balance between necessary bureaucratic structures and collaborative processes and structures reflects the concerns of many of the participants:

We’ve got lots of bureaucratic elements in the way we’ve got ourselves working. Some of it fits better than some of the emerging stuff. Where does that leave women? It leaves them straddling two realities and I think at this point in history it’s not either/or because if you’ve got large institutions, for example, if you’ve got a public hospital with a staff of 5000 you’ve got to have structures that are effective and if you’ve got a community advocacy service or if your aged care provision has moved out of the institutional model and into a balance between institution and community care, you’ve got to try something different. Are we going to get leaders who are even going to be willing to operate in that, you know, balancing institutional and community? We’ve got to conceptualise our group life and our organisational life in terms of our individual women who want to collaborate, not in terms of groups who happen to have these people stuck in them, so I think there’s got to be a re-think in terms of the basic unit. If the basic unit is mature adult committed women who want to collaborate around the values of the group, what structures are appropriate? That’s an area where you ought to be trying something totally different. You may not be able to do it so you may have to put some non-elected bureaucratic elements in place for this part and then I think there’s a trap. I think that we’re trapped at this point in time, between growing up as adult women who want to be collaborative but assume their own power, what are the structures that enable, you’ve got to have structures to collaborate but they’ve got to emerge. (Nora)

As the major issue for participants, developing ongoing processes and structures to best achieve the purposes of the organisation is closely linked to the essential elements of leadership as understood by the participants - mutual relationship, collaboration, responsibility, intentionality and purpose. The participants’ concerns about appropriate structures is not an issue about control; quite the contrary, it is an issue about ensuring that collaboration and participation are maximised in a way that best achieves the purposes of the organisation. This issue also reflects the intentionality of the participants to develop an experience of leadership that is counter to the prevailing models of leadership and the willingness to give time and energy to reflection and experimentation to develop structures that support this new experience of leadership.


The three serious issues facing the leadership of the research organisations are resources, membership and organisational purpose and identity. For many of the research organisations the question of funding is a question of survival. Ella notes that ‘funding is always an issue; it has to be number one because we’re totally dependent on government funding - it’s critical’. The challenge of survival is reiterated by Beth who says that ‘one of the challenges is how we will survive or measure up against the economic rationalist type of influence that may come in terms of our funding’. It is important, according to Beth, to collaborate and cooperate as much as possible in the area of funding and to be deliberately strategic:

One of the strengths of H has been that there are quite a few people who are a bit older and have been around for a while and have a clear sense of the politics of this and know what it’s about and it’s about accountability. If you have a contract with a funding body, then you have an obligation to provide service delivery. It is working out what you fight over and what you don’t. (Beth)

Many of the participants adopt a philosophical stance to the lack of resources. Eve’s stance grows out of 20 years’ experience in women’s community groups:

Finance is an issue, but it’s always an issue in volunteer organisations and it’s amazing how they always manage to find money to get things done. We always can manage. We have to seriously address the issue of finance but there is something about the way in which women in particular can always manage. ... I’ve found in 20 years of being involved in the community and in women’s community groups we’ve always done everything with no money, and if you think about it for the last 25 years women have been pretty effective in bringing about a lot of social change and getting a lot of issues on the agenda. Really, we have to get more creative about how we might get some money. We’ve had a lot of support from business women and I think that’s because such a huge number of women are going into their own businesses these days. If we can think of innovative ways we can probably survive. But certainly I don’t want to be involved in the struggle about money. (Eve)

Several participants emphasise the need to be more creative in finding funding sources for their organisations. According to Holly:

What has happened in the past internationally and this has happened in Australia too is there have been a few women who have made bequests and that has been where most funding has come from apart from members’ subscriptions. There has to be another way to find funds for ongoing operational costs. The present funds are inconsistent and really not sufficient. (Holly)

While funding is perceived as a serious issue by just over one quarter of the participants, it is not an issue that dominates organisational life in the research organisations. Not unexpectedly, designated leaders experience this as an issue more than do non-positional leaders. Table 8.2 shows the designated leaders’ and the non-positional leaders’ perceptions of the relative importance of issues being faced by the leadership of the research organisations. The relative importance of the issues was determined by both the number of designated and non-positional leaders who identified the issue and the number of sentences allocated to the discussion of the issue by each group of leaders in the texts in NUDIST.

Table 8.2 Designated leaders’ and non-positional leaders’ perceptions of the relative importance of issues being faced by the leadership of the research organisations


Designated leaders

Non-positional leaders

On-going development of processes and structures to best achieve the organisational mission






Organisational purpose and identity





















Key: *** major issues

** significant issue

* minor issue

In several of the five research organisations which receive government funding, management committees have created a paid, designated leadership role to address more professionally the application for funding grants and other fund raising activities as well as the accountability for the use of such funds. In the organisations where this has occurred the resource issue tends to be subsumed under the issue about developing appropriate structures and processes. As Table 5.4 (Research Sites at a Glance) indicates, the majority of the 14 research organisations do not receive government funding. The response of these organisations to the issue of limited financial resources tends to be one of concerned creativity born out of frustration and the need to survive.


