Servant Leadership in Bolivia: A Phenomenological Study of Long-Term Effects of a Founding Servant Leader on Two Educational Organizations
Elizabeth G. Chavez
Over 50 years ago, Dr. Meredythe Scheflen founded a large educational cooperative in Santa Cruz, Bolivia that encompasses a group of evangelical Christian elementary and high schools under the leadership of a member/employee-owned Board of Directors. Twenty years later, she went on to found the first and only evangelical university in Bolivia. Preliminary research on Dr. Scheflen‘s autobiography and interviews with her followers has revealed that she fits the profile of a servant leader, displaying leadership behaviors that contributed to her unusual cross-cultural success within the low-trust, male-dominant Latin American culture (Chavez, 2006; Fukuyama, 2002; Solheim, 2000). The purpose of this study was to determine if the servant leadership principles established by a cross-cultural female founding leader persist over time in the Bolivian culture after this leader is no longer leading the organization. Using a multilevel approach with current leaders and organizational members, the presence or absence of organizational servant leader behaviors in these organizations was first determined by administering the Organizational Leadership Assessment (OLA; Laub, 1999). Subsequently, semistructured interviews with six individuals from each organization were conducted to gain insight into their perceptions of present-day servant leadership, trust, and gender influence as experienced within the framework of the Bolivian culture. The phenomenological approach was chosen for this study to -bring to the fore the experiences and perceptions of individuals from their own perspectives, and therefore . . . challenge structural or normative assumptions (Lester, 1999, p. 1) of theory and cultural dimensions. Both the OLA results and the interview data confirmed the presence of servant leader behaviors within the Universidad Evangelica Boliviana and the Rio Nuevo Educational Society even over 30 and 50 years after their founding, respectively. Notable differences between the two organizations suggest that although servant leadership and trust are evident in spite of the low moralistic trust culture, individual dyadic leader-follower relationships are still subject to relational, or strategic, trust judgments.
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