Leadership Styles in Communities of Color


(Further reflection on Salsa, Soul and Spirit)

WHETHER I OR WE is central to a society contours the shape of its leadership. A We identity promotes a collective and people-centered leadership that espouses the well-being of people as a whole, not just individuals.

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (p. 79). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I am trying to understand what the opposite of this leadership would be? Leaders that lead only for themselves? That isn’t what leaders are taught in leadership classes, or what politicians allegedly go into politics for. Unfortunately, the “We” politicians that I see represented in the media do not impress me – because they end up being only for their particular “We” and not the entire body politic. When you start dividing people up into groups, instead of treating them as individuals, that is what happens.

African American Leadership, by Ron Walters and Robert Smith, defines Black leadership as proceeding from the collective interests and concerns of people focusing on overcoming social, political, and economic impediments. To achieve this, leadership has relied on social rather than economic resources; this requires bringing people together and building coalitions. Walters and Smith speak to this We reference point: “Leadership derives its authority and legitimacy from the community from which it emerges.”

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (pp. 79-80). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Who could debate the final quote in that quote? Once again, the Declaration of Independence, written by those white male individualists, was very specific about that. They weren’t saying that there wasn’t a community. But the choice of terminology is telling. “consent of the governed” vs. “community from which it emerges.” The former emphasizes the value of each person within the body politic. The latter stresses the group, group consensus, group think.

I think what is developing for me here, from this quote, is an explanation for something we see in politics today. A Black person isn’t allowed to be a Republican. That doesn’t fit within the community. A Black person has to be a certain way. One must be part of the community. Conformity is enforced. Black is the key to identity, one isn’t allowed to be different or more.

These leadership qualities of watching out for the community are great, and can be seen in various quantities in the individualistic society – they aren’t missing, as the author’s writing tends to imply. But every community is going to have factions with different ideas. Not always opposed, but just that can’t be realized completely always at the same time.  There has to be a mechanism for people to be able to express those, and decide.

The Black community, Latino, Indian, aren’t allowed, visibly to the greater polity, to seem to have any splits. Consensus must be achieved. But the white community has the breathing space to show its differences. This may be why it seems that people don’t lead for the community, for the greater good. Statements such as if you disagree with the leader you must be showing treason, like many memes about Obama recently, is a We culture idea that suppresses diversity and enforces conformity.

MAINSTREAM LEADERSHIP TODAY IS moving toward a We or collaborative form that resonates with communities of color— a form in which many people are prepared to participate and share responsibility. Looking at this shift to collaboration is a good starting point for examining the leadership principles in these communities and the connection with the growing emphasis on teamwork, partnerships, and shared responsibility…

Our changing demographics create a pressing leadership challenge: to foster collaborative environments in which people of many backgrounds and many ages can work together creatively and productively. Communities of color offer a rich foundation for building inclusive environments and respecting differences, which increases collaboration by encouraging equal access and urging the involvement of all the diverse segments.

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (p. 80-81). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The above statements may hold true for the workplace, but collaborative leadership has always been alive in America’s church’s and community organizations. You can’t lead a herd of cats (a good metaphor for individuals) without collaborative decentralized empowerment. There is a certain oxymoron for the author thinking that a whole bunch of individuals will willingly submit themselves without question to these I leaders. It just never was that way.

From the above information about collaboration the author discusses two “barriers to participation”:

TWO cultural barriers have long obstructed equal participation: the psychology of oppression and White privilege. The psychology of oppression is a term created by the perceptive Brazilian thinker Paulo Freire to describe the process in which people of color internalize society’s negative messages and beliefs about their race and come to believe that they are true. The term White privilege— coined in 1988 by Peggy McIntosh, then a graduate student in women’s studies at Wellesley College— describes the unspoken advantages and opportunities bestowed on people by what has long been the dominant culture in the United States. White privilege is not earned; people benefit from it simply because of their race. Both White privilege and the psychology of oppression operate at an unconscious level. Thus, many people are unaware of how these social mechanisms operate by providing advantages to some and denying them to others. On a societal level, these mechanisms reinforce White cultural dominance and institutional control without openly disputing the claim that equality and democratic choice are equally available. The principles of leaders as equal, as guardians of public values, and as community stewards work to dismantle such privilege, replacing it with a respect for all individuals and a belief that many have the capacity to lead.

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (p. 82). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I keep having to remind myself that I am here to learn, not object, but these constant statements that are presented as truisms make it hard. While it is true that White privilege might operate at an unconscious level, I do not think it is unearned. The We culture being described has earned respect for all the great things the author has so far talked about in the book, things that its inheritors in communities of color can draw upon legitimately. In like fashion, whites have earned respect for many positive social and material gains created that they are the inheritors and maintainers. Instead of hacking down whites for being associated with these social and material gains, with the effect of destroying the gains, we should bring the other communities into the gains, if they want to join.


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