Leaders as Community Stewards – Working for the Common Goal


Principle #6

AS WE LOOK AT leaders as community stewards, I want to begin by emphasizing that nurturing community is very different for Blacks, Latinos, and American Indians from the way it is for Anglos. Our communities have very old roots that have sustained us. They have a purpose— to benefit others and to garner the force for social action and progress.

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (p. 118). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I consider myself an Odd, and Outlier, not one of the people who fit the norm. So when I read of the way that these communities sustain people in the communities of color, I also visualize the way they encourage those who stand out, who are different in some way, to come back into the consensus. Their leadership of equals as described elsewhere by Bordas would be anathema to someone as myself. That general consensus never realizes until afterwards the benefit of the outlier, because it isn’t obvious to the group to cultivate it. So someone like me would not be sustained in a community like that – and the internet has allowed the Odds to realize that there are more of us hiding out in the world than we previously realized.

THE CONCEPT OF LEADERSHIP as service was brought to the foreground by Robert Greenleaf in 1979. His modest pamphlet The Servant as Leader set the stage for the emergence of the collaborative and participatory process, in which leadership is not the hierarchical domain of the privileged few but entails delegating responsibility, sharing benefits, and developing people. A philosophical and reflective man, Greenleaf surmised that the hierarchical leadership approach he had witnessed in his career at AT& T did not nurture other people’s leadership skills and, in fact, did not develop the leader’s higher capacities.

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (pp. 119-120). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I am reminded of the washing of the feet that Jesus’ did, and what he said then. Something that they all knew about, and was available ….

The Native American Council nurtures full participation , promotes consensus building, and fosters respect for each person’s contribution. The Council, which in many tribes is their governing body, protects the well-being of its community, honors diverse opinions, and achieves shared ownership. Only after much listening, interchange, and reflection does a collective answer or solution surface. In the Jemez Pueblo, says Benny Shendo, “Our decision-making is not about majority vote, but around consensus building. Are people comfortable, do they understand enough about it? If this decision is made, will the community move forward? If a decision is not made, how will this affect the community?” Conflict arose when voting was imposed on tribes that traditionally had made decisions and governed by inclusion, listening, and consensus. The Comanche, for example, have a very flat society in which hierarchical leadership does not exist in a traditional sense. Representative government created elitism and hierarchy: When people were elected, they were elevated above the rest of the tribe.

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (p. 124). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

It is a mistake to see the I culture and assume it is that surface-visible voting, the rule of the majority. The I culture is first about the rule of law, the preservation of rights, and only the smallest portion of things are decided by the vote. Most decisions have to be made by getting people to agree to work with you.  As is a common saying “people vote with their feet.” If anything, consensus is more critical and harder to get the I community – which in the majority of social situations does not have any respect for hierarchy of any kind.

In collectivist cultures, communication is the heartbeat that nourishes relationships and sustains community. By listening patiently to people’s voices and ideas, the leader ensures that everyone is on the same page and ready to lend their resources and energies. This reverberates with the African-American adage— to accomplish things together, people must be singing from the same hymnal. Although there are similarities in the way Blacks, Latinos, and American Indians communicate, there are also clear distinctions. Leaders from these communities are keenly aware of culturally effective ways of communicating with their people. Three practices warrant special consideration: (1) call and response, (2) it takes as long as it takes, and (3) charisma and cariño (fondness or affection). Using these practices can expand a leader’s repertoire and enhance his or her ability to communicate in many different contexts.

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (pp. 126-127). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Now this passage I really like. The idea of “singing from the same hymnal” reverberates to me. But it also shows that Bordas is not fully aware of the concept of corporate worship or the analogy thus drawn. This talks of long tradition, that may not be in sync with today’s fads, yet everyone recognizes its value to creating community. Thus the reverence for our rule of law, constitution, etc., due process.

African-American leaders stay connected to their communities through the special language form of call-and-response patterns. The familiar “Do you hear what I am saying?” asks for validation that the leader is on track , and people respond, “I heard that.” This creates reciprocity that builds on each other’s verbal contributions. As jazz musicians are inspired by each other’s contributions, so call and response creates a collective and interactive communication process. Unlike Anglo communication, in which it is considered polite for one person to speak at a time and build ideas sequentially, African-American conversation zigzags from person to person. People “piggyback” on each other’s contributions, creating a stimulating collective conversation and fusion of ideas.

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (p. 127). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I see here positive community reinforcement, which can also be a sort of mob psychology in the wrong environment. What level of option is there to present a modifying or dissenting perspective to this call-and-response. You either agree or stay silent. This can very easily create group-think.


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