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“No one man should have all that power 
The clock's tickin', I just count the hours 
Stop trippin', I'm trippin' off the power” – Kanye West   


Kanye West, in his song ‘Power,’ describes the effects of having authority and control over a situation or person, and how one man’s access at full power can have detrimental results. The song suggests that power should be a collaborative process and  that decision making, when NOT founded in education, perspective, and diversity, can have harmful consequences for both those making the decisions and affected by the decisions.  

Power can arise out of organizational structure, politics, race, level of resources, rights, and manipulation.  Defined as the force that a person exerts on someone else to induce change or to affect their actions, behaviors, opinions, and values (Cervero & Wilson, 1994), power can have  positive or a negative change.

As we plan for and develop training that encourages leadership in a multicultural environment through knowledge, skill, and awareness (Connerly & Pederson, 2005), we must understand the influences of power in our decision making, as we hope to create change through our programs.  

Program planning is the fundamental process to develop, prepare for, and implement a formal event through the organization of resources to engage adults in the practice of teaching and learning. As a program planner of a multicultural training program, indeed, one has the power to equip professionals with cultural competency and multicultural development to be able communicate, interact, and lead across differences—

  • the power to gauge learner, organization, and external interests;
  • the power to make decisions on characteristics of the program;
  • the power to change lives;
  • and the power to work (or not work) collaboratively.

Power, when in the wrong hands, can create multicultural programs that are not effective, do not provide for life-long transfer of learning, and experiences that only further perpetuate cultural stereotypes and faultlines.

How can program planners avoid ‘tripping’ off of power?  

Effective program planning of multicultural and training programs  involves the negotiation of power. While there are many things that a program planner must do to implement a successful program, the most important actions are to:

  1. Make decision making a collaborative process.

Program planners must decide whose interests matter in developing a program and give voice and representation to those interests. Planners must make decisions about who sits at the table in the planning process, why they sit at the table, and who they represent at the planning table (Cervero & Wilson, 1994). Choose a diverse group to be apart of the planning  process to enhance leaders’ multicultural development.

      2. Establish objectives for multicultural development and use appropriate training techniques.

Connerly and Pederson (2005) suggests that “multicultural development is presumed to proceed from an awareness of attitudes, opinions, and assumptions to knowledge of facts and information to skill in taking the appropriate action” (pp. 125).  Program planning entails the procedure of transforming clear objectives to an engaging experience for learners, using design techniques to stimulate awareness, impart knowledge, and develop skill.  Using the Tylerian Rationale may prove effective.

      3. And finally, use evaluation.

  Often times the most underutilized and neglected step of program  planning, evaluation is key in negotiating power. The purpose of evaluation is to determine whether or not the training achieved the desired objective. Through evaluation, program planners can assess the effectiveness of their current programs and use feedback to create socially responsive programs that better meets the learners needs. Consider using the Kirkpatrick model.

What other suggestions would you consider to negotiate power in planning multicultural and diversity training programs?


Dressed in a floral suit, hair and make-up impeccable, she spoke with a strong yet friendly tone—her tongue, intelligent and wise from Princeton and Harvard Law, Michelle Obama spoke to the crowd and captivated their attention. Using words to describe herself and her family like “regular folk,” “working class,” and “from the other side of the track,” she is noted as one of the few  First Lady’s that acts as a neighbor down the street…  and not just any street. Michelle Obama speaks proudly about growing up as one of four children on a single city worker’s salary Chicago’s inner city; her mother stayed home to take care of the family, her father suffered gravely from multiple sclerosis.  She views her personal journey not as an example of hardship but as a source of strength.

From a lucrative career in corporate law and the public sector, and the presidential campaign trail to the White House, Obama has defined herself as one of the “regular folks,” and that designation carries even more meaning in her role as First Lady. As a strong, black, educated female leader, Michelle speaks about the many road blocks that she’s experienced from early childhood to her current role:

“We are confronted with the doubters. People who tells us what we can’t do. You know every time somebody told me, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ I pushed past their doubts and I took my seat at the table.”

“We are confronted with the doubters. People who tells us what we can’t do. You’re not ready. You’re not good enough. You’re not smart enough…. Each and every one of you here has heard and felt those ceilings, somebody pushing you down, defining your limitations, who are you? You know damn well what you are capable of doing…. You know every time somebody told me, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ I pushed past their doubts and I took my seat at the table.”  – Michelle Obama

A seat at the table that many say Obama gave up to support her husband as a presidential candidate, and now president. Obama’s story is a challenge to view from most female leadership theory. Obama is an example of leadership and exhibits the abilities to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute to common goals. Her leadership is a blend of transformational and authentic leadership as most women: she resembles us rather than stand apart from us; she recognizes and empathizes with our struggles; she recognizes, shares in, and supports our goals; and she encourages relationships and interaction as tactics to meet the real needs of the people. 

