Servant and Transformational Leadership in Response to the Pandemic

Interning with the Fieldstone leadership Network thus far has forced me to reflect almost constantly on the leadership theories we discuss in Jepson classes. For instance, my summer project with Fieldstone is a theory-informed study on how the leadership of nonprofits located in San Diego has changed due to the vast and ever-emerging effects of COVID-19. For the past two weeks, I have been interviewing a wide variety of nonprofit professionals about their responses to the pandemic. During this time, I have noticed overlapping similarities in theories mentioned by my interviewees. One of these theories is the theory of servant leadership, a term first coined by Robert Greenleaf in 1970. Servant leadership is the idea that leaders should primarily seek to serve others, including their followers. In other words, the attention of the leader should be dedicated to the needs of their followers and to the needs of their community. Although a critic of this theory might denounce the appearance of the servant leader as servile and therefore subordinate to the very people they are supposed to lead, I understand the value and necessity of servant leadership to the nonprofit sector. Even if they are unaware or did not mention the theory explicitly, all of the nonprofit leaders I spoke with recognize and strive to practice servant leadership at least at some level due to the caring and generous missions of their organizations. All the leaders I conversed with feel an intense obligation to serving their community, especially in moments of vulnerability and uncertainly like a global pandemic. Instead of shying away from the difficulty of navigating the pandemic, most—if not all—of the nonprofit leaders I interviewed looked for ways to reconfigure or increase their services to help provide for vulnerable populations living in San Diego. These vulnerable groups include, but are not limited to immigrants, refugees, survivors of human trafficking, people transitioning out of the foster care system, people in prisons and juvenile detention centers, the elderly and the homeless.

Plenty of other theories apply to the work of the nonprofit leaders I interviewed. After having just conducted the interviews, I would attest that the majority of the interviewees are relationship-oriented in their leadership styles because their field requires compassion and a commitment to forging strong connections. However, one theory that aligns extremely well with the mission of the Fieldstone Leadership Network is the theory of transformational Leadership postulated by James Macgregor Burns. The part of Burns’ definition of leadership that stands out to me the most is that leadership is a reciprocal process between leaders and followers. This spirit of reciprocity is one of Fieldstone’s explicit values because it so succinctly captures the intentions of nonprofits. The nonprofit organizations that Fieldstone serves mainly exist to and to provide for and give back to the community’s citizens. For this reason, transformational Leadership theory upholds and strengthens the mission of the Fieldstone Leadership Network as well as the missions of the nonprofit organizations I had the opportunity to interview. In the future, I hope to examine more closely the role of servant and transformational leadership in the functioning of each of the individual nonprofits I interviewed.

Works Consulted

aabbott72014. “Servant Leadership.” Leadership Development for Higher Education | Saint Louis University, 4 Mar. 2014,