…thoughts on and about my PhD journey and beyond…

Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933)American psycho...

Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My abstract has been accepted for the Global Servant-Leadership Research Roundtable to be held in Melbourne in June.  I am using SL theory (and particularly Sendjaya’s SL Behaviour Scale Model) as an indicator of a worldly leadership mindset.  Here is my abstract:

Leadership Redux: Reconnecting Humanist Concerns with Leadership for the Knowledge Era through the Lens of Servant Leadership

We find ourselves today, in the second decade of the 21st century, embedded in a knowledge-intensive era (Uhl-Bien, Marion, & McKelvey, 2007) framed by the interrelationships between knowledge production as the main driver of growth and wealth creation, globalisation, massification of education and deepening concerns about our world’s environmental sustainability.  As Klenke (2008) argues, these changes are signifiers of a “paradigm shift that is permeating the field of leadership studies” (p. 380) as we move away from 19th century industrial era and machine-age leadership mindsets where command and control practices and heroic leadership models were privileged and still influence leadership practices today.  The shift is towards a different approach, not yet named or fully understood, yet emerging as leadership perspectives appropriate today’s VUCA[1] (Johansen, 2009) environment.

A Servant Leadership (SL) (Greenleaf, 1977; Spears & Lawrence, 2002) redux is not surprising given these turbulent conditions, especially since the Global Financial Crisis (Shiller, 2008; Lamba, 2010).  SL theory is integral to making sense of these conditions which call for different and deeper ways of thinking about our world, our worldviews and our leadership and research practices.  Leaders and followers are articulating what they may have long felt—that profits above all else and rampant consumerism are not serving the purpose of our lives and they are leading to unsustainable business practices that are harming people and the planet (Evans, 2008).  It is also emblematic of the renaissance of humanist principles of leadership (Follett, 1924, 1925; Mayo, 1933; Barnard, 1938) taken up from the latter stages of the 20th century, for example, by McGregor (1960),  Drucker (1993), Hock (1999), Raelin (2003), Senge et al (2004) and Turnbull (2011).

One definition of leadership that accords with the principles of SL and works with the conditions already described is that “leaders are in the business of energy management” (Kets de Vries, 2003 p. 111).  This definition acknowledges that leadership is deeply bound to the sustainable use of our creative energies. It also elevates the judicious governance of energy of self, others and the environment alongside, not subordinate to, financial governance, and therefore towards more holistic approaches to governance (Elkington, 1998; Bragdon, 2006, 2009).

My research has found that appropriate leadership literacies for the knowledge era rest on these humanist principles and this expanded notion of governance and, indeed, that SL is central to this endeavour.  Such leadership literacies bring issues of sustainability and complexity into the leadership fold, based on the premise that leadership is not set apart from the living systems—human and environmental—that we serve (Davis, 2010a, b).  Here the term literacy suggests more than just the ability to read and write, to be literate also implies a deeper understanding of the particular phenomenon under review and the ability to make sense of, embody, interpret and interact with complex sources of information and experiences inherent in that domain. 

The leadership literacies I have determined from the literature as appropriate for the Knowledge Era have, in turn, been used to investigate whether they are yet evident in Australian universities, by asking university professional staff about their lived experience of work and leadership.  The responses were analysed against the selected themes of this inquiry which are grounded in a SL Behavioral Scale (SLBS) (Sendjaya, Sarros, & Santora, 2008)[2] with the addition of sustainability development; leadership as work, i.e. process and practice; worldly leadership; and learning metabolism.  I expect my findings to elucidate that the re-emergence of humanist concerns in general, and Servant Leadership theory in particular, are strong foundations for leadership literacies for the Knowledge Era.


Barnard, C. I. 1938. The functions of the executive. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Bragdon, J. H. 2006. Profit for life, how capitalism excels:  Case studies in living asset management. Cambridge, MA: Society for Organization Learning Inc.

Bragdon, J. H. 2009. Capitalism as a human system: The value of relational equity. Reflections, 10(1): pp. 1-8.

Davis, H. 2010a. Other-centredness as a leadership attribute: From ego to eco centricity. Journal of Spirituality, Leadership and Management, 4(1): pp. 43-52.

Davis, H. 2010b. The sustainability zeitgeist as a gps for worldly leadership within the discourse of globalisation, European Academy of Management 10th Annual Conference: Back to the future. Rome: EURAM.

Drucker, P. F. 1993. Post-capitalist society. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann,.

Elkington, J. 1998. Cannibals with forks: The triple bottom line of 21st century business. Gabriola Island, BC ; Stony Creek, CT: New Society Publishers.

Evans, P. 2008. Is an alternative globalization possible? Politics Society, 36(2): pp. 271 – 305.

Follett, M. P. 1924. Creative experience. New York: Longmans, Green and Co.

Follett, M. P. 1925. Dynamic administration: The collected papers (H.C. Metcalf & L.F. Urwick 1940 ed.). New York: Harper & Bros.

Greenleaf, R. K. 1977. Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. New York: Paulist Press.

Hock, D. 1999. Birth of the chaordic age. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Johansen, R. 2009. Leaders make the future: Ten new leadership skills for an uncertain world. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Kets de Vries, M. F. R. 2003. Leaders, fools and imposters:  Essays on the psychology of leadership (Rev ed.). New York: iUniverse Inc.

Klenke, K. 2008. Qualitative research in the study of leadership. Bingley, UK: Emerald.

Lamba, H. S. 2010. Understanding the ideological roots of our global crises: A pre-requisite for radical change. Futures, 42(10): pp. 1079-1087.

Mayo, E. 1933. The human problems of an industrial civilization. New York,: The Macmillan company.

McGregor, D. 1960. The human side of enterprise. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Raelin, J. A. 2003. Creating leaderful organizations: How to bring out leadership in everyone. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Sendjaya, S., Sarros, J. C., & Santora, J. C. 2008. Defining and measuring servant leadership behaviour in organizations. Journal of Management Studies, 45(2): pp. 402 – 424.

Senge, P. M., Scharmer, C. O., Jaworski, J., & Flowers, B. S. 2004. Presence: Human purpose and the field of the future. Cambridge, MA: SoL.

Shiller, R. J. 2008. The subprime solution: How today’s global financial crisis happened and what to do about it. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press.

Spears, L. C., & Lawrence, M. 2002. Focus on leadership: Servant-leadership for the twenty-first century. New York: J. Wiley & Sons.

Turnbull, S., Case, P., Edwards, G., Schedlitzki, D., & Simpson, P. (Eds.). 2011. Worldly leadership: Alternative wisdoms for a complex world. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Uhl-Bien, M., Marion, R., & McKelvey, B. 2007. Complexity leadership theory: Shifting leadership from the industrial age to the knowledge era. The Leadership Quarterly, 18(4): pp. 298-318.

van Dierendonck, D. 2011. Servant leadership: A review and synthesis. Journal of Management, 37(4): pp. 1228-1261.

[1] Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA)

[2] The SLBS was also cited in van Dierendonck, D. 2011. Servant leadership: A review and synthesis. Journal of Management, 37(4): pp. 1228-1261.


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