Social Entrepreneurs as Servant Leaders: Revealing the Implied Nature of Power in Servant Leadership

Social Entrepreneurs as Servant Leaders: Revealing the Implied Nature of Power in Servant Leadership

Devi Akella (Albany State University, USA) and Niveen Eid (Birzeit University, Palestine)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-7593-5.ch045
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This chapter critically examines the servant leadership style of social entrepreneurs. Qualitative data from social enterprises in Palestine and Lukes third dimension power framework are used to explore the intricate forces of power, manipulation, and domination hidden within the service and follower-oriented model of servant leadership. Insights are provided on how the concept of ‘service', the focal aspect in both social enterprises and servant leadership, could be another facet of soft and insidious power exercised by the social entrepreneurs over their followers. A political model of servant leadership is developed that demonstrates how social entrepreneurs could be imposing power and control over their followers under the guise of social mission, creation of social value, serving and empowering their followers and the community.
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In an effort, to move from the highly political and unethical business environments, ideologies pertaining to social enterprises and servant leadership have gained momentum. Social entrepreneurship is a phenomenon which combines the ideologies of both private organizations and non-profit organizations, i.e., social mission and a profit objective. Social enterprises have been described as a “radical innovation in the nonprofit sector” (Dart, 2004, p. 411), as “innovative approaches for dealing with complex needs” (Johnson, 2000, p. 1) and the “answer to worklessness, social isolation and inequality” (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2006 as cited in Bull, 2008, p. 268). These organizations primarily revolve around upliftment of the society, with a “tremendous hunger for doing things for others” (Saldinger, 2015, p. 1). Social enterprises undertake a strategic role in the economic development of the society and its youth. The leaders of social enterprises believe in service to the society and its citizens (Sabella & Eid, 2016). Social entrepreneurs thus are a special type of entrepreneurs, a “special breed of leaders” (Dees, 1998, p. 6) who are motivated and passionate about service to the community, creation of social value by addressing and resolving social problems and providing services to the poor (Seelos & Mair, 2005). Social entrepreneurs thus show an affinity towards servant leadership, where the leaders are also “affirmative builders of a better society” (Greenleaf & Spears, 2002, p. 24).

It was Greenleaf (1977) who first coined the oxymoron term of “Servant Leadership”, to describe a leader whose chief motive was to serve as opposed to lead. A leader who placed the interests of others’ needs, aspirations and interests above his/her own (Greenleaf & Spears, 2002). Servant leaders are essentially altruistic and moral people. These leaders have been described as stewards (Block, 1993; Senge, 1990), who regard their followers as their responsibility. The role of the leader is that of a role model, a risk taker, a servant who promotes others (The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, 1997). Servant leaders are value and character-driven, performance and process oriented as well. Individuals who are driven by inner motivation, possess a shared vision, with the ability to develop and hone the talents of others. They strive to serve, add value and make a difference (Eva, Mulyadi, Sendjaya, van Direndonck & Liden, 2018; Page & Wong, 2002; van Dierendonck, 2010).

“Social entrepreneurs [thus] may have specific leadership attributes that allow classifying them as servant leaders” (Petrovskaya & Mirakyan, 2018, p. 755). In other words, social entrepreneurs or rather good and ethical entrepreneurs can be conceptualized as good leaders or servant leaders (Petrovskaya & Mirakyan, 2018).

However, recently questions have been raised about the problematic issues surrounding social enterprises (Akella & Eid, 2018; Bull, 2008; Dey & Steyaert, 2012). Social enterprises, it has been argued possess all ingredients of a “dangerous ideology” which requires reconciling two contrasting ideologies such as ‘social’ and ‘enterprises’, i.e., social mission with profit objectives (Bull, 2008). Social enterprises use market-based solutions to achieve social agendas and missions (Dart, 2004). This could result in social enterprises behaving as “businesses closer to the private system…” (Pearce 2003 as cited in Bull, 2008, p. 269) thereby raising questions about different aspects of social entrepreneurship and strongly advocating for critiques which would bring social enterprises, their objectives (Dey & Steyaert, 2012) and their leaders under empirical scrutiny (Klotz & Neubaum, 2016; Miller, 2015; Reid, Anglin, Baur, Short & Buckley, 2018).

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