• by Pam McCollum, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • June – July 2005

These analytic reflections are offered as a complement to the narrative journal, The Ohtli Encuentro – Women of Color Share Pathways to Leadership, which tells the story of the Ohtli Encuentro and of the leadership pathways of the Ohtli women through the voices of the women, themselves. The reflections provide a brief review of the general literature on leadership, with an emphasis on women’s leadership and studies of leadership of women of color, as a context within which to situate the Ohtli women’s stories and insights.

Definitions of leadership can be placed on a continuum from hierarchical to transformational. At the hierarchical end, leadership is viewed as one of “power over,” the ability to exercise authoritative dominance over others through hierarchical position, physical might or control of resources. This form of leadership is agentic and is more commonly ascribed to men than women. Leaders who exhibit agentic qualities have been commonly and traditionally described as aggressive, ambitious, dominant, forceful, independent, daring, self-confident and competitive (Eagly and Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001).

At the other end of the continuum is transformational or communal leadership, which is characterized by “power with” or “power through” due to the relationship between the leader and followers. Transformational leaders recognize a need for change, have a vision and focus, pursue worthy goals, and inspire others to work cooperatively to achieve a desired change (Gillis, 2005).

Transformational leaders are skilled communicators who can communicate their vision to others and inspire them to pursue a common goal, empowering them in the process. These types of leaders are adept at developing others’ personal ownership of the vision, stimulating commitment, supporting people to work together and inspiring collective loyalty. The influence that leaders have over followers is constantly being negotiated and is a function of several variables, including the self-identity of the followers (Douglas, Brown and Freiberg, 1999).

Another type of leadership that has been described in the business literature is transactional leadership, which is managerial. Instead of being communal, the emphasis is on individuals or small groups of employees within organizations or businesses who vie for favored status with a manager. Cooperation occurs through negotiations and loyalty is bought with reward to individuals. In these cases, some employees demonstrate little or no commitment to the organization’s mission or vision, and cooperation is the result of negotiations. This model emphasizes marginal improvements in performance based on exchange relationships with subordinates (Bass and Avolio, 1993).

Yet another type of leadership seeks service for the greater good, as in servant leadership described by Greenleaf (1991). Others write, “Leadership is an art” (DePree, 1989).

Gender and Leadership Styles

A good portion of the studies on leadership styles has examined gender differences in leadership style when style is understood as relatively stable patterns of behavior that are manifested by leaders (Yoder, 2001). Many of these studies have focused on whether women and men have different leadership styles or on the adequacy of women’s leadership styles for a given profession. This line of research focused on women who worked in traditionally male-dominated professions and examined whether their leadership style was adequate (Miller, Taylor, and Buck, 1991). The difference/similarity research in leadership styles between men and women also has enjoyed popularity in the popular press. Authors of these studies, who formerly worked in the business world, published results of interviews and surveys that examined the issue of gender and leadership style and found that the leadership style of women is less hierarchical, more cooperative and collaborative, and more oriented to enhancing others’ self-worth (Book, 2000; Helgesen, 1990; Rosener, 1995).

Acknowledging that leadership was much more complex than the simple difference/similarity dichotomy, social scientists such as Powell (1990) began to minimize the importance of these reported differences in leadership styles. There was a realization that leadership is gendered (Boldry, Wood and Kashy, 2001; Eagly and Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001; Heilman, 2001).

Researchers also began to examine leadership as a process that occurs within a social context that is itself gendered (Biernat and Fuegen, Winter 2001). The context of the leadership setting can vary according to several factors such as the gender composition of the group, task characteristics, and shifting standards. Gender is important in defining both leadership and the specific context in which leadership operates. Yoder (2001) states, “Leadership does not operate in a genderless vacuum.”

Gender and Leader Effectiveness

Analyzing the contextual settings of leadership has broadened the polemic over the effectiveness of female vs. male leaders. These studies have examined the gender congeniality of contexts where leadership occurs. Gender congeniality can be thought of as a kind of “comfort index” that differs by gender. The research was done largely through meta-analyses that operationalized the gender congeniality of social contexts in which leadership occurs (Eagly and Johnson, 1990; Eagly and Karau, 1991; Eagly, Karau and Makhhijani, 1995). Variables that influenced the social context were group composition, gender typing of the task, valuing task performance over all other outcomes, and power emphases. When assessing leader effectiveness in this model, one must take into account the gender of the leader and the gender congeniality of the context where the leader operates. Leader effectiveness is defined as positive leader and follower satisfaction, enhanced group and individual performances, and unit cohesiveness. The types of power typically used in women-uncongenial contexts draws on “power over,” or dominance, and “power from,” or the ability to resist demands of others. “Power to” or empowerment of self and others is more common in women-congenial contexts (Yoder, 2001).

Studies have shown that effective leadership traits for men in masculinized contexts in many cases are ineffective when adopted by women operating in masculinized contexts (Porter, Geis and Jennings, 1983). Assertiveness, an agentic trait of male leaders, was found to be threatening when exhibited by women (Carli, 1995) and contributed to them being disliked (Butler and Geis, 1990).

