Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Pluralistic Leadership

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Pluralistic Leadership

Article excerpt

Incorporating Diverse Voices


Various studies have illustrated the inability of hierarchical models (i.e., chain of command, top-level decision making, control, etc.) of leadership for meeting the challenges facing higher education institutions (Bensimon & Neumann, 1993). Challenges, such as cost containment, accountability to the public, globalization, integrating technology, and measuring of student outcomes, require more participatory forms of leadership than have existed in the past (Rosener, 1990). As institutions have realized this and expanded leadership to include more individuals, there has been limited examination of how leadership might be interpreted differently by groups and individuals on college campuses, in particular, faculty, other levels of administration, and staff. Participatory leadership models, which rely on interdependence and collective efforts, necessitate that campus participants feel included in the leadership process and emphasize communication throughout the organization as critical for organizational succes s (Astin & Leland, 1991; Bensimon & Neumann, 1993; Rosener, 1990; Tierney, 1989). Similar to hierarchical leadership models, participatory models assume a common leadership reality for all individuals within the organization.

However, recent research illustrates that the assumption of a common understanding of leadership will result in significant challenges for organizations. For example, a growing body of scholarship provides evidence that women enact, think about, and interpret leadership differently from traditional images/models, which are based on the experiences of white men in positions of authority (Astin & Leland, 1991; Bensimon & Neumann, 1993; Rosener, 1990). [1] The research on women provides a foundation for examining other fundamental aspects of a person's identity that might be related to the way they interpret leadership. These studies focused on the question of whether who we are, based on our experiences, is related to what we know about leadership. An epistemological theory has emerged that shows promise for understanding these differences--positionality theory. This theory suggests that in addition to differences in background, power conditions shape perspectives. Because leadership has traditionally been clos ely associated with authority and power, focusing on the notion of power for explaining differences in leadership interpretations seems a logical connection.

Why should we be concerned about these multiple voices? Research focused on cultural diversity in organizations illustrates that stifling or not acknowledging difference leads to inefficiency, lack of productivity, reduced quality, and the inability to meet organizational goals (Cox, 1993). In contrast, knowledge of cultural differences enhances work relationships, effectiveness, and the ability to reach organizational goals (Cox, 1993). Many institutions find themselves struggling with resistance, losing disenfranchised faculty or administrators who think others do not respect their perspectives, and embattled with miscommunication and conflict.

This study builds on the earlier research by Astin and Leland (1991), Rosener (1990), and Helgesen (1990) that examined gender exclusively, focusing on several conditions that might differentiate an individual's experience and resultant perspective. The reasons for different perspectives--power conditions, culture, contextual influences--are also largely unexamined, making it difficult to address and change this condition. In this article I address the following research questions: How does positionality (i.e., role as faculty, location in the academic bureaucracy) relate to interpretations of leadership? and How do conditions of power relate to interpretations of leadership? The purpose of the article is to examine differences in leadership perspectives in higher education, to create a framework for understanding these differences and why they exist, and to help individuals and institutions to recognize and negotiate these differences in order to meet the challenges ascribed to leadership. …

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