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Archive for February, 2011

Leading at the Intersection of “Multiculturalism” and “Cultural Identity” Avenue

… 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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Cultural Frameworks: From Personal Experience

… 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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