Sustainable Leadership: Lessons and Implications of a Leadership Development Program for Women Religious in Africa

Article excerpt

Introduction

Encouraging women to showcase their leadership competencies is perhaps the most viable vehicle to driving positive change in Eastern Africa (Sikazwe 2006; Maathai 2006). Studies show that women in this region continue to struggle to raise the bar and break the barriers that hinder their own development and full participation in education, corporate and organizational management (Gouws 2008; Hollos 1998; Stromquist 1998; Sperandio and Kagoda 2008). There is need for studies to illustrate the leadership capacities and organizational involvement of women so as to encourage policy and leadership development agendas on women.

According to Gouws (2008), women in Africa come across many stumbling blocks as they aspire to leadership positions. The obstacles range from historical, cultural, and socio-political obstacles that inhibit their search to position themselves as leaders (Bloch and Tabachnic 1998; Brown and Ralph 1996; King and Hill 1998). In Eastern Africa, individual, organizational and socio-cultural obstacles render more women as underprivileged thereby impeding them from assuming decision-making positions in competition with male leaders. Amondi (2011) refers to these barriers as the glass ceiling because they prevent women's rise to top leadership positions. Gachukia (2002) and Otieno (2001) concur that because there are few women in leadership positions, there are not many female mentors and role models. To overcome the said barriers, there is need of leadership development for women to believe in themselves as leaders. Therefore, leadership development may provide a means for women to build confidence and self-efficacy to break the glass ceiling and empower them to take on a seat at the decision-making table.

Using three case studies selected from 180 women religious of Eastern Africa who were participants in a three-year Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) program administered in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, we illustrate that engaging women in leadership programs will foster competencies and viable strategies to support them to perform beyond their expectations. Furthermore, we draw on lessons and implications from the experiences of the women religious participants of the SLDI program in sustaining leadership initiatives. The term women religious is used synonymously to refer to the Catholic Sisters--women who consciously and willingly engage in charitable works and respond to humanitarian needs in the communities they serve. Greenleaf (1998) referred to the people who respond to such desires/feelings as servant leaders. According to Greenleaf, the desire to be a servant leader begins with a natural feeling in an individual to want to serve, then, a conscious choice to aspire to lead. Since the 1970s, Greenleaf has studied a variety of congregations, seminaries, and church leadership systems, concluding with the term servant leadership--a type of leadership that emerges from within an individual's desire to serve, to care, and to meet the diverse needs of their people. This type of leadership is closely related to sustainable leadership since it seeks to sustain, protect, care, preserve and perpetuate quality of life. Sustainable leadership encourages individuals to think of the society holistically and recognizes interrelationships in all of creation.

Sustainable Leadership

We define sustainable leadership as the ability for individuals and institutions to continue to adapt and meet new challenges and complexities in demanding and changing contexts (Davies 2008; Hargreaves 2007). Sustainable leadership empowers others to improve human and resource capacity and provides opportunity for leaders and stakeholders to network, learn from, and support each other in achieving organizational goals for the future (Hargreaves 2007; Hargreaves and Fink 2006; Fullan 2001). Such leadership seeks to promote development and change for the better. Equipping African women leaders with leadership competencies is a strategy to help their organizations match the global needs as they seek to address challenges that face their society. …