Studies focusing on other agentic qualities of male leadership all found that women leaders who exhibited the agentic qualities in masculinized contexts were not viewed as effective. The qualities studied were: dominance (Ellyson, Davidio and Brown, 1992); autocratic or directive behavior (Eagley, Makhijani and Klonsky, 1992; Jago and Vroom, 1982); and self-promotion (Rudman, 1998).

Yoder (2001) states that what makes leaders effective in masculinized settings is power. She states, “Because social status and power are confounded by gender, the playing field is tilted for women leaders even before they begin.”

Ethnicity and Leadership

The scope of leadership research has expanded from males as the sole focus of study to include gender and, most recently, to a focus on leadership in members of various ethnic groups. These studies are generally qualitative in nature, the most common employing in-depth interview techniques and surveys. Ramírez (2001) surveyed 3,032 Latinos in the United States (Mexican American, Puerto Rican and Cuban) ages 18 and older and asked them to name traits they considered important in a leader. He found 20 desirable traits that clustered around four leadership traits that Latinos expect to see in a leader: character, competence, compassion and community servanthood. Latinos, like most Americans, highly value the importance of character (honesty and integrity) and competence.

However, the Ramírez study showed that Latinos place a much higher priority on leadership traits associated with compassion and community servanthood than their non-Latino counterparts. Latinos want their leaders to be competent but not at the expense of compassion and community servanthood.

There are many similarities between Latinos’ expectations for leaders and African Americans’. The centrality of the community for African Americans has much in common with Latino communal values. Most of the early work on leadership in African American communities was done within the race dominance and power approach, seeking to explain Black leadership theoretically in terms of the subordinate power position of Blacks in relation to Whites (Walters and Smith, 1999): “Because of the subordinate position of Blacks relative to Whites in the U.S., African American leaders have been faced with the dual task of organizing internally within the Black community while simultaneously ‘mobilizing’ the community to develop the pressure on the majority” (Ibid., p.112).

Both Kilson (2000) and Walters and Smith (1999) feel that Black leadership tends to be transformational in nature and cite Dr. Martin Luther King as an example of a Black transformational leader.

While there is a great deal of diversity in the lifestyles of the 550 recognized Indian nations in the United States, their cultures can generally be characterized by similar social and religious systems where women occupy a matriarchal position (Gutiérez, 1991). American Indian women have a rich history of political involvement in their communities and have struggled to attain tribal sovereignty, control over Native lands and resources, and cultural preservation. Since the 1970s, women have held a variety of elected or appointed positions in their tribal governments (Prindeville, 2000).

Leadership studies with professionals of various ethnicities began to appear in the 1980s. These studies tended to be written by members of ethnic groups who studied how members of their ethnic group fared in comparison to majority group employees within the organization. Initially, these were analyses that examined why there were so few minorities in leadership positions relative to majority group members within various careers. Studies in this vein examined leadership in higher education (Madrid, 1982; Valverde and García, 1982; Waring, 2003), community organizing (Straus and Valentino, 2003) and school administration (Bloom and Erlandson, 2003). Presently, studies are examining leaders from ethnic groups in positions of power within organizations.

To read more about leadership in women of color, read the newly-released, The Ohtli Encuentro – Women of Color Share Pathways to Leadership. This beautiful book presents the voices of 30 African American, Latina and Native American women who share their leadership journeys. IDRA brought together these women leaders to capture, honor and share their inspiring stories of leadership. This book highlights their moving stories. The book also discusses common themes that arose from the women’s interactions in a multicultural, multi-generational gathering designed to explore leadership in women of color.

For more information visit www.idra.org or contact IDRA (210-444-1710, feedback@idra.org). References are located in the Ohtli Encuentro book and are also available online.

Talking about Leadership

“We are not defining leadership as the individual qualities of assertiveness and ambition that shine through a charismatic individual. Leadership…means collective commitment to progress – wise and tough actions that create new systemic regularities in our institutions of education. It means constructing a seamless pipeline for all our children from preschool years to completing college…It means institutions and communities work for the greater good of our world.”

– Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., IDRA

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul, than the way it treats its children.”

– South Africa Former President Nelson Mandela

“Don’t take this on by yourself. Work with others. Work with people who agree with you. Cause others to agree with you. Work with people who are like you and with those who are unlike you. This could be in terms of race and ethnicity, age, social class, another part of town, etc. There is a great deal you can learn from each other, and you will have a much more powerful effect together.”

– Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, IDRA executive director

“Each of us has a light within us, a potent force to lead the way for ourselves and others. The choice to do so is not always easy for it means facing and overcoming the darkness, the fears and doubts that are constant companions. It means staying true to a vision, keeping hope alive, giving voice to those who have none. It means believing, in a profound and unfaltering way, that each person we encounter can make a difference in this journey. It means listening to people with our heads and our hearts and speaking with a voice that resonates with truth, fairness and decency. It means finding words that will move us and others to do what is right.”

– Josie Danini Cortez, M.A., IDRA

“Until all of us have made it, none of us have made it.”

– Rosemary Brown

“As leaders in your community, you can make it happen. It’s up to you. But first, you have to believe it, truly believe that what you’ve imagined can be real.”

– Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, IDRA executive director

Pam McCollum, Ph.D., is a senior associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2005, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June- July 2005 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]