I recently returned from a trip to Azerbaijan visiting Operation Mercy staff and projects. We have some great people working for Operation Mercy in Azerbaijan. During my visit I had the privilege to teach a 2-day seminar on leadership ethics for non-government organizations (NGO). The seminar was co-hosted by Operation Mercy and the Norwegian Humanitarian Enterprise. Thirty-four leaders from ten different NGOs and the UN participated in the seminar. The Norwegian Ambassador to Azerbaijan was kind enough to give the opening address. I received many positive comments from the participants. But the one complement I won’t soon forget was, Mr. Scott, thank you for this very great seminar. I didn’t even fall asleep once! Yes, you know you are making an impact on the world if people don’t fall asleep… But notice in the photo that at least one guy is having problems keeping his eyes open. 🙂

At the seminar, I spoke about how our world view affects how we lead people and what people expect from leadership. I promoted a leadership model that was participatory and developmental and contrasted it against what academics sometimes call the “Great Man” theory. Great Man theory is based on the belief that leaders are exceptional people, born with innate qualities and endowed with unquestioned authority. The term ‘man’ is intentional since according to this world view leadership is thought of as primarily male. While most Scandinavians flatly reject most of the presumptions behind “Great Man” theory, in my opinion, it still represents the predominate beliefs about leadership in almost all the countries where Operation Mercy is active. Regrettably, it is also the world view that influenced my own assumptions about leadership when I was a young man. Today, I see things very differently and have become a practitioner and advocate of leadership that is participatory and developmental. An approach that Robert Greenleaf (1977) descibes as Servant Leadership.

In Operation Mercy, we try to integrate participatory and developmental concepts into all our project ideas. These are normally received like a breath of fresh air to our project participants (male and female). We get excited when we see women successfully learning to embrace new leadership roles in their work places, homes, and communities. In our projects (and thru our staff) we try to model a style of leadership that is participatory and developmental. We get excited when women learn to see themselves as valuable, unique, essential, and enabled. These four themes are a common thread in Operation Mercy projects… and I trust are reflected by Operation Mercy leaders (male and female) world wide. So while we always try to be culturally appropriate we embrace a world view on leadership that is often counter-cultural.