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Servant-Leadership in a Cross-Cultural and Ethical Perspective

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Economic crises and shifts in public life often require new types of leaders and leadership. There has been, in recent decades, a rise in the compassioned leader, one who is less selfish and bonus-orientated. Servant-leadership is a leadership principle, geared towards enabling the development of others. This ethical purpose can be achieved by diminishing one's self-interest. In the international business world, there is great interest for rethinking – in a cross-cultural and ethical way – the paradigms of leadership. In this chapter, the major attributes of servant-leaders across cultures will be highlighted, illustrated by the case of leadership practices in African countries. Comparing the variety of servant-leadership practices across countries helps to better understand the cross-cultural and ethical perspective of servant-leadership. A few servant-leaders from sub-Saharan Africa – political and religious leaders, artistic writers and opinion leaders – will be studied to identify what makes these compassionate servant-leaders so successful. Finally, future research issues will be discussed, concluding that servant-leadership creates many opportunities for the ethical well-being of 21st-century real and virtual organizations.

In recent decades, an international knowledge network on servant-leadership has developed. Over the centuries world religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism adopted the idea of servantleadership in their own way. The revival of the idea of servant-leadership is ascribed to Robert K. Greenleaf in the 1970s. Servant-leadership in its various dimensions is a growing movement across cultures and national borders. In the business world, public organizations and academia there are leadership developments that are not explicitly labelled “servant-leadership” but have a lot in common with the principles of servant-leadership, e.g. authentic leadership, natural leadership and intercultural leadership, as well as the concept of responsible leadership. Hind and Lenssen (2009) argue that responsible leaders should have the competencies necessary to ensure the sustainability of the company. Responsible leadership employs the skill to integrate social and environmental considerations into business. Drawing on the work of Ciulla (2005) and Alexander and Wilson (2005) on “good” and “responsible” leadership, Sultan (2011) demonstrates how ethics and morality underpin the behaviour of responsible and transformational leaders who can make a positive impact on people's lives, not just within their organizations, but outside as well. According to Alahmad (2010), ethical leadership is about setting the right example and making a difference in people's lives. The author formulates an international code of ethics that every leader should follow; it includes honesty, truth, respect, punctuality, humility and dignity. Banerjea (2010) calls for wholesome ethical leadership to create value and true wealth for all in a sustainable way. Ethical leaders establish shared values that encourage an ethical code of conduct in employees. Culture generally flows from the top of an organization, and ethical leadership thus improves relationships with all stakeholders.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2011

More about this publication?
  • From Critique to Action: The Practical Ethics of the Organizational World
    This book illustrates the application of ethical thinking to business, management and computing. This book brings together some significant areas of leading edge research and scholarship in the context of engagement with communities of practice, locally, regionally and professionally, with international students, police, teachers, housing managers, ambulance workers, etc. Most of the chapters are based on the practical experience of the contributors but written in an accessible way. There is a strong intercultural and transnational flavour in this book. It is explicitly cross-disciplinary, and will appeal to readers from areas like organization analysis, computer studies and information systems as well as philosophy and ethics.
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