A Remedy for Improving the Culture in Higher Education: Toxic Leadership to Servant Leadership

A Remedy for Improving the Culture in Higher Education: Toxic Leadership to Servant Leadership

David B. Ross (Nova Southeastern University, USA), Rande W. Matteson (Nova Southeastern University, USA), Melissa T. Sasso (Nova Southeastern University, USA) and Gina L. Peyton (Nova Southeastern University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9485-7.ch007
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The purpose of this chapter is to examine how servant-centered leadership should align with the values of higher education institutions than other forms of leadership. Servant leadership follows a value system, ethical philosophy, rather than a standard set of leadership practices. This chapter explores adult education and leadership-power philosophies, the historical perspective of leadership and management, followed by literature of servant leadership and toxic leadership. In addition, crises of higher education were discussed as well as the need to remedy a toxic culture toward servant-centered environment and that institutions of higher education must be the proactive educators. The researchers concluded that in order for an academic institution to thrive, the utilization and implementation of servant-centered leadership is paramount. It is also equally critical to teach students the philosophy of servant leadership so they in turn can give back to their communities.
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To lead and educate, you must serve. Servant leadership is the systematic process of developing the needs of servants ahead of those leaders found within private or public institutions. Servant leadership is positively needed in higher education, especially based on the institutions’ purposes, accountability, practices, and core values of integrity, humility, empathy, and trustworthiness (Dean, 2014). In higher education, faculty, staff, and administration must model positive behavior as well as mentor and produce community-focused students. If promoting insignificant core values and teaching inadequate and unsuitable behaviors, the environment of higher education could become toxic (Ross, Sasso, Matteson, & Matteson, 2019). The principle behind effective leadership is based on the interplay of responsibility, respect, care, and working with people, compared to working against people, causing an environment of bullying, terror, and targeting behaviors. Ultimately, leadership is about character and substance. Using the distinct characteristics of servant leadership to promote and foster the development of successful individuals is one of the fundamental concepts of servant leaders. Honest and caring concern for others leads to empowerment and emotional support, which inspires the members to embrace the needs of the organization and creates a learning environment. This is the type of environment that is conducive to producing optimal performance from their employees and students.

Although many times leadership roles and responsibilities are misunderstood, leadership is firmly grounded in doing the right thing; servant leadership serves to balance out that misinterpretation. Employee and student attrition is a direct result of problematic leadership in higher education. Today, more than in the past, leaders are tasked with enormous responsibilities that demand both competent and effective leadership skills. Making an effective leader involves careful thought and skill development. The collective evidence strongly suggests that environments created through servant leadership will produce employees who challenge themselves to become creative, dedicated, loyal, and productive to the needs of their institutions’ stakeholders, rather than a toxic culture within any organization. For this chapter, higher education needs to remedy an environment of toxicity and mobbing so all stakeholders can flourish in a learning community. Faculty must be treated fairly and with respect in order to transfer their wisdom and disciplines to students. These students, in turn, can then transfer this learning as well as character building to their communities and families.

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