Do leadership theories explain the behaviours of nonprofit board members? A contextual study of transformational leadership

Gregory Bott

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Transformational leadership has been the dominant leadership theory of the past three decades. Research on leadership, and specifically transformational leadership, has been dominated by positivist, deductive, methodological approaches, which have been unable to sufficiently problematize the concept of leadership. Researchers therefore continue to enter the field with a presupposition heavily weighted toward leader agency and a topdown unidirectional focus. Such research is also insensitive to capturing a full appreciation for the context in which organizational actors perform. One underexamined context is that of the leadership process at the board-level, and especially in the nonprofit sector. Board members reside at the highest level of an organization, and are potentially distant from other organizational actors. Recognizing that leadership is a co-constructed, complex, and fluid process, alternative ontological positions are necessary in order to advance our current knowledge of the leadership process. I utilized inductively designed critical incident interviews in order to fully appreciate not only board member behaviours, but also potential alternative influences (e.g. contextual
factors and organizational actors other than formal leaders). While remaining open to surprises in the empirical material, I explored behaviours and relationships, while analysing a specific context – the nonprofit board-executive director relationship. The results of this study suggest that in a governance context, hierarchical actors do not fit neatly into the boxes defined by 30 years of research on transformational leadership theory, suggesting that the leadership process is more complex than portrayed by current dichotomizations. The results also indicated that board members display select behaviours that are said to be part of transformational leadership theory, while other behaviours prescribed by current theory are not found to be repetitive in the empirical material. The findings of this study ultimately led me to conclude that leadership
behaviours should be examined unconstrained by transformational leadership theory, allowing for an in-depth examination of the intricacies and relational processes of the leadership process.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Tourish, Dennis, Supervisor
  • Grey, Christopher, Advisor
Award date1 Feb 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015

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