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Women’s Leadership 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. iii-iv.
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions

KEY WORDS: Leadership, Women in Management, Nonprofit Sector, World View

This research explores leadership in a context on the edge of the traditional terrain of leadership studies, that is, women’s community-profit organisations. In the research, voices are heard that have hitherto been ignored in the malestream leadership literature - women who are designated leaders and non-positional leaders in community-profit organisations ‘on the margins’. This research explores how 57 women involved in the exercise of leadership in community-profit organisations construct, perceive and interpret the social reality called leadership.

Leadership is an ongoing social reality at the heart of organisations, communities and societies. The paradigm shift from a mechanistic to a holistic world view and the discontinuous change which characterises this shift provide the current cultural context and the contemporary context in which leadership is exercised. Indeed, the way in which leadership is understood and exercised in these contexts of discontinuous change and major cultural transformation may substantially determine how society evolves in such a turbulent environment. The exhaustion of the mechanistic world view and of the bureaucratic-managerial model of leadership which reflects its assumptions and values suggests the importance of finding elsewhere new understandings and practices of leadershipwithin a holistic world view.

Because paradigm shifts are more likely to be felt and responded to ‘on the margins’ where there is not such a heavy investment in the values and practices of the dominant world view, the ‘elsewhere’ where new understandings and practices of leadership are likely to be found are contexts radically different from the malestream, bureaucratic and profit-dominated contexts in which the majority of leadership writing and research occurs. The research problem at the heart of this research is ‘to what extent does women’s leadership in community-profit organisations exhibit new understandings and practices of leadership which are consonant with the characteristics of an emerging holistic world view and which have the potential to provide a creative response to discontinuous change?’

The assumptions underpinning the research are located in a symbolic interactionist perspective which highlights a way of knowing based on experience, empathy and interaction. The view of theorising adopted in this research is that of theory as hermeneutic or interpretive understanding. The concurrent research processes used to address the research problem from a symbolic interactionist perspective include a cultural review process, in-depth interviewing as the principal data collection process, managing, recording and protecting the data, data analysis processes such as immersion in the texts and categorising and coding, and processes to protect the integrity of the research.

The research findings suggest that this research does make a contribution to leadership studies in terms of new understandings and practices of leadership. Women’s leadership in community-profit organisations is collaborative, relational in the sense of promoting mutuality and partnership, facilitative, generative and realistic. A distinct contribution of the research is that leadership is understood as an interaction and not as a position. The understanding of leadership that emerges from the research findings is that leadership is a generative interaction between designated leaders and non-positional leaders who engage in a process of collaborative partnership to achieve their common purposes of social transformation, community development and personal growth and empowerment. The bending, swaying, circling and spiralling movements of dancing and its intricate patterns capture the essence of this understanding of leadership much better than the images of climbing, marching and striding suggested in the relevant literature. The research findings on which this understanding of leadership are based are new insofar as they support the emerging theory of leadership beyond the bureaucratic managerial model. This research indicates that women’s leadership in community-profit organisations has the potential to make an important contribution to the understanding and practice of leadership in the context of a paradigm shift from a mechanistic to a holistic world view.

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