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Redefining Leadership: Diverse and Global Perspectives

By Jean Lau Chin
Posted: 19th September 2016 08:13
As our communities become increasingly global, and countries throughout the world become increasingly diverse, we must examine leadership and psychology within a global and diverse perspective.   A digital age of rapid change, instantaneous communication, and increased mobility characterizes the 21st century.  Good and effective leadership is essential if we are to promote international business, global economic, social and psychological well-being, and intercultural peace and harmony.  Are we ready to meet the challenge?

Why isn’t there more diversity among our leaders in the world today? Barron’s 2016 list of the World’s Best CEOs consists of 30 men; 2 are Chinese, 2 are Indian, and 1 is Brazilian.  Women make up 23% of chief executives in US organizations (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009) and only 2% of Fortune 500 companies (Infoplease, 2009).  Numbers by race/ethnicity are harder to come by although Whites make up 84% of board seats on Fortune 100 companies.  Are White Western men the ones most able to exercise good leadership and influence?  Disparities in representation, earnings, discrimination and access remain as bias continues to favor those already dominant in society and leadership.

Forbes 2015 of The World’s Most Powerful Peoplelists 9 women out of 73—a mere 12%; this contrasts with Fortune’s list of 2015 World’s Greatest Leaders, of which 26% are women. Why this difference? Fortune’s list show more women as leaders because their criteria was about transformational and significant change reflecting influence while Forbe’s list show fewer women as leaders because their criteria was about power to influence and control resources.

Issues of power often result in different and double standards used to evaluate women and minorities less favorably that are rooted in stereotypes about social identities even when actual leadership behaviors are the same.  Because leadership models are strongly influenced by Western norms and reflect the leadership largely of white, heterosexual men (Den Hartog, 2004), women leaders are often viewed as weak and indecisive, Asian leaders as modest and passive, Latino leaders as emotional and unstable, and Black leaders as angry and confrontational.

Rost (1991, p. 102) redefines leadership with an emphasis on change and flexibility in thinking as “an influence relationship among leaders and followers…not based on authority, but on persuasion”.   Graen & Uhl-Bien (1995) expands this to the exchange that occurs between leaders and members as opposed to leader traits while Rodrigues (2001) calls attention to the shift from individual leaders to teams, processes, and member diversity.  Chin & Trimble (2014) integrates this to propose a diversity leadership model that emphasizes diversity, difference, inclusion and change.  It emphasizes the values, world views, and diversity of leaders and followers which interact with one other.   It emphasizes the centrality and intersectionality of multiple social identities, lived experiences, and social and organizational contexts. 

Prior to the 21st century, political leadership was characterized by a conqueror-colonizing mentality by Western countries based on military power.  This placed leadership in a global context of power, exploitation, and privilege designed to exploit national resources (e.g., copper, fisheries, labor, lumber, or oil) of the countries being conquered.  The Industrial Revolution of the 20th century brought about the mass production of goods that changed our way of living. Leisure time became a commodity and affluent material consumption a goal.  The threat of nuclear destruction, however, gave way to collaborative models of leadership as countries sought peace and nuclear disarmament while the Women’s Movement and Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s ushered in demands for empowerment and shared leadership.

Leadership in the 21stcentury is marked by innovation, technology and change with a shift from production of goods to the delivery of services and information bringing about demands for different kinds of leadership.  China, Japan, Africa, and Latin America, “third world countries” once colonized by Western power for cheap labor and rich resources now seek liberation and self-governance.  With their productivitynow far outpacing that of “advanced” Western nations and the proliferation of multinational corporations in theglobal economic market, the 21st century marks our interdependence and need to cooperate if we are to achieve world peace, create a sustainable environment, eliminate terrorism, and promote global economic and social wellbeing. 
This means redefining leadership explained by leadership traits to the multiple social identities that leaders bring.  It means valuing and respecting differences across dimensions of diversity, i.e., race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion and disability.   It means recognizing the privilege that dominant groups experience against the oppression that minority groups face.  How do leaders and members remain authentic in such an environment?  Can they bring all of their identities to their leadership?”

Diverse leaders coming from minority groups often must learn the rules of the game and play by them as they enter the power elite.  This often shapes their identities and leadership behaviors as they conform to become more like those already in power.  We saw this historically as women leaders rose to power, it was their relationship with powerful men that enabled them to break the taboo against women leaders.  Dowager Cixi, Empress of China and Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt were two such examples where the social zeitgeist led them to be viewed as invalid and tyrannical leaders who seized power and ascended to power through their alliance with and seduction of powerful men of their times. Despite their major social reforms and military conquests, they are remembered primarily for their “feminine wickedness”, seductress powers, and “iron-willed” characters.
Some of the most powerful political women leaders since continue to be portrayed by these gendered expectations.  Many who have made transformational changes have been portrayed as “iron ladies”, for example, Corazon Aquino (Phillipines), Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia), Yingluck Shinawatra (Thailand), Dilma Vana Rousseff (Brazil) who rose to power through revolution and Golda Meir (Israel), Margaret Thatcher (England), Angela Merkel (Germany) who rose to leadership from within the system.  Their alternate portrayal as “mothers” or saints reflect society’s ambivalence about strong women.  Racial/ethnic minority leaders similarly are constrained when perceived as “exceptions” to their race when they made an accomplishment, when they are commonly asked “how their group thinks”. 

