Ethnic Minority Leadership

We Are the Ones: Leadership in Times of Peril and Opportunity*

Describes salient characteristics of those who view leadership as a 'call to service.' Also notes additional characteristics for ethnic minority leaders that are related to legacies of disenfranchisement and oppression, and the strength and courage needed to confront challenges and obstacles.

By Linda James Myers, PhD

The call to leadership can be understood to be a call to service. As a call to service there are some essentials to which we need capable leadership to respond. We need leaders with the capacity to forge the creation of a just, sacred, and sustainable world. You may very well be one of the ones we have been waiting for.

Who are these people with such laudable competencies for which we are looking? How do they go about exercising their abilities in professional, political, and institutional settings? I have had the opportunity to run across many from this group with relative frequency and they all seem to share certain characteristics in common. First and foremost, they seem to have a knowledge of themselves that derives from a considerable amount of time having been given to critical self-reflection, introspection, the honest search for authenticity, and, more often than not, they have learned a great deal from significant life challenges, trials by fire have taught them self-mastery. This self-knowledge is sometimes made evident in the peaceful well-being, quiet security, integrity, and confidence one senses in their presence, even in a crisis they seek to remain centered with a knowing grounded in something beyond what appears.

Another attribute common to this group is the respect they hold for those who have gone before them, upon whose shoulders they stand and without whom they would not be able to do what they do. Such an attitude of gratitude and reverence allows them to survey the human condition and conclude that indeed everyone is right to the limits of their knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, given their experiences, exposures, and meanings made. So being, their orientation to human diversity markers such as race, gender, and class surpasses the binary assessment that one is better than the other. Moving to the realization that everything can be found in every group, they look for the best among all with values that foster empathy, trust and mutual understanding as effective modes of social interaction.

Acknowledging that all is perception, and that power is the ability to define reality, this group wields their faith, or positive belief, time, and attention, wisely. Sensing and affirming an inviolate beauty way which assumes the interconnectedness of all life, the extension of a just and sacred world to all of humanity and existence across the dimensions of time and space is assured. Their deepened sense of awe and grace is accompanied by an awareness that love is the most powerful force in the universe and is therefore the most solid assumption upon which all else should be built. Inspired that peace, the natural outgrowth of love, is a prerequisite for justice, the other prerequisites of truth, reciprocity, order, harmony, and balance are also perpetually sought.

The Goals of Just Leadership

Aspiring to pursue what is right, this group looks to create a world in which all forms of inequality, exploitation, manipulation, and dehumanization among people are overcome. The logic and system of reasoning typifying this group unifies, contains and transcends oppositions, a level of moral reasoning that seems uncommon in the current prevailing socio-cultural climate. In a society in which it is more important to be politically correct than morally correct, we are challenged in certain circles to even use the language of being just, sacred, or righteous, much less put forward an agenda based upon it being the 'right' thing to do. How do we even know what is right in as social context in which human diversity markers such as race, gender and class so heavily influence, if not determine, the opportunities and standards to which people are held and by which people are judged?

Challenges of Ethnic Minority Leadership

For psychologists from non-dominant cultural groups, whose ancestors have been historically disenfranchised and oppressed, the challenge is even greater. You may have already faced situations considered normal and acceptable by the dominant group, but considered absolutely' insane and heinous in your cultural reality. Given the structural and embedded nature of bias and injustice in this social context, recognizing and maintaining health and sanity is not easy. Learn to consider and trust those cultural resources that have brought you this far, those that sustain you. Their value needs to be shared widely, even if others may not understand at first. Optimal Psychology suggests we should always be looking for and sharing the good, although even 'the good' may for a time not make us rather unpopular.

We need courageous leaders with the capacity to think deeply, critically, comprehensively, and coherently in a sustainable, analytically cohesive manner. From the perspective of Optimal Psychology, if in order for this outcome to manifest with greater frequency we need weight training for the heart, mind, and soul, that is good too. So many things weigh on us as a humanity, that no less than a serious program of weight training may suffice, if we are to effectively manage the leadership challenges we have ahead of us. In the wisdom tradition of the ancients, our goal is to make our hearts as light as a feather when weighed against our actions on the scales truth, justice and righteousness. As the result of engaging in rigorous training our minds will be strong with enough power to generate and sustain clear, purposeful, independent thought and opinion in the face of mentacide, engineered consensus, and mis-education.

Exercising with the kind of commitment that will develop our thinking toward greater knowledge, deeper wisdom and fuller understanding, our minds can regain any lost rigor, vigor, flexibility, and incisiveness. Our feelings will regain their buoyancy and elasticity, as our hearts soar with more extraordinary outcomes than we have ever before known. We will become brave. There will be many very heavy topics that we need to lift as we continue to get in our best shape. Please join this group that practices daily workouts for the heart, mind, and soul. You will then know that you are one of the ones we have been waiting for, no doubt!

*With permission of the author and editors, this paper is reprinted from Cathy McDaniels Wilson & Jennifer Kelly, Implementing a diversity initiative in State, Provincial and Territorial Psychological Associations: A handbook for SPTAs: 2009 Edition. (Available from APA Division 31, State, Provincial & Territorial Psychological Affairs)