The issue of membership is also a serious issue for just over one quarter of the participants who suggest that one of the responsibilities attached to leadership is ensuring that there are sufficient members in the organisation to carry out its mission. This issue takes on different dimensions for different research organisations. For example, in ENV the membership issue is an issue about activating dormant members as well as recruiting active members. Keely describes her concern:

Given the platform we’ve got it would be so much more wonderful to have active members. I know that’s not just a ENV thing. I know through P&C and a few other groups that I’m involved in that it’s also a problem for them at the moment. You see lots of people who have no desire to put their time in and no sense of the community they live in. (Keely)

Kiri has a similar explanation for why membership is an issue for the leadership of ENV:

Membership, especially active membership, is always an issue. Every group I speak to at the moment has the same problem. People are interested in what you’re doing, they think you’re doing a great job, but they aren’t interested in helping. How can we change, how can you make people actually take an interest and want to get up and do something? It doesn’t have to be a huge thing. It’s really hard to motivate people into doing something; not only changing around your back yard but getting in and signing up and being part of a group. And I don’t think we’re a clique that’s unwelcoming of new people. I don’t think we’re dull and we certainly do a lot so I don’t know what it is. (Kiri)

For the leadership in H the membership issue is associated with the designated leadership positions on the management committee. Ella describes the situation that affects many community organisations:

There is a group of people who think that small, community based, voluntary management committees are an ineffective way to provide community services because you are forever recycling people, and often they are people who are workers in services who then come and offer to be management committee members on their colleagues’ committees. I think it works but it is very tiring and draining on people. But I think it works. And I think it’s a sign of the commitment of people in the community welfare sector. I don’t think it’s ineffective because it allows a responsiveness that is often missing in non-voluntary organisations and I’ve worked in both. (Ella)

For the majority of participants who identify membership as a serious issue, the issue that confronts them is decreasing and/or aging membership. Lucy’s concern is for an aging membership with few new recruits:

Well, we are small. We’ve got about 69 people spread down the East Coast. RE1 exists internationally in about 16 or 17 countries, growing rapidly in Africa, but we haven’t had any new members ... We’re an aging group, many past retirement now, and unless we consider getting others in - not necessarily a lot of young people - but people in middle age and so on coming in, we could have a problem. So we are looking at activities, programmes rather, that could appeal to a differing range of women to get them interested, involved and hopefully they will want to join us. (Lucy)

June’s reflection on the issue of an aging and decreasing membership leads her to see it as a social issue affecting many groups, not just her own:

Yes, decreasing membership is a challenge facing us and that is now Australia wide as we found out. But then when I look at other associations like Zonta, the Chamber of Commerce, the Master Builders Association and others and we said we’d ask other organisations we’re involved with, every club is saying that they’re having the same problem, that their numbers are coming down. It could be that the economic climate that we have at the moment and people are really counting where they’re putting their dollars or it could be that people who are involved are involved in so many different things they are now starting to cut back and really looking at their leisure time, saying I’m not going to wait until I’m 65 and crippled, how about having some leisure time now. That could be the thing. A lot of people are having their families later so you’re seeing that there’s quite a few in their 30’s and also in my age group who have younger ones, a lot of my friends who have eight year olds and nine year olds and they just can’t get out. (June)

The participants who are concerned about the issue of membership are generally concerned about two things. They are concerned that the worthwhile goals of their organisation will not be achieved and that society as a whole will thus experience a loss. And they are concerned at the apparent unwillingness of people to invest in the communities in which they live. As Lala says:

Membership is always an issue that leaders are concerned about, how to involve others, how to offer the vision of a way of life to others so that it gives added dimensions to people’s lives greater than who they are. (Lala)

In one of the research organisations membership is an issue because their organisation is growing too quickly. Not surprisingly, this is an organisation comprised of older women. The membership issue for the group, according to Agnes, is that ‘it’s grown too fast; it’s grown so fast that the problem now that we are challenged with is to get all our local groups affiliated’.

Organisational Purpose and Identity

The third serious issue that emerges in the data is the issue of organisational purpose and identity. Again, this is an issue for just over one quarter of the participants. As the following extracts from the interviews demonstrate, there is a remarkable similarity about the way in which this issue is perceived by those who identified it as a serious leadership issue.

There are questions about meaning I think, meaning and identity and mission, so they relate to who we are and where we are and I think there are these other sort of things about leadership style which is touching on some of what you’re on about what is meaningful leadership style for women in this day and age and what is a meaningful leadership style for a group of women? (Nora)

One of the issues is finding the direction, the purpose of the organisation at this stage of its history. Another part of the issue is defining its own role, its space, where does it fit in the wider schema, whether the group is going to take a creative lead and provide an innovative service and to find how to meet the community needs and at the same time meet the needs of the members of the group. The actual group itself taking leadership of that and defining where the organisation wants to go in the community itself. (Adina)

So we really haven’t got our heads together and at some stage that’s something we desperately need to do again now because we’re going in different directions. Maybe we need to clarify the direction and instead of keeping on adding things say ‘Well, the last two years focused on education and the next two years we’ll focus on something else’. (Keely)

There are questions about the how of the structure; there are also questions about the direction that the mission needs to go for the future and that’s probably one of the most difficult ones; even to know how to ask when you’re looking at an aging group of women ... (Mariah)

The issue about organisational purpose and identity as perceived by the participants who identified it as a serious issue is one about the relevance of their organisations and about their future direction. Once again, the participants’ responses in discussing this issue, as with the issues of membership and resources, reflect not simply a concern for the maintenance of their organisations but also for the quality of their contribution to wider society.

Gender Issues

Minor issues that the participants identify as leadership issues include questions about gender, communication, diversity and over-commitment as well as a wide range of social concerns. One quarter of the participants see gender issues and social issues on the leadership agenda of their organisations.

Of particular interest in terms of the gender issues that face the leadership in the research organisations is the debate about whether or not to allow men to become members. Abbey describes the way this issue was settled in her organisation:

There was one issue before we were incorporated we were looking at whether to allow male membership or not. And there was disagreement. The majority believed that it should be a women’s organisation and therefore it shouldn’t have male members, but not as a separatist issue but because our objective is to promote women. We want to provide a voice for women and we didn’t think that having men as members would really match the objective. And we decided that we would ask men for help and that men who were willing to help would also understand that they couldn’t be members. We ended up having a secret ballot and having a majority vote at an AGM. We had discussion pro and con and then people took it to the vote. Most of our decisions aren’t that contentious. (Abbey)

Lois points out that the issue of whether or not to allow men to be members of her organisation is a sporadic issue for the leadership of her organisation:

Even in RE1 which is a women’s organisation we have from time to time the issue of whether men should be allowed into the organisation. Most of the time the issue dies away and the male concerned is usually a husband of one of our members and he considers himself to be a member and he wants to have a say in the organisation. There are very few men who want to do that but the issue rears its head form time to time. (Lois)

Keely comments that the men who have become involved in particular projects in ENV ‘have got quite different agendas from the women; they’ve got self-interested agendas’. June concludes that in her organisation ‘there will come a time when we will have to allow men’ and she is concerned about the consequent ‘balance of power’ when that happens.

