Altruistic leaders : voices of women in voluntary organizations : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Social Work in the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, Massey University
This thesis is a study of four women leaders of large voluntary social service organizations in Aotearoa New Zealand. The key research question in this study centered around their leadership role in these non-profit making organizations. This research was approached from a feminist perspective. Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted. Person-centered questions explored their leadership pathway, the skills needed, leadership style, views on their unpaid status and how gender impacted on their role. Organization-centered questions explored the participant's views on leading a volunteer workforce and the impact of organizational and community trends. The results of the research revealed a pathway to leadership which involved broad community group experience, an accumulation of wide ranging skills and a knowledge-base drawn mainly from family responsibilities. These women were motivated to undertake their role for reasons of community enhancement and personal satisfaction. They valued workable partnerships, participation, sociability and flexibility in their unpaid work. The ability to listen, understand, predict and influence behavior, were identified as important leadership behaviors, similar to a transformational leadership style. Their inclusive, conciliatory, visionary style included a commitment towards democratic decision- making and consultation in a pragmatic way. The results suggest the participants linked leadership and organizational effectiveness to a learning culture, understanding of governance roles and the needs of volunteers. They felt privileged to be able to view the 'big picture' of organizational, community and political systems and structures. The role of mentor in leadership succession was identified as important to their organization's continued well being. As these women walked along a finite mosaic pathway of personal and organizational networks, themes of challenge, change and self-education emerged. This limited study concluded that these leaders were confident in a role they enjoyed, in organizations they were totally committed to and understood.