The question is: Does Difference Makes a Difference?  The answer is a resounding “Yes” because the privilege held by dominant group members often render them oblivious to or disbelieving of these experiences that those from minority groups face.   For example, an African American woman being straight forward and assertive may be perceived as confrontational and intimidating while an Asian American woman being respectful, indirect and modest may be perceived as passive.  Native American women leaders may emphasize “standing beside, rather than behind, their men in an effort to preserve and protect their tribal treaty rights”, but then be faulted for not holding their own as women (Chin & Trimble, 2014, p. 283).  We have pilot data on diverse leaders to show that being different often means: 1) being the one and only, 2) always being the outsider, 3) having to work twice as hard to be ½ as good, 4) always having to prove yourself, 5) being challenged on your competence, or 6) having to be extraordinary.  It often means living in two different worlds as they negotiate between different communities.
So what kinds of leaders do we want for the 21st Century?  Command and Control types of leadership are probably on their way out.  There is simply not one model for a diverse population.  The research literature increasingly points to transformational, collaborative and relational oriented leadership styles as models for 21st century leadership--redefining leadership based on change, relationships and influence. 

Transformational leadership characterized as: visionary, promoting change, inspirational, innovative, and charismatic(Burns, 1978) became popular in the 1980s as US corporations began to experience rapid change internationally and multinational corporations began to flourish.  Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt, & van Engen (2003) found women leaders to be more transformational than men leaders.  Charisma as a characteristic, however, is problematic because it defines male charisma—i.e., someone with a commanding presence exuding confidence, strength, and a personal magic or appeal that arouses loyalty or enthusiasm. Women’s charisma is often more associated with being warm, nurturing and interpersonal, i.e., about persuasion and smiles.
Collaborative Leadership is characterized as: strategically choosing to cooperate in order to accomplish a shared outcome and accepting responsibility for building or helping to ensure the success of a heterogeneous team (Rubin, 2009)—shifting from power to empowerment and emphasizing social responsibility.  It became popular amidst the social zeitgeist of the ‘60s to eliminate gender and racial/ethnic inequities, reflecting the lived experiences of oppressed groups.

Task vs. Relational Leadership dichotomizes: task oriented leaders as focused on getting the job done, planning and organizing, being independent, assertive, and competent vs. relational oriented leaders as focused on people, building relationships, and being expressive and nurturing.   As women have often been found to be more relationally oriented suggestint that they base their judgments more on intuition and emotions compared to men who base them on a rational calculation of the means and ends.  Consequently, task oriented competencies are more associated with leadership success which Korabik (1990) criticizes as creating a double bind for women leaders who must “take charge” like their male colleagues, but must be warm and nurturing like women are expected to.

Asian, Arab, and non-Western leaders have also been found to place more emphasis on relationships over tasks.  Miscommunication often occurs in cross-cultural negotiations where they often view an initial negotiation as a process merely to confirm belongingness and to evaluate the relationship for long-term gain Western leaders often view all negotiations as confirming authority and establishing dominance. 

Several non-Western models of leadership introduce different perspectives and new constructs if we are to redefine leadership.  The caliphal-prophetic model of leadership rooted in Arab culture and strongly influenced by Islamic religion and the Confucian leadership model steeped in Chinese traditions and values are two such examples.  Though both models derive from a male dominant perspective and are hierarchical common to Western models of leadership, they draw on different cultural values and social systems.  Both incorporate the concept of benevolent paternalism—an expectation and responsibility of the leader to be humanistic, responsible for a family’s welfare, to maintain social harmony through relationships, and the belief that improvement of one’s life can be attained through a group orientation—a construct more foreign to Western leadership.  Benevolent paternalism in which leaders are authoritative but lead with beneficence has been found in Iran (Ayman & Chemers, 1983), India (Kao, Sinha, & Wilpert, 1999) and China (Cheng, Chou, Wu, Huang, & Farh, 2004). 
The construct ofRen-Qing plays a central role in the Asian culture in regulating behavior in social life, business matters, and leadership, yet is foreign in Western culture.  While it is an interpersonal relationship, it involves a moral obligation to maintain the relationship, and governs social protocol of reciprocity involving gifts and favors in the long run (Yan, 1996).  It is associated with appropriate equity and fairness as an essential guiding factor for successful leadership (Li, 2013). 

Lastly, Lee (2004) offers a Daoist leadership model drawing on Eastern culture and Daoismfor application in Western leadership.  Using water as a metaphor for leadership; Lee posits that it is: 1) altruistic because it is essential for human life, 2) adaptable because it modes itself to the shape of its container, 3) humble because it is always on bottom, 4) soft but strong because it can mold mountains as it flows, and 5) clear and transparent.  The model is egalitarian and urges a benevolent use of power using a humanistic orientation by following natural laws of harmony with nature and among humans.  This model contrasts with command and control type models and condones minimal interference on followers, provides an ethical framework for followers to take ownership of tasks, and employs ‘‘soft tactics,’’ such as persuasion, empowerment, modeling, teamwork, collaboration, and service.

In conclusion, we examine the current gap in leadership theories and redefine leadership to be relevant and effective in a diverse and global society.  A Daoist leadership model offers new insights into other forms of leadership while relationship oriented, collaborative, and transformational styles of leadership have potential for diversity leadership if modified.  We will face a future that will demand new leadership skills.  Are you prepared to live, work and lead in the future?  

Jean Lau Chin, EdD, ABPP is Professor at Adelphi University in New York, and Principal of CEO Services providing consulting services to individuals and organizations on leadership and diversity development. Dr. Chin is a psychologist who has held senior management positions as Dean at Adelphi University and at Alliant International University, and as Executive Director of a Community Health Center and of a Mental Health Clinic in Boston.  Her recent work on Global and Diverse Leadership includes women and ethnic minority issues, and a book on Diversity and Leadership (2014).  She trains on leadership and organizational development, and cultural competence. Mostly recently, she is the Council Leadership Chair-Elect of the American Psychological Association, and President of the International Psychology (Division 52, APA) where she is creating an International Leadership Network to promote mutual exchange on education/training and research/scholarship.  

Jean can be contacted on +516-206-4626 or by email at 

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