Yet many suggest that her female leadership now is a blow to an ideology in which women’s empowerment is defined by financial independence, professional advancement, and a detatchment of emotions and the ‘mothering’ role. In essence, Obama is viewed by many as a sell out for giving up her high post in a land of male leadership and now serving as the US’ most famous mother and wife.

Obama suggests differently – she intersects the role of First Lady and female leadership. Although it’s not a paid position, her job requires her to inspire and connect with the American public just as deeply as her husband is doing. Look at her Lets Move campaign… her work in schools across the country… and yes, her symbolism as the epitome of style and grace.

Obama suggests that the new post doesn’t define her—“A career is one of the many things I do in my life. I am a mother and a wife first. Where do I get my joy and my energy first and foremost? From my kids.”

Mrs. Obama offers a possibility for change, a new kind of female leadership: The ability to lead and inspire others yet still serve as a symbol as mother and caretaker for her family. She is a devoted partner, full-time mother, and a credentialed black dynamo– a female leader– and yet doesn’t feel victimized by the job.

 It was a simple joke with repercussions—the aftermath of the words   caused an absolute frenzy—“Downright. Niggardly.”  If you look up the word niggardly in the dictionary, there is assuredly a definition… Reluctant to give or spend;  stingy;  ungenerously scanty. Yet… its’ phonetic association with a racial slur aimed at African-Americans can augment the term beyond nine letters and into years of oppression, slavery, and marginalization based on race.  Of course, “niggardly” has no real connection to the racial slur— yet many call for it to be banished from the dictionary, not for its’ denotation but for its’ connotation.

It was at the bar that I first heard the word. A group of about 10 folks joined to celebrate the end of a hectic week—the group was diverse in race, gender, age, and discipline. After a few rounds of brews, John—the ultimate kidder— told a joke about a black boss who left small tips. I can’t remember the exact joke, but what I can remember was the punchline— “Downright. Niggardly.” It came to the group … just like a punch. No one laughed. Everyone looked around, took a sip, looked down, fidgeted with clothing. John laughed at the top of his lungs—Get it “Downright niggardly?” He looked puzzled that no one had joined him to laugh.  It wasn’t funny.

Cultural competence is described as possessing the awareness, attitudes, knowledge, and skills necessary to interact (lead, build relationships, communicate) with people across different cultures. In today’s ever-changing, global community, the need to posses cultural competence is more essential than ever. “Having insight into the cultural dynamics of a country, ethnic group, historical trends and influence, or geographical region is essential in understanding why people behave the way they do and think the way they think.” When you are culturally competent, you constantly engage in conversations with yourself about your assumptions, respect cultural diversity, and learn to effectively develop socially constructed meaning about things such as language, media, business, etc. You would be able to analyze your audience, like a group with four African-Americans, and know that the word “niggardly” could invoke triggers and faultlines that could affect your relationship with an African-American.

Washington DC had its’ run in with “Downright Niggardly,” when then-Mayor Anthony Williams accepted and then rescinded the resignation of David Howard, a white staff member, who used the term to describe the state of the economy and the distribution of sparse resources. The mayor explained that although Howard didn’t say  ‘anything that was in itself racist,’  however, using a word that could be misunderstood was like ‘getting caught smoking in a refinery with a resulting explosion.’ The resignation and then rehire of Howard was, of course, a shock and a tragedy but it had a good result too. It sensitized us all to the hidden and hurtful ethnic slurs that darken–oops, sorry–that afflict American life and highlighted the need for cultural competence training.

Fester like a sore…   referring to Langston Hughes’ poem A Dream Defered

 After some reflection on my own part, I am confident that John is not a racist—  he just had a moment where he was culturally incompetent. Yes, he is a white guy from Southwest Virginia, but he’s spent summers in Mongolia and is a kind hearted, open guy. He apologized and I know he was sincere. I kicked myself for not using the “ah-ha moment” as a learning piece; I was just as culturally incompetent as he was at that moment for not doing so. Folks were downright angry. Instead of letting people leave and letting the wound fester like a sore as Langston Hughes once said… What we needed to do was to use it as a learning moment centered in “cultural competence.”  Humor can invoke insensitivity, civil discourse, and in this case a frenzy; but we have to use humor and these type of moments to be able to discuss and then counteract real issues and real thinking. Some folks may snigger—oops— snicker at this notion.

As Mayor Williams said in response, “We must use this moment to understand that we still live and thrive in a racially-hurt society; what we, on both sides of the coin, must do is learn from our mistakes, however innocent they may be.” When we do not recognize moments where we are culturally incompetent and how that influences our interaction—now that?  That is when our thinking is “Downright Niggardly!”