Other gender issues identified by the participants include women in leadership being too busy and too stressed to support young women in leadership roles and the double workload that women are still expected to carry. Erica comments on this reality for women:

Then all that other stuff too comes up about women’s lives. The only free time for a lot of women is on the weekend and then you’ve got your family. You’ve got all those other responsibilities. And you know, all the statistics show when it comes to housework and all of that, none of that has really moved. The people that it has moved for are really a very small percentage of people. The reality hasn’t changed for most people. (Erica)

Social Issues

A broad range of social issues are identified as being leadership issues in the research organisations. As Table 8.2 indicates, these issues were of particular importance for the non-positional leaders. Jocelyn believes an awareness of social issues and an ability to deal with them is essential for anyone exercising leadership in a community-profit organisation.

We should put women into leadership positions who are prepared in the sense that they know a lot of the issues. They don’t come in a tabula rasa, they don’t come in with good will only, they come in with a lot of understanding of the complexity of the issues. They come in understanding a lot about how government works and doesn’t work, and how if you want a problem solved at a government policy level you offer them some ideas about how to solve it and don’t play victim and sit down and say ‘This is a bad show; do something about it’. They very much come in from a problem-solving angle, offering solutions, not all of which will be accepted. (Jocelyn)

Social issues concern the participants whether they are designated leaders or non-positional leaders. The issues mentioned in the data include abolition of nuclear weapons, the end to racial discrimination and sexual discrimination, the outcomes of the Beijing Conference for women, creating a community spirit, care for the environment, equity, equal pay and pollution.

An interesting issue raised by a participant who is 72 years old is the issue of older women claiming their power and making a significant contribution to organisations and to society as a whole. Amy says:

Some of these women who have lived lovely successful lives don’t realise that they are now the wise ones of the tribe and they should be speaking out. That’s how I feel about being older. Traditionally the older people in the tribe have enormous wisdom to pass on and they are respected. I find there still is quite a lot of that. But some don’t realise their strength, their knowledge, their power or the independence they possess. .. They are quite a powerful force if they realise it. ... I think that perhaps they could exert their power politically a little more. That’s what I would be doing with a powerful group, with women speaking up. ... There is a good leadership role for the older woman. They are important for the younger generation who have accepted everything older women fought for and if they had a history of someone my age who couldn’t even keep the school that she was head of because it got too big and a man had to have it. I had to get out when I got married and even when I went back I had to be a temporary teacher. I couldn’t pay superannuation or anything like that. I worked most of my days on 75 per cent of the male pay for the same work. I think the older woman should be speaking out about that too. (Amy)

Agnes agrees that older women need to keep reminding people about the injustices that they have endured in order to remind people that women’s issues are major social issues:

All this time I’ve constantly been pushed out - now, fair enough, the rules have changed for the younger women but we at our age are stuck in the middle saying hang on with all these changes, we haven’t had all these things for us, we were told, like myself, be a good mum, do the right thing, stay home and look after the children. And now, years down the track, they’re saying hey, go out and find a job. Don’t be a burden. (Agnes)

There is no doubt that the participants, especially the non-positional leaders, have placed social issues high on their leadership agendas. Their concern with these issues reflects a commitment to social transformation at both personal and organisation levels.


Because the research organisations value collaboration, mutuality and participation so highly in the leadership interaction one of the issues experienced by several of the participants is finding ways to be inclusive of everyone at the same time as appreciating diversity. The participants who cited this as a leadership issue referred to several kinds of diversity.

Lea has experienced the challenge of diversity in an organisation that has a religious ethos. She describes the attempt to maintain unity in diversity as ‘a tricky problem’:

We’ve been able to cope with diversity of culture and so on. I think we’ve done that very well. We’ve done that better than most groups I know. But when you get to diversity of belief which we have also well and truly experienced that’s a tricky problem because more and more it raises the question of where is our unity and I’m not sure now that we’ve gone down that track quite a long way ... if you wanted really to tighten it up somehow it would actually mean the exclusion of some people. You’d have to draw a line somewhere in the sand. But no one is willing to do that and we’re not even sure if that’s the right thing to do, if that’s the right way to go anyhow. Fundamentalist religious groups are attractive to many because they are willing to draw the line. I’m not convinced that that is the way to go. (Lea)

Beth’s experience of the issue of inclusion/diversity is in leadership in a multicultural organisation. She describes the issue in terms of the difficulty of participating in two cultures:

I think the feature of this organisation that provides a leadership challenge is a challenge of the whole multicultural nature of this organisation where we have four to five staff from non-English speaking backgrounds and I struggle with that, that the organisational culture being about participation, taking responsibility and the particular worker’s own cultural backgrounds which may dictate that they would not disagree with what is being said, they would not naturally offer an opinion. What I find challenging is saying this is our organisational culture but they would say this is my culture. It is working out what are the non-negotiables, what is culture. (Beth)

Age and world views are also diverse in many of the organisations. Ita speaks of the challenge of inclusion in the face of these diversities:

At national level inclusion is the issue. Finding ways to successfully include the different viewpoints and the different groups and different ages. We’ve really found that the older group of women who had started INT off in Australia and had a history were fabulous. They are living treasures. And then there is a younger dynamic group of women who have come through a feminist education and upbringing and are strong and wonderful and doing all sorts of things. It is very easy for either group to just think that the other group isn’t there. Sometimes just the language that is used can further identify the differences rather than the similarities. Like ‘older women listening to younger women’, the title of a session at one of our meetings. And then you think well, uh, oh, where am I? There were incredibly sprightly women there who were 85 but probably didn’t feel it. They seemed young. (Ita)

Whatever the expression of diversity, the participants for whom this is an issue are committed to an understanding of leadership that is relational, mutual and highly participative. Inclusion is a priority if the values underpinning such an understanding of leadership are to be safeguarded.


