When disadvantaged people are given the tools to succeed, they develop confidence in their own problem-solving skills. Likewise, when programs are developed and managed by the communities served, they are more likely to have an impact; this collection explores tactics for empowering individuals via leadership training, returning local control to vulnerable communities and encouraging resilience in all populations.
The definition of “leadership” is subject to much debate in both scholarly literature and more casual discussions; is a leader primarily responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of an organization? Are they more of an inspirational figure, like a coach or cheerleader? Is a leader required to have high-level visionary or strategic goals for the people or groups under their direction? Such flexible definitions can benefit organizations and groups that need to tailor the definition of leadership to their unique demands, but too much room for interpretation can also lead to confusion regarding roles and responsibilities, a lack of purpose, or even serious ethical challenges.
The leadership debate was significantly influenced by 19th century philosopher Thomas Carlyle, a key advocate for the Great Man theory: the idea that great leaders are born possessing certain innate traits that enable them to lead, and that they will naturally rise to the occasion when society is in need. This ideal has influenced our historical reverence for figures like Julius Caesar, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Winston Churchill. Clearly, the way we define leadership impacts how we understand who has the capacity to become a leader. If leadership is viewed mostly as a result of intrinsic qualities like charisma, then it is something that must be watched for and cultivated in select individuals (and seriously likely to be impacted by social biases surrounding race, gender, sexuality, and ability). If leadership consists of learned skills like organization, teamwork, crisis management, empathy, and strategic thinking - all things which can be taught - then the questions shift to when, how, and where those skills should be taught. Despite centuries of debate on the topic, this issue continues to gain importance as employers and educators wrestle with the importance of ethical development, mentorship, human relations skill development, and theoretical versus practical learning opportunities.
This collection presents multiple ways in which schools, workplaces, and community organizations are creating opportunities for individuals who might not fit the historic ideal of the Great Man to learn and practice leadership skills, find mentors, and grow into their potential.
Student experience and critical analysis level: introductory
- How can smaller workplaces implement a "free agent" approach? What are the benefits to doing so?
- What kinds of measures can CEOs and upper management circumvent by taking voluntary pay cuts during crises?
- How is Chispa Maryland challenging traditional ideas about who an environmental activist is or can be?
- Why does the Detroit Food Academy use culinary skills as a gateway into more complex leadership topics?
- Empowering people has been identified as an SJN Success Factor, one of the tactics that can be crucial to a response's success or failure. Through the Success Factor lens, what lessons can be learned from programs like the Promotores or Latinos in Actions about diversifying leadership education?
article summaries and themes
Megan Taros covered several initiatives that have launched in schools and health care facilities across Idaho to reach out to better serve the Latino population, providing role models to youth, diversifying hiring processes, and making it easier to access translation services and related programs.
Jennifer Guay explored Canada's Free Agents program, an initiative modeled after professional hockey that allows their most innovative public servants to move between departments and work on projects that match their skills and interests.
Jeremy Cox reported on the "promotores" program from Chispa Maryland, which gives members of the Latinx community in the Chesapeake Bay an opportunity to learn the basics of climate justice, advocacy, and community organizing, becoming change makers in the environmental movement. More than 100 community members have graduated from the program since 2016.
Kristin Toussaint wrote about the CEOs and corporate management of corporations like Delta, United, and Marriott who are taking pay cuts, or giving up their pay altogether in an effort to continue paying employees despite the effects of the COVID19 pandemic on businesses.
Zenobia Jeffries explained how the Detroit Food Academy brings together local educators, chefs, and business owners to teach youth and young adults in the city business and entrepreneurship skills through cooking lessons and opportunities.
- Canada’s Free Agents program takes a page out of the professional hockey playbook in allowing a select group of innovative public servants to move from department to department, choosing projects that match their skills and interests. It gives talented government employees mobility and freedom of choice, and hiring managers access to a pool of pre-vetted, highly skilled civil servants. In smaller workplaces, employers could benefit from giving employees greater freedom about which projects they take on and how they tackle them; a higher degree of freedom and autonomy increases satisfaction and retention. The ability to move between projects and departments also can familiarize workers with the overall layout and ongoing work of an organization, creating a higher degree of cohesion and cooperation.
- Voluntary pay cuts model service-oriented leadership from management and prevent the need for lay-offs.
- Nearly 90% of leadership positions in environmental groups nationwide were held by White people in a widely-cited 2014 study; Hispanics and Latinos occupied fewer than 3% of those positions. Despite these demographic numbers, Hispanic communities bear more environmental burdens as a result of racist housing policies, suffering from poorer air quality, greater impacts from climate change, and more toxic contamination. Chispa's graduates are recruited directly from underserved neighborhoods and taught skills relevant to the issues impacting their communities. Additionally, the classes themselves are made as accessible as possible with food and childcare.
- Food naturally encompasses a wide variety of intercultural issues, ideas, and histories, while also providing an avenue for tangible skill-building.
- Answers will vary.