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Leadership within faith-based organisations

When considering employment with a faith-based organisation many perceive their prospective employer as being ‘perfect and lovely’ (where perfect and lovely values give rise to perfect and lovely leadership and management skills and practices). However the reality is unlikely to meet these implicit expectations, resulting in a psychological contract that is built on sand rather than rocks, with the oft inevitable breach being all the more devastating for those involved.

This situation can often be compounded when faith-based organisations fail to address any staff performance issues until they become too much to bear – a phenomenon reflected in wider research into voluntary sector leadership and management, where organisations can show an inability to deal with problems with staff and follow the practice of “Love, love, sack”.

One piece of sound advice for employers with a caring brief comes from Tom Kitwood in his book ‘Dementia Reconsidered’ , who advocates living out the values with your staff that you practice with your beneficiaries. He argues an organisation that is genuinely committed to providing excellent care for its beneficiaries – being committed to their personhood – it must be committed to the personhood of all staff, and at all levels.

So what does this commitment entail? Practically Kitwood suggests that care for staff is much more than a matter of individuals attending to individuals, but the work of a team of people whose values are aligned, and as new employees arrive, they should be properly integrated into the team.

Also, the concept of ‘servant leadership’ is worth considering – often mentioned as a relevant model for faith-based organisations.

Peter Northouse explains that servant leaders empathise with their followers and nurture them, helping them develop their full per­sonal capacities. He highlights that where power is shared equally among people at all levels of society, servant leadership may be more common, than in cultures where power is more centralised. So for example, leaders of faith-based organisations cannot practice servant leadership if people feel they cannot question the leader’s judgement.

Also, Northouse observes that as in any leadership situation, leaders differ in areas such as moral devel­opment, emotional intelligence, and self-determinedness, and these traits interact with their ability to engage in servant leadership. So just because people want to be a servant leader, doesn’t mean they have the attributes to lead in this way.

A further consideration is the ‘receptivity of followers’, which influences the impact of servant leadership. Northouse highlights some don’t want to work with servant leaders – it feels to them like micromanage­ment, with research showing a negative impact on performance and organisational citizenship when there was no match between servant leadership and the desire of staff for it. Insight is needed in practicing servant leadership with these individuals.