Many of the participants, especially those in designated leadership positions, spoke of being over-committed. Beryl spoke of the ‘massive diversity and skill required that wears you out so that you never really feel as though you completely start and finish successfully one role’. Kay reveals that the leadership of ENV ‘felt that we’ve been burning out at various intervals and somehow or other we just keep going’. Jade’s experience is of ‘competing priorities for your time’.

Holly’s reflection on the time and energy balance required for working voluntarily in a community-profit organisation encapsulates the experience as well as the desires of many of the participants:

One of our issues is that most of us are either retired women or fully employed and it’s just finding the time and energy to put into it. ... There was a period when I think our leadership was what I see as a classic female model of leadership, which doesn’t work, where we thought we had to save the world. We were terribly altruistic, terribly generous with our energies and tried to do everything at once and we’d get burned out and it all seems a great burden. You don’t attract members then. And we had to turn that around and set small goals. And there is an ethos in the group where women may have to drop out for a while, but they’d be welcome back in. They do what they can and that is okay. Sometimes when we don’t achieve much for the year, we say that’s okay. When we didn’t have the energy to run a workshop we just had a little workshop in somebody’s house for ourselves because we have people in the group who practice various types of healing things so we nurtured our little group and we see that as an important value. But if you are going to expand and take on bigger responsibilities then you are putting lots of demands on the resources that are in the group. So it’s expanded very slowly because we’ve been on about nurturing ourselves as well as trying to be effective outside. And I think that is quite important for women to recognise the need to do that. (Holly)


An issue for several of the research organisations that operate at national and international levels is that of effective communication. The challenge expressed by those participants who experience this as a leadership issue is one of ensuring that all members receive adequate information about what is happening in the organisation. Written communication is vital in many of these organisations because of the costs associated with national and international gatherings. Mariah asks:

How do you do it within a national scene without having to buy into all the high-tech equipment which members don’t understand in a lot of areas? (Mariah)

Communication is an issue for several research participants because shared information is essential in any leadership interaction that is mutual, collaborative and participative.

The leadership issues identified by the research participants are, on the whole, not personal issues which focus on the position of the leader. Generally the issues identified by the participants as engaging their time and energy and therefore being an important part of their experience of leadership can be seen to be issues concerned with two priorities. One of these priorities is that the purpose of the organisation be clear and its mission be effective. Another priority is that the leadership interactions within the group be based on mutuality, collaboration and participation. The researcher believes that the clarity with which the issues are identified by the research participants and their commitment to addressing them in a serious and collaborative manner indicate the reflexivity and intentionality of the participants in their exercise of leadership.

8.4 The Participants' Practice of Leadeship

The research participants were asked to describe their leadership style and the leadership strategies that were used in the research organisations as a way of generating data that would give some insight into the way in which leadership is practised by women in community-profit organisations. The frequency distribution of the participants’ perceptions of leadership strategies in their organisations appears in Table 8.3.

Table 8.3 Frequency distribution of participants’ perceptions of leadership strategies in their organisations

Leadership strategies identified by participants

% of total participants

% of designated leaders

% of non-positional leaders

















Empowering others












Consultation and research

























Networking is the predominant leadership strategy identified by the participants with both designated leaders and non-positional leaders identifying it as the most common leadership strategy used in their organisations. Of the 35 per cent of participants that spoke of networking, a large number were careful to emphasise that they were not referring to the professional, masculine form of networking that is so common in business circles. As the following extracts from two interviews show, the participants were more concerned about the relationship aspect of networking than about what they perceived as a self-interested exchange of business cards.

What does networking really mean? It’s sitting around sucking up to someone usually and handing out a card. I find it interesting because I think before women adopted this more professional approach to networking which is handing around business cards it meant something very different among women. It’s interesting because we have a new woman who has come to our region and I’m on the reference group. She runs her reference group where we meet once a month and have a cup of tea at a cafe and we get stacks done and that’s what we’re used to. Women work well on that sort of basis. So I think that what is called networking is a bit of a scam at the moment. Still in the incubator as far as I am concerned. I read The Australian a couple of weekends ago and Wendy McCarthy was talking about if you don’t go home from a meeting with a heap of business cards then you’re a fool. Then I thought, I’m a fool. I just don’t go out to get cards. That’s not networking to me. A card doesn’t mean much if there’s not a relationship behind it does it? (Beryl)

Umm, I’ve been to quite a few women’s functions where networking is a big part of it. I’ve also said to a couple of people who are guest speakers that I find networking a bit impersonal in that a lot of the networking things I’ve been at they are really only out to get your business card to see if they can use you for their end purpose. I probably shouldn’t do this but I have three business cards; one for my job, one for our family business and one for BPAU. I am probably fairly calculating in just looking at people’s reactions. I’m fairly intuitive when I talk to people. You get a feeling if you are going to get on well with someone. And I’ve done this a couple of times. When people are networking professionally they don’t contact you. They are so busy getting their business cards out and looking around to see the next person they can target and you give them your business card and they give you theirs and whenever I give out my work one because of where I work they say ‘Oh we can’t use her’, and they put it in the bottom of their bag. The next one I give out will be our business one. And they say ‘Oh, yes, there might be a bit of marketing there’. And the next one is BPAU and they say ‘Oh, that’s interesting’. So I find that kind of networking impersonal. I know you have to do it and I know women are very good at doing it and they are picking it up from the boys because the boys have always done it. And it’s not natural for women. I can do networking at the local P&C. I can do networking at the supermarket if I bump into someone. We can do real networking anywhere. We don’t need to do it the way the boys do it. (Joy)

In describing the way in which the leadership of her organisation carries out networking, Erica presents the kind of sustained networking on a variety of levels which is typical of the networking strategies of the participants:

