The first chapter in Dugan’s (2017), “Leadership Theory: Cultivating Critical Perspective” is titled, “The Evolving Nature of Leadership.” Leadership is just that—evolving. Leadership is like a perspective. Although core values may not change drastically, perspective is conducive to change depending on various accomplishments and challenges faced throughout life. Heifetz stated, “the exercise and even the study of leadership stir feelings because leadership engages our values” (as cited in Dugan, 2017, p. 1). Leadership always matters, despite if the urgency of the study of leadership is forgotten (as cited in Dugan, 2017, p. 2).
The last eight weeks were challenging. It stretched my critical thinking and peeled back the layers to test my leadership beliefs. From my introductory leadership belief statement, I still believe leadership is a choice. It is a choice because of the various leadership approaches in existence. Leaders are not born, they are made. Leadership attributes can be developed through a never-ending process of self-study, education, training, and most importantly, experience. Leaders have the choice to determine how they will react to uncontrollable circumstances. I still believe leadership is not one-dimensional. I have always believed leadership had multiple dimensions; however, I struggled to explain “why.” Dugan (2017) described leadership as paradigmatically derived, socially constructed, interdisciplinary, and inherent values-based (p. 5-9). Collectively, those four assumptions are the anchor of influence to shape a person’s leadership beliefs.
Revisiting my introductory leadership belief statement was almost embarrassing because my thought process lacked complexity. It was clear that even after participating in several leadership theory courses; my leadership paradigm was elementary in capacity and was influenced only by the theories studied. Before this course, I only had knowledge of transactional, transformational, and strength-based leadership, which now I know is not enough to conceptualize my own personal leadership belief.
Before explaining my new perspective on leadership, it is important to understand what my leadership belief is not. Dugan (2017) described Leadership-Member Exchange Theory “offers both a richly descriptive picture of how dyadic relationships play out in organizational life, contributing to the formation of in-groups and out-groups” and those relationships are then used to gain access to various benefits (p. 151-152). In Extension and 4-H, it’s emphasized that professionals must develop an inclusive environment and personified this approach contradicts inclusivity. I struggle when leaders use their power to leverage themselves to advance within society or the system. Experiencing both being in the “in-group” and then also the “out-group,” my feelings are mutual because of the sense of being “used.” Life isn’t fair, but as a follower, it should be required to receive an equal amount of time, energy, and investment from the leader. I still question, “How is it possible to lead when you’re not serving and meeting the needs of your subordinates?”
Throughout the course, I found that my leadership beliefs are not aligned with just one particular leadership theory; however, my belief is fluid and flexible. Looking back on my professional career that only spans across 12 years, I have found that my leadership approaches have aligned with the situation and the audience, in which I was working with. Like my leadership approaches, my leadership belief is a combination of characteristics and attributes of various leadership theories to gain the most effective result.
Leadership is purposeful, value-based, and collaborative. As a 4-H educator, I find myself directly and indirectly focused on positive social change and empowering youth to be positive catalysts within their communities. Utilizing the concept of the Social Change Model of Leadership to view leadership as a process—not a position to promote equity, self-knowledge, personal empowerment and change through citizenship and collaboration (Dugan, 2017, p. 207-208). The county 4-H program is working toward providing one in every five youth an opportunity to experience positive youth development through 4-H by 2025. In order to so, the program’s culture must change to see through a different lens. In the past, even though unintentional, the local program excluded youth living in the city limits to participate due to the stereotype that 4-H was only for youth in rural communities. The social change leadership framework encourages adaptivity and refinement and it is appreciated. The 4-H program’s reputation for being agricultural-driven no longer needs to be the forefront; however, in order to change the perception, I tend to use messaging and visuals that emphasize the other opportunities available to attract first-generation participants.
Practitioners who exhibit leadership have a personal passion to serve others. Dugan (2017) stated servant leadership “begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions” (p. 200). As a 4-H educator, I work closely with adults and youth of all ages. While my responsibility is to serve the 4-H program as an administrator and teacher, I tend to spend my time mentoring teens involved in the 4-H camp counselor program and junior fair board members. Both groups of young people have very large events to plan annually and as future leaders, they need to have gained the experience to demonstrate their own leadership aspirations, develop a sense of empathy, confidence, self-awareness, while working in a team environment. Dugan stated, “leaders have a moral obligation to demonstrate concern for the development of followers and stakeholders to their full potential” (p. 201). Those who do Extension work and specifically 4-H youth development have to be devoted to the development of their clientele and building relationships within the community to fully fulfill its mission.
Leadership is situational and follower centric. On various occasions, 4-H professionals are there to interpret and enforce the rules and policies developed by the university and the committees and boards, in which they work. The goal every year is to get through major annual events with the least amount of conflict as possible. The framework to accomplish the goal is outlined; however, there are those instances that redirect you. There’s always that one protest or disgruntled individual. As a leader in similar situations, they have to adapt their own behaviors to meet the needs of their followers to determine the best way to lead and navigate through the noise to accomplish the goal (Dugan, 2017, p. 126).
Leadership is aware of both social and self. It is important to recognize critical perspectives, but even more important to have the ability to use interpretative tools to examine other theories and approaches. The process of deconstruction and reconstruction was not in my scope before this course. Dugan (2017) argued the deconstruction process “offers a powerful lens through which to question” theory and how it is applied (p. 42). Reconstruction is described as the “process of making incremental gains through the adaptation and alteration of theory” transitioning from understanding to the application (p. 46). As described in my last discussion post, it wasn’t until the social issue analysis assignment where I exhibited an epiphany and understood the important role deconstruction and reconstruction play in leadership. Applying the processes were happening simultaneously in the course and I was deconstructing various issues within the local 4-H program—specifically with the 4-H Advisory Council. The committee was very exclusive, almost unbearable and because of this course, I was about to use techniques to deconstruct the issue (having too many “old guards” on the board). The reconstruction phase includes an inaugural election to generate an inclusive environment to better the 4-H program.
I would have to agree with Dugan (2017) that just not leadership theory, but leadership is an “ebb and flow of central concepts” that revolve around where direct attention prevails with social demands (p. 326). Because leadership is a “socially constructed phenomenon” that is possible for intervention and application to intuitively reflect “a story most often told” (Dugan, 2017, p. 327). Due to the framework of leadership, individuals can continue to disrupt the norm to general their own views and perspectives to create their own authentic sense of leadership.
Dugan, J. P. (2017). Leadership theory: cultivating critical perspectives. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
ACEL 8200 – Critical Perspectives in Leadership Development look to develop your ability to analyze theory, expose you to alternative perspectives, and apply theory to practice in your work. It is taught by Dr. Jera Niewoehner-Green.