Kristinesargsyan's Blog

January 31, 2010

What is leadership / Leadership in Armenian NGOs (Kristine Sargsyan)

Filed under: My Papers and Articles — by kristinesargsyan @ 1:23 am

What is leadership

This concept has been studied and discussed for hundred of years, but still practitioners and academics discover new leadership models and offer them to different targets. I think this is normal, as in different time periods different leadership styles and types appear. They usually vary from each other, which is in its turn conditioned with the environmental, social economic changes and needs of businesses or non governmental organizations. The history and humanity honored different great leaders studding their leadership style and specifications. Up to now people remember leaders like: Lenin, Gandy, Ford, Luther King and others. All those people and other famous leaders brought in new leadership styles. They have bee loved or hated, but humanity remembered them because of the strong impact they left on humanity life. Different people have different views on leadership and leaders. What is really interesting for me is that everybody emphasizes those features of leadership that they want to see in their leaders or they have as leaders. Here are some comments about leaders and leadership that emphasize leadership concept from different corners and differ from each other:

• Leadership is an art of mobilization others to want to struggle for shared aspiration to accomplish a common mission.

• Leadership is getting things done through other people willingly

When I tried to review different definitions of this concept more diversity of ideas was discovered. There are too many definitions for leadership, which emphasize different features of this concept and the power that it carries. Dictionary definition identifies Leader as one that provides guidance by going in front, or courses others to go with them. In dictionaries leadership is defined as capacity to lead. Apart from this dictionary definition I met many interesting and wonderful definitions of it while reviewing different literature on leadership.

 “Leadership and management” ECMU handbook, suggests that the managers should have leadership skills to foresee future challenges and opportunities to energize their organizations and direct them with vision and wisdom.

Another definition that I met for leaders was in Peter Senge, “Fifth discipline” book which says : In a larger organization leaders are designers, stewards, and teachers. They are responsible for building organizations where people continuously built their capacities to understand complexity, clarify vision and improve shared mental models,- that is , they are responsible for learning.

I met very interesting description of leadership in a book called “The leader of the future” developed by Drucker Foundation and edited by Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith and Richard Beckhard.

In this book Draker emphasize different features of leadership and leader. Here are some of them:

1. The only definition of leader is one that has followers. Some people are thinkers, some are prophets, both roles are important and badly needed, but without followers, there can be no leaders.

 2. An effective leader is not one who is loved or admired. He/ she is someone whose followers do right things. Popularity is not leadership. Results are

3. Leaders are highly visible therefore they set examples

4. Leadership is no rank privilege, title or money. It is responsibility.

Another wonderful description of leadership I met was in the book called “Clear Leadership” by Gervas Bush. In his book he says that excellent leaders should know and be able:

1. know about their experience as it is happening

2. describe their own experience to others

3. express curiosity about others experience

4. appreciate experience of others and encourage in others behavior small expression of those behaviors as they want more of it .

Bush says that excellent leaders are aware, descriptive, carouse and appreciative. He believes that people in all levels of organization can be leaders; he also believes that organizations need leaders who have reach life experience.

A research called “NGO leadership development” by Jhon Haily, INTRAC, Praxis Paper describe leadership in the following way:

1. leadership is a process

2. leadership involves influence

3. leadership occurs in a group context

4. leadership involves the attainment of goal

 This research suggests the following typology of different kinds of leadership in non governmental organizations. It outlines four different types of NGO leader: paternalistic, activist, managerialist, catalytic

1. Paternalistic leaders typically demonstrate a patriarchal or matriarchal style of leadership. Their approach is often built on established personal relationships. They can inspire great loyalty, and have strong, close, possibly even a familial relationship with staff and volunteers. But to outsiders they can appear autocratic, reliant on hierarchical ways of working and overly-dependent on traditional relationship which may not be sustainable in the long run.