We network at different levels. We’ve done a targeting kind of networking. It was really important for us to get regional and state people who were going along the same lines as us. You couldn’t get people who were going to say ‘Let’s write policy now. Let’s reinvent the wheel’. And we wanted women not to reinvent the wheel but to take the many policies from women’s organisations that had already been written. We don’t want to spend hours doing that. We wanted people who were already wise enough and experienced enough to realise that was a good way to go. The other level of networking strategy we used was how we were going to get people to know about us. And we used the networks of people that we already knew in women’s groups throughout the state. And we wrote off initially to about 80 or so groups and we told them who we were and what we were doing and we asked them what they thought about it. Immediately we got a really positive response. The other thing we do is individual networking. And that is where we used the series of postcards that we’ve got . That’s a broader networking. We see the networking on all those different levels as being the one strength that we’ve got that will help us succeed in the end. We probably never will have the huge monetary resources you need for advertising but we will have contacts. Probably our main strategies could all be called networking because everything we’ve done has been networking. (Erica)

Participants speak of the variety of ways in which they maintain networking systems, including personal and telephone contact, newsletters, joint projects with other community groups and use of information technology. Networking is seen as a key leadership strategy by the participants because it promotes a strong sense of identity and purpose within their organisations, is a way of maximising limited resources in community-profit organisations and provides a basis for collaborative engagement in the mission of the organisation.


As Table 8.3 indicates communication is identified as another key leadership strategy, especially for those who are in designated leadership positions. Communication is seen as an important leadership strategy by the participants because, as Margot says, ‘there are people feeling the need for sharing the vision and for learning from each other across boundaries and networking and communication are attempts to share the vision, spirit the vision and help develop identity’. The emphasis on communication is also an attempt to ensure that all leadership processes are transparent because, as Eve points out, ‘we’ve been in organisations where things haven’t been transparent and we never want to fall into that trap’.

The participants speak of the range of communication strategies employed by the leadership of their organisations. For example, Holly describes the strategies used by her organisation’s national leadership group:

We have regular communication from the national leadership. We get a packet of stuff in the mail every month. So we’re informed; we get minutes of meetings and things like that and we get lists we can refer to and we’ll know what campaigns are happening and what issues are being addressed nationally. It’s also to do with managing the grant from the Office of the Status of Women and the commitments that are attached to that grant. I guess the other leadership strategy is maintaining inspiration through newsletters and articles. (Holly)

The leadership of Fay’s group has invited some of their members who are interested in Information Technology to help them implement communication as a leadership strategy. Fay acknowledges that the designated leadership of the group is not interested in the technological aspects of communication:

We’ve got some members who said they’d do the technology because we’re looking at whether we should set up Internet connections around Australia and I just don’t want to think about things like that at all. But there are some people who are really interested in that. They’re not designated leaders but we just tell them to go off and decide in that area and come back and tell us what to do. (Fay)

Lala describes some of the communication strategies in her organisation:

Communication is a strategy and there has been the development of a number of different ways of looking at communication. There is a general newsletter that goes out to a group that is wider than our own organisation. Then there is an inhouse publication that is aimed at, in the past few years, getting people to write a profile about who they are and what they are interested in and how they have become who they are basically. To develop the relationships. And anybody can write anything in that and it just goes to the membership. Then there is communication at the international level and the international people have endeavoured some thematic communication to stimulate people’s reflection and discussion on issues. Then there’s communication in the global village from the international secretary which is a sharing of information with different countries. (Lala)

It is Lala, a non-positional leader, who probably best describes why communication is such an important leadership strategy for many of the participants. She concludes that ‘communication is the strategy for building the movement and facilitating the relational dimensions and strengthening them within the group itself’. Communication is seen by over one quarter of the participants as a key strategy for publicly promoting their organisation and its mission as well as for maintaining the internal cohesiveness of its members.


A third key leadership strategy identified by the participants is lobbying. This is a particularly important leadership strategy for non-positional leaders. As Table 8.3 indicates, over one third of non-positional leaders see this as a key leadership strategy, on a par with networking.

Under lobbying as a leadership strategy the participants include a range of activities from advocacy through to influencing government policy formation through insertion into the political process. An example of the kind of advocacy issues that the participants spoke of is described by Agnes:

Just recently there was a woman in Perth and she contacted us and she said ‘Look, I’ve been told I can no longer work because I’m 60 and I want to work, I enjoy it, but I’ve been told I’ve got to retire’. So, do you see what I mean, on the one hand they say it’s all been changed and you’re expected to work until you’re 65 and this one’s been told you’re 60, you’re too old, get out and she wants to stay. So she has written and said ‘Can you at least give me a letter that gives me a little support?’ (Agnes)

In describing the lobbying strategy as it operates in BPAU, Jocelyn gives an example of the ways in which the research organisations lobby through insertion in the political process:

Part of our charter is to lobby government at the local, state, federal and international level. It uses its voice as an NGO in the United Nations. It has built up a track record and is approached by the Federal Government to comment on White Papers and Green Papers and so on. It attempts to influence government policy at all levels. It does a good enough job for its comment to be sought the next time and the next time. So lobbying is a very important leadership strategy and in order to do that it does investigate all sorts of things; it investigates the situation of women in small business, it investigates all sorts of social problems for women, it investigates women in all sorts of different stratas. (Jocelyn)

Participants mention lobbying in areas such as demanding more resources in order to deliver services to women, nuclear testing, reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous people, enterprise bargaining for women, women and technology, sexual harassment, the environment and peace. Especially the non-positional leaders see lobbying as an essential element in achieving the purpose of the organisation. Cara describes lobbying as a leadership strategy which gets the organisation involved in wider political and community activity:

trying to not only encourage women to find their own information, their own voice and make their own changes, but to work towards creating community change so that the whole community changes as well. (Cara)

Other Leadership Stratergies

Other leadership strategies identified by a significant number of the participants are collaborating, planning and empowering others. Given the emphasis on collaboration as a recurring theme in the participants’ reflection on their understanding and experience of leadership it is not surprising that several of the participants name collaboration as one of their leadership strategies. In discussing collaboration as a strategy, the participants do not elaborate on collaboration beyond the data described in Chapter 7 of the thesis.