… WHAT? …

Cultural identity is both complex and complicated. Connerly and Pederson suggest that the road to understanding cultural identity includes bumps, hills, and roadsigns such as Wrongway and Yield that make the journey to understanding and developing knowledge, skills, ability, and attitudes about cultures hard to maneuver. In identifying a personal cultural identity and being able to understand and celebrate others’ cultural identity, the process requires an awareness of both multiculturalism and its influence on behavior, thinking, and context. It also requires self-appreciation and being able to insert one’s self into the larger context of an organization, community, and even the world.

I can’t understand how those who call themselves well-versed in leadership (and skills like problem solving, critical thinking, and mediation) and leading others do not engage in a continual process of growth and development in understanding others—understanding their behavior, backgrounds, demographic attributes, and the historical and societal faultlines and triggers that can impede communication and teamwork. The very definition of leadership, the process of socially influencing an individual or team towards specific goals, warrants a foundation and understanding of the social influences that the individual and the team bring to the table.

… SO WHAT? …

Connerly and Pederson suggest that one’s ability to lead starts at the leader’s drive down “Change” Lane and then continually taking breaks at the intersection of “Multiculturalism” and “Cultural Identity” Avenue! A leader’s personal GPS system must engage in exposure to what others constitute as their identity and constantly release the degrees of personal boundaries that one puts up in trying to communicate and make contact with others in their daily lives. Just like a GPS system has to be constantly updated for new streets,  a leader’s personal GPS system must be constantly updated to understand the influences of globalism, power and  injustice, privilege, faultlines and triggers, and concepts like inclusion. Only then will a leader be able to properly engage in the Leadership Response Cycle and assess situations,  develop goals, create action, and evaluate and share feedback on issues such as team and individual performance and development, conflict management, and SWOT analysis.


The knowledge, skills, abilities, and attitudes of leadership and multiculturalism of the past do not fit the leadership needed for today—the leadership needed to be successful in an ever-changing global community. Bell-Rose and Dasai suggest that tomorrow’s leaders don’t need just a “lil” exposure to others in response to globalism; the authors, similarly to our course readings, suggest that

“Whether you are buying a car or casting a ballot, choosing a job or planning a family, follow your moral compass. Don’t let others define you. Don’t let advertisers mold you; don’t let zealots ensnare you; don’t let conventional wisdom trap you….you are part of a much larger whole.” -Denis Hayes

today’s students need a comprehensive understanding of the global economy, national security, democracy and citizenship, cultural diversity within the U.S., and global knowledge and values. The development of a global society is no longer of debate— globalism is in reality and actuality and demands the actions and behavior of culturally-cognizant leaders. This concept must be intricately ingrained in our educational system and thus today’s students, and not just through one class or a few celebrations. Only then will we be able to graduate leaders with the tools to transcend beyond differences and drive leadership in a multicultural society.

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… what? …

The effective leader can foster a work environment enjoyable for a team where its members feel valued for their service and empowered to serve.

As an employee of  the United States Department of Agriculture, at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, I understand the influence, importance, and empowerment that can be gained in a team when an organization is able to manage diversity and create its own culture. Unfortunately, I understand it from the reverse experience… I understand it because it was what our team longed for but could never attain. The better management and understanding of our diversity could have propelled our team into an advanced state of performance—one that would have been able to better serve our stakeholders; create an enjoyable work environment where members felt valued; and shape an organizational culture that celebrated multiculturalism and rejected discrimination and bias. My workplace was an example of how leadership, or the lack thereof, and the lack of understanding of diversity and inclusion can affect a team and its’ processes. There were Blacks, Whites, a Samoan, males, females, married and gay people, Christians, Muslims, those with degrees and not, those in higher rank and at the bottom.  And that’s how we worked… as a group of people who were different, never a team of USDA employees that could best serve because we each were different. 

 … so what? …

Through working, people discover, shape, or create information during the process of interacting with the environment or other people. So what really did we discover or create through our sometimes faulty process of interaction? At times, my workplace was like a scene from The Office—comedic, sporadic, and downright dim-witted. The environment was filled with convoluted assumptions,  jokes, and “light” discrimination, under leaders who danced around multiculturalism with no sense of cultural competence. Yet in still, WE were responsible for a large 40-million dollar budget that impacted the future of research, education, and extension. Quite often it was our environment and our faulty interaction that was a direct testament to where we failed to perform at rates which were in our ability. The work was completed… but it could have been more innovative and responsive had each person been empowered in their abilities and not treated as just hands doing the work.

 … now what? …


When I really reflect about it… it’s a detriment to our government and team that we did not work to the best of ability. What we needed were leaders that were engaged in developing an organizational culture through knowledge, skills, and awareness to address and rectify the workplace… What we needed was a glue that could bind our individual personal and national cultures into an organizational culture as Connerly and Pederson discuss, and a performance culture as in the model to the left. I’ve learned that I must encourage multicultural leadership, where the team has a shared belief in the vision and confidence that can achieve it. My leadership must advocate for change and create an organizational culture that embraces and values difference through engagement—only then can we foster productivity and innovation.


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