 2. Activist leaders are actively engaged in advocacy and lobbying work. They are highly motivated, often charismatic, and typically focused on a single issue. They have the ability to channel the anger or concerns of local communities and solidarity groups to achieve political imperatives. In practice they energize and inspire ‘followers’ with clearly articulated messages – sometimes at the expense of dealing with more mundane managerial or organizational issues.

3. Managerial leaders are rated for their managerial and administrative abilities. They typically demonstrate an instrumental ability to manage organizations, and can effectively establish reliable systems and appropriate structures, as well as manage a diverse workforce with established roles and responsibilities. While they may not be comfortable with change or coping with diverse partners and external stakeholders, they demonstrate a ‘professional’ approach to development, have a track record in raising funds, meeting deadlines and undertaking commissions as a ‘contractor’.

4. Catalytic leaders typically act as strategic catalysts within the NGO context, and have the ability to promote and implement change. They demonstrate a wider world-view, and the capacity to take a longer-term strategic view while balancing tough decisions about strategic priorities with organizational values and identity. Their success as change agents depends on their ability to delegate work to talented colleagues, so freeing time to engage actively with external stakeholders and partners, build coalitions and strategic alliances, and be involved in a variety of networks. In Armenian NGOs you can definitely see representatives of all those types.

 I personally admire more activist and catalytic type of leaders and think that they are more effective then the other types brought in this research paper. Another idea that I really liked in this research paper and would agree with is that presently there is a problem with good leaders for NGOs and that’s why there is no any community of country where the majority of NGOs are famous. Usually famous and well known are those NGOS which have famous people as leaders, or in the governing bodies of the organization. All above mentioned definitions were those ones that I found more innovative or interesting. That’s why I wanted to discuss them. After reading all these definitions and different philosophies about leadership context I have decided to define leadership my own way. I have tried to describe what leadership means to me and what I find most important about leadership concept.

To me leadership is an art of motivating followers to work for common mission through creating incentives and building an environment where every member of the organization can fell free to participate in the development of shared vision and in the implementation of it. In past nine years I have been working in different international and local NGOs as a change agent (OD consultant) and I think the definition of leadership I gave is highly influenced what I have seen and learned about leadership in NGO context. Observations and Findings about Leadership and Leaders in Armenian NGOs and Other Organizations I have been working with more then hundreds of non governmental organizations in Armenia. During my work experience in the third sector I have observed a lot of obstacles and opportunities/ strengths that any NGO leadership can create for its organizations. I have seen leaders, who flourished the organizations and also ones that spoiled them. I have seen leaders who created wonderful conditions for team work and ones, who did “one men show”. 

 Observations on leadership and leaders in Armenian NGOs/organizations

• In Armenian NGOs lairdship is mostly attached to one person (either the president of the organization or the executive director). You will hardly meet any organization where the leader of the organization is not the president or the executive director (for example UNISON NGO). I think in Armenia there is a lack of understanding that leadership may assume group context and can involve all governing bodies of the organization, or at least several key people in the organization. I believe that this is typical not only for Armenia.

• Another interesting finding about leadership is that in Armenia, non governmental organizations are very much dependent on their leaders. Leaders are the engines of the organization. They are involver in earthling and hold all the key roles and responsibilities. They do strategy development, they raise funds, they keep contacts with government, media and other key stockholders, generate new ideas, they do the HR management and financial oversight of the organization, as well as the monitoring of the organizations activities and programs. In such organizations when you take out the leader of the organization, sooner or later the organization will ruin. (Mission Armenia, Merchant’s Union, UMBA)

• In Armenia usually organizations are characterized with an organizational culture, which streams from the leaders personality and carries most values, assumptions, hobbits, attitudes that the leader of the organization has. (Unison, Mission Armenia, GCC NGOs).