Similarly, given that over 60 per cent of designated leaders perceive themselves as organisers and planners, it is not surprising that some of the participants identify planning as a leadership strategy. Perhaps what is more interesting is that such a small number of the designated leaders do so.

Those participants who name empowering others as a leadership strategy speak of empowerment as providing a climate or an empathetic milieu in which others can claim their own power. For example, Briana says:

The ability to see a need and to create strategies and programs to assist those people to recognise their own need and work with them towards achieving what it is they need to achieve. That is both challenging and rewarding when the end result is there. The ability to see, to recognise when that need has been met and how you can further help to move on from that point to achieve something she would never have dreamed she could achieve before. That is a very important leadership strategy. (Briana)

Kay speaks of trying ‘to utilise people’s skills and their enthusiasm in whatever level they want to give it without harassing them or stressing them or expecting them to do something’, and Jessica speaks of the importance of ‘encouragement’ as a strategy for empowering others.

Other leadership strategies mentioned by one or two of the participants are listed in Table 8.3. It is clear, however, that the leadership strategies that are most common in the community-profit organisations in this research are networking, communication and lobbying.

Participants’ Leadership Styles

Table 8.4 shows the frequency distribution of personal leadership styles as perceived by the participants. As Table 8.4 shows, many of the non-positional leaders did not identify a personal leadership style or responded to the question about leadership style with an answer that was not relevant to the question.

Table 8.4 Frequency distribution of personal leadership styles perceived by formal participants

Perceived personal leadership style as described by participants

Designated leaders (n=35)

Non-positional leaders (n=22)







Strategic (change-oriented)












Low key



Almost half of the designated leaders said that they would call their leadership style ‘collaborative’ and most spoke at length about what they meant by this. Freda uses the word collegiality to explain what she means by a collaborative leadership style:

I think we work in a collegial way with each other but we also try to work that way with a lot of other people. And while other people have influenced me in that, it’s part of what I sustain in this organisation as the designated leader. The designated leader is very important in setting the tone in an organisation and so I think that that preparedness to sit and work through things and talk about things and be vulnerable with other people and all that kind of stuff is really an important part of the tone of the place. I think we have a very talented group of staff here and it would be very easy to get into a kind of expert mode and yet, while we need an enormous amount of expertise to do our work, it’s very disempowering of other people to be ‘the expert’. Hence the need to work alongside people and to influence people but also to listen and learn as you go. (Freda)

The participants who say they have a collaborative leadership style recognise the importance of the contribution of others in the organisation. Abbey ‘likes leadership to have an input from everyone, to be collaborative, especially in a community organisation’. Fay says:

I put up my ideas but I modify those ideas a lot to take into account what other people are saying and I’m quite prepared to lose in an argument. Unless it is something that is really fundamental, basic principles. I think through things before I say them and then if other people say ‘What about this and what about that’, I’ll try to incorporate those and what other people’s viewpoints are. I’m collaborative and inclusive in my style. I feel really uncomfortable if I’m not. (Fay)

Ada is also appreciative of the contribution of others and she states:

I certainly have come to the point now where I would voice my opinions but I’ll certainly listen to everybody else’s opinion and often I’ll back down because their opinion is better or more logical. (Ada)

For Dora and for Eve, having a collaborative leadership style involves bringing people together around something they hold in common.

For me it is really important to bring people together and have a common understanding and common goal when working together as a group. So you don’t just go in there with your own ideas. I mean, they’re important too, but you must make sure you represent your clients, so my leadership style is bringing people together. That way people can own stuff, can be in control, and contribute. It’s highly collaborative. It’s about ensuring that the clients have the information and resources to make their own decisions about their own lives, so that’s the basis I work off. So if a client comes to me with an issue my role wouldn’t be to say ‘You need to go and do this’, but to say ‘This is the information about options you have’ and support her to make her own decision. (Dora)

My leadership style is very inclusive and very collaborative and trying to marshall the ideas of the people involved to take something forward. I’m trying to lead it forward but with the people involved included in that process. (Eve)

For many of the participants who describe their leadership style as collaborative there is a deliberate choice of such a style and a commitment to develop it. Margot and Yetta describe the conscious decision involved in this choice and commitment:

I would describe my leadership style as collaborative. I was at a workshop last week actually and I came out fairly high at the collaborative end of the scale, which I was pleased about, but in part it didn’t surprise me but I was pleased about it. It was at a point where I thought that maybe I wasn’t quite at that point on the scale but I was. I mean, I checked that out with someone on the team and she said ‘Yes, I would have seen that that is where you would have come out on the scale’. There are times where I would much prefer to be authoritative and dogmatic about something, but that usually happens when I’m under threat or don’t feel I know exactly where I am in the organisation or in the team operation; then I tend to move away from the collaborative style and be a bit more authoritarian or dogmatic about what I would like to see or about an opinion. (Margot)

Collaborative probably. I have a sense of holding myself back from ... really it sits more comfortably with me probably to say ‘Do this, do that, do that!’ But within the cooperative situation that’s not an acceptable way to behave. I do have a sense of having to hold back and to employ less direct ways of achieving what I think is a reasonable end than I would like to. I can see that it is better to be in a direction of having people decide on ideas for themselves, but there is an element in my personality which would like to say ‘Well everybody’s taking so long to come to this decision, just do it!’ so that I have to hold back from being too directive. I mean, probably other people don’t see me as being directive at all, people tend to see me as being more collaborative than I really am, as more flexible than I really feel that I am. ... But my natural inclination is really in another direction and I do have the sense of frustration at not being able to be more directive. ... But I can see now having been in the cooperative situation that a collaborative leadership style has a lot to recommend it - more agreement, more compromise and more ownership. (Yetta)

The participants speak of the collaborative leadership style as one which is based on valuing the contribution of others and on including everyone in organisational processes and decisions. It is also one that demands patience, especially with the slowness of decision making, and commitment.

