MODELS OF SERVANT LEADERSHIP IN TRANSNATIONAL NGOS:
The Art of Matching Individual Expectations and Fulfillment with
Organizational Vision, Mission and Services
Dr. Uygar Özesmi
Transnational NGOs (TNGOs) operate in the realm of global civil society.
TNGOs do not constitute civil society, but are formed by active citizens both
thru their membership, donations, and active participation as volunteers or as
paid staff. Their primary legitimacy comes from their mission and goals that
are not based on self-interest, and that is supported by civil society, as well as
their transparency and accountability. Legitimacy also comes thru signing on
to and fulfilling criteria of International NGO Charters, which set best
standards that these organizations strive to achieve. Thereby the main
responsibility of TNGOs is to their donors, members, volunteers, and staff
(which sometimes overlap) within their constitutional mission.
Therefore leadership in TNGOs may be expressed by also being a vehicle for
matching individual expectations and fulfillment of donors, members,
volunteers, and staff (let’s call this their constituency) with that of the NGO’s
organizational mission and vision. There is an inherent tension in matching
the expectations and needs of the constituency with that of the organization. If
leadership is disjointed from their constituency that threatens the legitimacy of
the organization and can also cause alienation. This is especially valid in the
new era of individualism and individual citizen actions, which has many more
vehicles of expression thru digital social networks. The new generation wants
more to be listened and be part of the formation of a mission and vision thru
networks. Traditional hierarchical types of\organization of TNGOs have
difficulty in adapting to this more horizontal, lateral networked way of working
with constituencies. Therefore the tension between the raison d'être of
TNGOs and that of the rising expectations from the constituency creates a
need for a different kind of leadership. This new leadership model needs to be
described and modeled for a broader understanding to take root in TNGOs if
they want to remain effective in this new era.
This new leadership model is broadly defined as “servant leadership”. The
term has been previously used in faith based leadership models, however
what I am trying to articulate is not faith based, but comes from the need of a
new leadership that can cater to the needs of the changing world and the
values of a new generation and how they define themselves. The
commonality between the two may be lies in that they both focus on
empowering and serving constituencies in realizing their own expectations,
needs and potential.
I would like to look at servant leadership as an open, strategic and responsive
leadership that interacts with the principle of service to the constituency. In
defining servant leadership there are a series of questions that need to be
answered:
How have others defined servant leadership in the past and how does
this new framing differ or add?
How can servant leadership models be used in forming and revising the
overarching organizational mission and vision thru networked
participatory processes? In the end, TNGOs will only remain relevant as
long as they can provide authentic and responsive channels for the concerns,
passions and priorities of their constituency. The organization will succeed
thru enlarging and tailoring to ways in which they can help the constituency to
be more effective and to achieve the things they desire.
How close can the expectations and values of the constituency be
matched with that of the organization? How can leaders help match the
constituencies values and goals with the organizational vision and mission, in
which values of the organization are embedded? How can leadership help the
constituency to contribute and participate in such a way that organizational
vision, mission and objectives are co-created and advanced? The diversity of
the constituency of overlapping donors, members, volunteers, and staff poses
a challenge. It also poses an organizational management challenge given that
it also includes staff. TNGO staff may either transition from the business,
government or foundationsectors or grow into jobs thru entering the
‘engagement web’. Here we use the term ‘web’ as opposed to the
‘engagement ladder’, because anyone in the constituency may be in any of
the roles that go up the ladder from passive information receiver, to
engagement in social networks, or cyber actions, to being a donor or member,
to finally actively volunteering or becoming staff. This engagement web
includes all these different roles and anyone can be in multiple roles. In all
cases individuals have come to these positions with expectations related to
personal fulfillment closely related to higher societal or ethical values.
How can servant leadership frame issues and choices with the
constituency, both serving their most immediate concerns, and taking
them on journeys that they want to go on? The vehicles for people to go
on their desired journey might not be apparent to them or may not even exist.
How can servant leaders help identify and perhaps even help built these
vehicles together?
These questions will help us define and frame servant leadership in order to
create change in leadership styles that take into account the change we
observe in the contemporary individualistic style of citizen activism in the
context of a networked society.