Challenging Servant Leadership In The Nonprofit Sector: The Side Effects Of Servant Leadership




servant leadership, nonprofit sector, leadership, charitable organizations, voluntary workers


Leadership is a critical success factor for nonprofit organizations. However, scholars and practitioners are consistent in claiming that the nonprofit sector is confronting a situation of leadership deficit. The aim of this study is to provide exploratory insights about a style of leadership that seems to be especially fitting to the nonprofit sector, but that is still poorly discussed in the scientific and professional literature: servant leadership. The servant leader is inspired by the intention of serving other members of the organization, with the eventual purpose of making them wiser, more autonomous, and more likely to become servants. Drawing from the findings of a participant observation that I performed within a charitable organization operating in Tanzania (East Africa), in this study, I discuss counterintuitive findings about the effects of servant leadership on the behaviors of the followers. In several circumstances, servant leadership is likely to constrain rather than to empower followers, discouraging their organizational commitment. In fact, followers could become reliant on the figure of the servant leader, thus being unwilling to adopt a proactive behavior to meet the organizational instances. Based on these findings, I suggest an agenda for further research. As well, I point out conceptual and empirical insights. 

Author Biography

Rocco Palumbo, University of Salerno

Research Fellow in Organizational Studies, Department of Management & Information Technology, University of Salerno