Another group of participants describe their leadership style as facilitative. These participants also appreciate the contribution of each person in the organisation and try to make it easy for those in the leadership interaction to participate and contribute. There are many similarities between the characteristics of this leadership style as described by some participants and the characteristics of the collaborative style described by others.

Amara’s and Jocelyn’s comments incorporate some of the characteristics of the facilitative leadership style as described by the participants - appreciating the contribution of others, using leadership skills to facilitate the contribution of everyone and sensitivity:

I have possibly a facilitative style and I don’t think I am dominating. I appreciate leadership from others, particularly when I am uncertain. I don’t like being uncertain and I feel that, I suppose I get frustrated when I see bowling in of others who don’t even listen. There have been times on the board when I have been quite frustrated because there is enormous talent on that board and sometimes when there is a dominance of one particular person we don’t get that talent out at all. We don’t get the views and the values and we don’t hear from each of those people because the board has talkative people and quiet people and the quiet people don’t push themselves and they tend to need facilitation. I think people must be sensitive to do that and sometimes I don’t see that happening. I would hope that I facilitate and get the best out of people who have things to contribute while what I probably don’t do so well is shutting up the person I would like to keep quiet. (Amara)

When asked to describe her leadership style Jocelyn said:

It’s very much a business of good will and coordinating people or letting them coordinate; setting up the climate really, rather than doing it yourself, so that people enjoy what they are doing in the organisation and they feel they are growing or it’s good for them or the vibes are good when they are involved. It’s helping it to be either stimulating or comfortable for them. For different people being comfortable will be why they are involved, for others it will be the desire to be stimulated. It’s helping individual people but also helping the relationships between people. If I say helping I don’t mean me running around and trying to organise it; I mean trying to set up a climate where those things work. (Jocelyn)

Mia sums up what the participants describe as a facilitative style when she says:

And I think I like to be the person to kind of enable somebody to do it, giving them some strategies to work with so that people can actually go off and do it themselves. (Mia)

Leadership styles identified by a smaller number of the participants are listed in Table 8.4. The relational and consultative leadership styles as described by the participants are very similar to the collaborative and facilitative styles. The strategic style as described the participants who identified it is focused on transformation, not of the organisation but of the community and of the society in which the organisation and its members are situated. Those participants who say they have a competent leadership style speak of being organised and reliable as leaders.

The participants’ responses to questions about how they would describe the main leadership strategies in their organisation and how they would describe their own leadership styles give some insight into how leadership is exercised in the community-profit organisations in this research. The data consistently reveals that leadership is exercised in a way that is collaborative and facilitative and inclusive of the contribution of everyone involved in the organisation.

8.5 Conflict Experienced by the Participants in their Experience of Leadership in Community-Profit Organisations

The research participants were asked to comment on what they perceived were the expectations of both designated and non-positional leadership in their organisations as a way of generating data about the conflicts that might be part of their experience of leadership. The summary of the relative support for participants’ statements of the perceived expectations of the leadership in their organisations is presented in Table 8.5.

Table 8.5 Relative support for participants’ statements of the perceived expectations of the leadership of their community-profit organisations

Participants’ perceptions of expectations of leadership

Designated leaders

Non-positional leaders

To respond to needs in the community and be an advocate for community concerns



To communicate and consult with members of the organisation



To facilitate the ongoing work of the group



To be accountable (financially, legally, maintain standards)



To oversee future development of the organisation



To support members of the organisation



To represent the interests and position of the organisation



To be competent



Key: **** very strong support (over 50%)

*** strong support (35% - 50%)

** moderate support (20% - 35%)

* weak support (below 20%)

The four categories of support were created to reflect both the number of participants who identified each expectation and the number of sentences that were allocated to each expectation according to the texts in NUDIST. Participants were also asked to comment on any conflict they might personally experience in their exercise of leadership.

The only area consistently identified as a source of conflict in the exercise of leadership in the research organisations is that of remaining committed to collaborative and participative practices and processes of leadership when there seems to be so many pressures to abandon them. This conflict is latent in the presentation of the research findings about the issues that the participants face in their exercise of leadership (section 8.3) and in the presentation of findings about how the participants understand leadership (Chapter 7). It also emerges in the participants’ responses to the question about the conflict they experience.

Erica describes the conflict that she feels in having to counter the expectation of both some of the members of her organisation and of the wider public that there be only one leader in the organisation when in fact her organisation operates on the principle that anyone who wants to be responsible for the life and purpose of the organisation in collaboration with others is a leader:

There are members who have never been involved in anything like a feminist or collective style organisation and they want leaders and they want to look up to you. It’s just what you don’t want because you want everyone to be seen on the same level. And that comes from expectations of leadership being only the leaders. I think the other thing is the community expects of leadership that there will be a leader and there will be one spokesperson and they want you all the time. And they don’t like it when you direct them to someone else. I think they are getting used to that now. When they ring up now they expect me to do that but some of them get really cranky and want me to do something immediately. Community groups want the one person who is seen as the leader to go and speak. (Erica)

Beryl experiences conflict in remaining committed to collaborative processes and practices when, because of the large number of part time staff, there is only one day when everyone is present in the office:

For me, what works more efficiently in a decision making process and needing answers and a quick response is the hierarchy does because you can respond in a day as opposed to with a collective process either having to ring people at home on their days off or waiting until they meet on Thursday to make a decision. The other side of that is that not everyone owns everything because decisions have been made in isolation for various reasons. People don’t feel they’re included or they don’t own stuff which is very important particularly when you’re wanting to shift and change behaviours and attitudes. I think it is trying to marry the two together so that they are not absolute at either end. (Beryl)

Another reason that the participants experience some conflict in trying to exercise leadership in a collaborative and participative way is that they feel they have few role models and, as Beryl explains, the few they have had have been ‘cut down’:

Any strong woman we’ve had they cut down and I think the troubles Carmen Lawrence has had have really hurt a lot of us. I think we’re in a void and we could do with some good stuff coming out again and seeing some strong women who are surviving. (Beryl)

Agatha also mourns the loss of the high profile public women who have become victims of the media and of the political process and she says:

I think it’s very hard amongst women, and women who push; when I see our women politicians my heart aches for them, Carmen Lawrence, Ros Kelly, Cheryl Kernot, Joan Kerner. (Agatha)

According to Mia women who try to develop collaborative and participative models of leadership feel threatened because ‘there’s a sense that this is a man’s domain, you know, and most of our models are men and most of them aren’t good leaders’.