• Another interesting thing that I have noticed is that in Armenian leaders are always on the “top” of the organization and they feel comfortable with hierarchical structures. Usually for those leaders who are on the “top” of the organization, it is unbearable to have other leader on the other levels of organization. • Often you can see leaders who don’t clearly understand their role in the organization as a vision provides, motivator, strategy developer and somebody who can help employees and members to understand what is their role in reaching organization’s mission. Such leaders are more focused on making decisions and orders and monitoring others. Moreover often they focused on not loosing the power they have and therefore they struggle with everything and everybody to protect their position and not to lose it. Observations on leadership and leaders in general

• The misunderstanding of leadership philosophy makes people ill and put their thinking into “leadership box”. These types of people want to be leaders everywhere, and everybody to accept them as a leader. I had a chance to participate in one of the interviews, which was organized by one of the NGOs (Dilnet service NGO) for hiring project assistant. One of the candidates spent thirty minutes telling us about her leadership school and her leadership skills. She never asked a single word about the position she has applied for…

• Following above-mentioned story I can also mention that we all should be very careful while teaching leadership. If we give wrong massages about leadership it can bring very sad outcomes. The question “Are leaders made or born?” have been discussed a lot. I believe that borne leaders are wonderful and natural (For example, Gandy), but I also believe that we can make good leaders teaching them through giving them right massages about true and kind power of leadership, emphasizing that it is rather a responsibility and results then power and image.

• One of the major misleading assumptions about leadership is that leaders are able to do everything. They have answers to all questions and have “keys to open all doors”. This believe is so common among us that leaders themselves start creating such an image and afterwards get into big trouble, trying to sustain this image. It becomes very hard for them to accept their mistakes, or say sorry. In such situations leaders are afraid to show that they can be wrong as well. In such situations both parties: the leaders and the followers suffer psychologically and materialistically.

• In one of the above definitions of leadership it was mentioned that leaders set examples. This is really true. Recently I was doing an organizational assessment for one of Eurasia Foundation client NGOs and during the appreciative inquiry phase NGO staff members have told me that they have been working for two years without financial compensation. I have asked them why they stay with this NGO, what keeps them there. They have answered that they didn’t go because they had their leader coming in every day and working as usual up to the late evening. Some of them even mentioned that they were shay to leave the organization. They followed the example the leader gave to them. They stayed and worked. When I asked the leader of the organization why she stayed, she mentioned that she has a very high responsibility toward NGO beneficiaries. She said “I can not imagine that one of our beneficiaries can come to our office for help and find the door closed”. (MF)

• By the way I should mention that I ask this question: “Why do you stay with this organization?” to all organizations I work with. This question is a part of Appreciative Inquiry methodology that I am using. It is aimed at finding out the things that keep organization’s representatives in the organization. I should confirm that eighty percent of organizations I have worked with have mentioned their leaders as one of the main reasons, why they didn’t leave the organization.

• Another important thing that I have noticed about leaders is that they have a crucial role in developing a working environment, where everybody feels free to bring in his/ her thoughts. It is very important to have a leader, who is very supportive for crating a culture, where everybody feels free to bring in their thoughts and concerns, their suggestions and innovations. If employees are spending time protecting themselves, they don’t spend time thinking for the organization and for the implementation of common mission. There is an example for this that Peter Sengi’s brings. This happened in one of the famous American organizations called “Car Care”. He tells the leadership of the organization used to do evaluation of services and talk about the results on the quality of their services and customer satisfaction, after the evaluations were done. He tells that once the evaluations has shown that 95 % of the clients where satisfied with the services and only the 5% expressed some dissatisfaction about the services. So what happen then was that the management discussed only the negative part of the report and never expressed their gratefulness for the good job that the employees did on satisfying 95 % of customers. Management was discussing only the issue of this 5% and was trying to find reasons and guilty people. As a result of this the staff members started to protect them self. They started to care more for protecting them from comments and criticism, rather then thinking about customers and implementing their responsibilities. After this case, the next year evaluation has shown that only the 56 % of the customers were satisfied, while the 44% was dissatisfied with company services.

• My final observation about Leadership is that when leaders recognize, appreciate, celebrate and acknowledge the meaningful contributions that their employees or followers make it highly motivate and intensify employees to stay and work with that organization. Well, those are the main observations and findings that I would like to bring in and introduce in my paper work.


Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: