Servant Leadership and Nonprofit Management

Servant Leadership and Nonprofit Management

Omer F. Ozbek
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1245-6.ch008
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This chapter analyzes servant leadership theory from the perspective of Islamic nonprofits. It is one of the rare management science approaches to examining Islamic nonprofits and waqfs. Definitions and characteristics of servant leaders are derived from major studies on servant leadership, and outcomes for nonprofit organizations are discussed based on available evidence in the literature. Servant leadership is compared to other major leadership theories and examined in cultural context. Although the studies in the West dominate the servant leadership literature, it is argued that the philosophy of a servant leader is deeply rooted in other cultures and faiths, particularly Islamic tradition. The author examines whether servant leadership fits the leadership definitions in recent studies on Islamic leadership. There is also a comparison of the Organizational Leadership Assessment (OLA) for servant leadership and the Islamic Leadership Inventory (ILI). The author points to gaps in the literature and provides suggestions for future research.
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Nonprofit organizations are private, self-governing organizations established for a charitable or social cause. These organizations focus on providing service and creating value rather than making money. The success of nonprofit leadership lies in the leaders’ ability to engage, motivate, and coordinate individuals in the organization. As socio-economic institutions for charitable work, nonprofits have been an essential part of Islamic tradition. They are called “waqfs” particularly when there is an endowed trust. There is a great accumulation of literature in the disciplines of theology, history, economics, and sociology about financial activities of Islamic nonprofits, and how they can work in today’s socio-economic environment. However, when it comes to administration of these institutions, there are limited number of studies that examine issues such as leadership, organizational structure, and management. A search on academic databases with the keywords “waqf leadership” or “waqf management” reveals very few to none results. There are some studies on waqf accountability, but these focus on accounting and financing practices of waqfs. Yet, issues such as fairness and consistency in employee management, organizational ethics, workplace leadership, and decision making in waqf operations needs have not been researched yet.

Nations and organizations have their cultural differences and Islamic nonprofits are subject to certain religious rules; however, there are not much difference between Islamic nonprofits and other nonprofits when it comes to administrative issues such as fairness, accountability, institutionalization, and employee psychology. Just like any nonprofit organization, Islamic nonprofits are in general governed by a board of trustees and have employees in administrative and staff positions who are subject to the same employment rules and regulations with workers in other nonprofit organizations. There are training and certification programs on Islamic waqfs such as cash waqfs; however, these curricula include courses on only economics, finance, accounting, and law. Principles of management and leadership are overlooked and it is often assumed that a person with certain business skills and experience would make a great leader. Similarly, there are nonprofit leadership awards granted around the Islamic world and the criteria for these awards are based on organizational practices and outcomes rather than the leadership skills of the individual who is leading the organization. This chapter examines servant leadership as a model for leadership in Islamic nonprofits and contributes to this book by bringing a management science perspective to waqf management and leadership.

Researchers as well as people involved in nonprofit work are questioning which leadership style would better fit the work environment of nonprofit. Among several leadership theories, servant leadership is commonly referenced as a fit-for-purpose leadership style. As opposed to leader-centered leadership styles such as transactional or authoritarian leadership styles, servant leadership is follower-centered. Although there is an increasing interest in follower-centered leadership theories, follower perspectives have generally been neglected in Islamic leadership studies (Ogunbado, Ahmed, Abu Bakar, & Abu Bakr, 2016). In one of the rare studies, Noor (2018) conducted a qualitative study on sharia bank employees and found that followers expected leaders to have trusty behavior (imaniah), Islamic ethics (akhlaqia) and innovative behavior (mujaddid). There is further need to examine the characteristics of a leader from the perspective of nonprofit members and employees. Also, cultural context should be taken into consideration while examining the definitions and characteristics of a leadership style.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Organizational Citizenship Behavior: Voluntary or discretionary actions and behaviors to help others in the organization and to make the organization better.

Naseeha: Advice, guidance, sincere recommendation for the good of a person.

Shura: Decision making by consultation and deliberation.

Benevolence: Inclination or tendency to be kind, thoughtful, helpful.

Agapao Love: Loving and committing to another person unconditionally such as father’s love for his son.

Humility: Humbleness, putting others first, being free from arrogance.

Authenticity: Accurately and honestly representing yourself both publicly and privately.

Esprit De Corps: A common spirit or fellowship among member of a team or group.

Altruism: Intentional, voluntary, and selfless concern and care for others.

Empowering: Enabling people with necessary means to learn, make a decision, and take action.

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