Some of the participants experience the lack of morale that comes when some women seem to work against the collaborative model of leadership. Amara expresses this disappointment:

I expect women to be better. I know women who don’t listen to anybody, who just move and are quite singular and arrogant. I expect them to cut through all of that and find, the truth is, the issue is I haven’t always found that to be true. I’ve found that perceptions are mistaken for the truth and that has carried the day. I’ve found that women have not always been supportive of other women. I’ve found that very distressing and everybody does that for a sense of righteousness. That is what the hypocritical thing of it all is. (Amara)

Kay has also been somewhat disillusioned by women who fail to be collaborative in their leadership:

Whilst I find it a very positive thing that women are moving into more leadership roles, I don’t think that just because they are women that it means they will necessarily be good, fair, collaborative, honest leaders. I think that women have to come from a particular understanding of life and strong values. The values that we tend to think of and tend to associate with women are the values that I would like to see women in leadership adopt, but not all women have those values ... Some women get into positions of power and abuse their power - I’ve seen it in my paid job - there’s no doubt about that! (Kay)

Several of the participants mentioned conflict between their public roles and their private lives. For Beryl and for women with whom she is in contact this conflict often resulted in a lack of congruence between their public and private lives. She says:

And you are expected to balance, you’re trying to work for women’s rights so you come to work and you do all the right feminist things and then you go home and do all the things your mother taught you. You do the kids, you do the house, you do the dog. So you have a public face and a private face and often they’re not jelling and I think that’s hard. All the women I know who are the coordinators we get together and some won’t travel on the Saturday because they won’t leave their families because it’s too difficult; the kids can’t go here, they can’t go there. And it’s a major effort trying to get there. We were in Canberra one weekend and this woman’s son rang and said ‘You didn’t iron my shirt before you went and I don’t know how to do it.’ That kind of stuff is hilarious. This is a really strong woman who has really strong ideas about what is hers and what isn’t and this happens. And I think that’s for women everywhere; I find that. And that’s a big conflict. (Beryl)

Kay thinks it is important to prevent conflict in your life by ‘knowing your boundaries and on a personal level making sure you have a balance in your life that you are not giving too much in any one area without looking after your own personal needs for a balanced life’.

Another source of conflict identified by several participants is the expectation that those who accept leadership have to do all the hard work in the organisation while a large proportion of the membership is passive. For example, Jessica describes how the leadership of her organisation received feedback from the members who said ‘We don’t care about it. That’s what we voted you in for; to make the decisions’. Jessica bemoans the fact that ‘the leadership team and the executive team work their butts off and the members don’t recognise that enough.’

Several of the participants also experience conflict because they are unable to meet the needs of those they serve either because the organisation’s resources are so limited or because the expectations go beyond the mandate of the organisation. For example, Gina says:

Some expect that you would be able to meet any need whether it be domestic violence or child abuse or anything. There are people with unreal expectations that we can do anything for anyone and that’s just not possible. (Gina)

On the whole the responses of the participants did not indicate that they experience a great deal of conflict in their exercise of leadership in community-profit organisations. Generally the participants seem to think that the expectations of the leadership in their organisations are reasonable and valid expectations that they are able to meet. There are some variations between the perceived expectations of those who are designated leaders and those who are non-positional leaders as Table 6.10 indicates, but these variations are not a source of conflict for the participants.

8.6 Conclusion

This chapter presents the patterns of results about the participants’ experiences of leadership which emerge from the immersion in the texts, the coding and categorising of the texts, memo-writing and critical dialogue about the texts. The patterns of results based on the data about what the women hope to achieve from their exercise of leadership, about the issues that form the content of many of their leadership experiences, about the leadership strategies and leadership styles adopted by the participants and about the conflicts that they experience in their exercise of leadership suggest that the participants have four main agendas for leadership - developing collaborative and participative structures, processes and strategies, social transformation in terms of a more just and equitable society, a commitment to the vision and goals of their organisations and personal fulfilment.

Emerging from the data dealing with the issues faced by the participants, the leadership strategies and styles adopted by the participants and the conflict experienced by the participants is a leadership agenda that focuses on a commitment to developing collaborative and participative structures, processes and strategies. This agenda reflects the participants’ understandings of leadership described in Chapter 7. The data conveys a sense of tenacious and principled application to this agenda as a top priority in the participants’ experience of leadership. A leadership agenda that emerges from the data about what the participants hope to achieve through their exercise of leadership and from the issues around which much of their leadership experience is focused is that of a commitment to social transformation in terms of a more just and equitable society. A commitment to the vision and goals of their organisations, (whose purposes are described by the participants as social transformation, personal growth and empowerment and community development), is also an agenda for leadership adopted by the participants. This agenda is reflected in their concern for issues such as on-going development of processes and structures to best achieve the goals of the organisations, membership, resources and organisational purpose and identity. Finally, personal fulfilment is a leadership agenda for many of the participants, an agenda that leads them to be concerned about issues such as over-commitment and the conflict between their public roles and their private lives.

The presentation of research findings in this chapter provides a foundation on which to present some conclusions about leadership from the perspective of women’s leadership in community-profit organisations. The final chapter of the thesis shows the distinct contribution that these findings make to the body of knowledge about leadership in disciplines such as leadership studies, Women in Management studies and third sector studies. In Chapter 9 conclusions are suggested about the research problem based on a review of the research findings within the context of the theoretical framework presented in Chapter 2 and the review of relevant research in Chapter 3. Implications of this research are then drawn for theory and practice and for further research.

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