A Leader Among Equals – Community-Conferred Leadership

Principle #4

Although I had no experience leading an organization, I had years of community experience— and a passionate commitment to building the first Latina service organization in Colorado. Anna Escobedo Cabral observes that this has been a traditional pathway: “I think a lot of Latino leaders see a problem, and they work hard to find a solution, and as a result they are put in a position of leadership to make change happen. However, it is not about them seeking that position. Rather it is about addressing some unmet need.”… When resources are scarce and people power is critical, collective leadership— in which many contribute and have ownership— is indispensable. Creating a network disperses leadership and shares responsibility. This la familia approach was in step with leading from a We or collective orientation.

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (p. 85). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I am trying to understand how the above example is different than what happens in white American Community groups – or did, until the government started taking over those functions.

In collectivist cultures, where a leader’s authority comes from the group, leaders are expected to listen, integrate the collective wisdom, and reflect the group’s behavior and values. Leaders charge people up, facilitate their working together, and help them solve problems. As they empower others, a community of leaders evolves. Standing out too far from others or calling too much attention to oneself can damage the group cohesion that is central to collectivist cultures.

In an individualist culture, I become a leader because of my personal initiative, accomplishments, and competence as well as my winning personality. I have a can-do attitude, a take-action personality. By my calling attention to myself— my accomplishments and skills— people believe I am competent and they are comfortable following me. Unanimity or group consensus follows the leader’s decisions. The leader strives for self-mastery— as I become empowered, I can empower others. As I learn, I teach others. Leaders maintain status by remaining youthful, vigorous, attractive, and able. Seniority is secondary to performance. In contrast, a collectivist leader’s status increases as he or she becomes older and acquires seniority and experience. 1 In individualist cultures, there is a belief that I made it on my own.

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (pp. 85-86). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I again find it interesting, as I did in my previous post about this book, that it is the I culture, the individual culture, that is willing to be led like a mob by the charismatic leader. It is the We culture that has to be poked and prodded and polled and cajoled.

Bordas goes on to give this bullet point list of what it means to lead in a We culture:

  • Authority comes from the group, which takes precedence over the individual leader.
  • Leaders are chosen because of their character, including honesty, humility, and generosity.
  • Leaders inspire people to identify with them by setting an example.
  • A leader serves something greater than himself— the mission, cause, or well-being of the community.
  • A leader plays by the rules.

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (p. 87). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Once again, I am trying to figure out which of these points the I culture disagrees with. As an I culture person, I say none. The only difference I can see is how these attributes are expressed in the culture. Again, I may be missing something about We cultures, but Bordas seems to be missing items about my culture that are obvious to me. Furthermore, her points above lead the less-observant to conclude that if the We cultures work this way, the I cultures must work in the exact opposite – she is reinforcing a logical fallacy of polarity of options by the use of her expressions.

But it is her next comment that really seems divisive to me:

Leadership in communities of color has to be an inside job. An outsider would hinder people’s identification with their leader, go against the grain of leaders among equals, reinforce people’s minority status, and dampen their belief that they have the same potential as the leader.

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (p. 91). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

So leadership in the communities of color is exclusive and ethnocentric. Since they do not associate with the “greater community” of the multi-cultural nation that we have, there is no way someone from another section of the culture could lead for them, and if the whites felt the same way, no way that they could ever lead the whites. She is stating that communities of color are closed to whites. If we whites emulated that type of ideal, Barack Obama would never have been elected president. I agree we have to share identity with our leader, true, but that identity doesn’t have to include color or race.

THE ESTABLISHED FORM OF LEADERSHIP today, particularly in corporate America, is associated with fat salaries and megabonuses, the big office, corporate jets, special parking places, and the numerous privileges that come with being in the top echelon. These types of perks contradict the principle of a leader among equals; indeed, they create an economic and social chasm between leaders and followers. There also seems to be an unwritten agreement that leaders are above the rules and can even break the law and get away with it. If, through legal measures or by nature of their position, they can garner more than their share, it’s considered part of the entitlement of leadership.

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (p. 93). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I think this quote shows the author has the concept of leadership confused with management. We don’t often have political leaders – usually political managers.  Just like in our work places we more often have managers than leaders.


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