Leading volunteers : power relations and values in organizations
This thesis sheds new l.ight on internal dynamics of nonprofit associations - nonprofit organizations reliant on significant volunteer participation. It represents one ofthe first research efforts to deal with power relations and the paradoxical, conflictual nature of values in the context of leading volunteers in nonprofit associations. This thesis mounts a significant challenge to the widely accepted nonprofit management literature which is firmly grounded in the systems thinking tradition and which contends values serve only positive purposes and leaders must ensure there is little contention over values. While this research affirms the benefits of values in attracting volunteers and enabling coordinated action among volunteers, it also argues strongly that such a single- minded focus is a severe handicap to organizations interested in change and adaptation. This is because conflict and difference are essential in the change process. Another limitation of the orthodox literature is the portrayal ofa leader's power position relative to volunteers as one of significant dependency. This research concludes that the relationship is characterized by significant interdependency. Such a conclusion is based on the tendency for volunteers to imagine an ideal future achieved by joining in mutual action with others. Because volunteers need support and participation by leaders in the realization of this better future, a dependency is 'created. This different way of understanding values and power opens up a broader role for nonprofit executives. Not only must they work with volunteers to enable the productive dimensions ofvalues to be realized, but they must work with the paradoxical nature of values and the inevitable conflicts and anxiety which emerge. By paying attention to daily patterns ofinteraction, resisting tendencies to deny or deflect conflicts, noticing how one participates in conversations and whether the results are repetitive or free-flowing and creative, nonprqfit association leaders can help create more adaptable and c~angeable organizations. These findings were informed by an intensive examination ofmy experiences as a leader in a nonprofit association and ofcomplex responsive processes theory of Stacey and colleagues, comple~ity science, and the scholarship of sociologist Norbert Elias. They emerged from a series ofnarratives about my experiences, serious reflections on these narratives within the doctoral program community, and study of literature suggested by themes that arose in the course of the research.