What Can Leaders of Prominence and Privilege Do to Learn from Oppressed Leaders?
For those who grew up in a Western Euro-American context, a general leadership philosophy is known based on several key models. You know the gurus, Heifetz on adaptive leadership, Kotter on leading change, Sinek on a company’s why and culture, Goleman on emotional intelligence, and Maxwell on whatever John Maxwell thinks he is producing in the area of leadership.
What is leadership from the perspective of the Congolese, Japanese, or Scandinavian?
According to Simon Western and Éric-Jean Garcia, authors of Global Leadership Perspective, there are tremendous gaps in the literature on leadership from many different perspectives. “These gaps we believe have led to a failure to grasp and account for the diversity in how leadership manifests itself and is practiced across the globe, influenced by local and regional histories, traditions and cultures in different regions of the world,” argued the authors.  And yet, the gaps go beyond culture and context, extending to the difference between theory and practice, as well as the mainstream versus societal issues that influence practical leadership. 
Therefore, the authors set out to settle in-between the gaps in leadership theory, practice, philosophy, and sociology, by examining them from a cross-cultural perspective to bring both an “insider-analysis” and an “outsider-analysis,” not only from their research but from the contributions of leaders from around the globe. By examining leadership from various cultures and contexts, the authors give readers the chance to formulate a new, well-rounded, and well-informed perspective and philosophy of leadership.
Delving deeper into the context of our advancement studies this semester, South Africa, contributing authors Peliwe Mnguni and Jeremias J. De Klerk provide insight into how the staining legacy of apartheid and the postlude of ANC (African National Congress) exile authority systems continues to shape the culture of the country’s leaders. “Totalitarian forms of control emerged within both groups as fear of the ‘other’ was actively propagated and used as a rationale for demanding complete submission to authority. As the struggle against apartheid gained momentum, traditional leadership within black communities was gradually joined and at times overtaken by revolutionary political leadership.”
The authors noted that South African leadership is not immune from politicization and racialization. And how can it not? When you consider the challenging history of the governmental and societal system in place from 1948 to the early 1990s, it is no wonder that suspicion, anxiety, polarization, and mistrust reign. 
While many parts of the American leadership context cannot relate to South Africa, the American South could probably resonate the most with the continued effects of Jim Crow Laws from the 1870s to 1965. While the 13th Amendment criminalized slavery, it opened the door for enslavement through the judicial system the racialized imprisonment. Moreover, the Amendment did nothing to prevent continued discrimination of Black and Brown Americans through voter intimidation, public lynchings, and other unspeakable acts. Mind you, it took until March of 2022 for Congress to pass an antilynching law, making it a hate crime punishable for up to 30 years.
As the authors argued, “The old Confederacy has experienced resurgence in being solidly what are called red states, which vote consistently for conservative, often Evangelical Christian, and Republican candidates. The cause of the South has been further emboldened by a Supreme Court that sharply reduced the impact of landmark Civil Rights era legislation that had largely ended practices that suppressed the vote of African Americans.”
Thinking through these two related systems of leadership, post-Apartheid South Africa and post-Civil Rights Bill American South, people leading from a place of prominence and privilege should consider what they can learn from leaders from oppressed contexts or with generational discrimination. In what ways would our view of others, especially those we lead and those we are looking to empower, if we sought to listen and understand rather than speak for a place of knowledge and omniscient? As the authors so powerfully noted, “Racial leadership points to a leadership that draws on race as a main influence as to how leaders gain and retain, position, power and authority. Sadly, I doubt if many countries could claim to be free from Racial-leadership influences, even in countries that assert themselves to be the most advanced and developed, or the most egalitarian.”
 Western, Simon, and Éric-Jean Garcia.
Global Leadership Perspectives. (Los Angeles: SAGE, 2018), 3.
 Ibid, 4.
 Ibid, 146.
 Ibid, 148.
 Ibid, 174-175.
 Ibid, 231.
4 responses to “What Can Leaders of Prominence and Privilege Do to Learn from Oppressed Leaders?”
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I loved this book by Western and Garcia; I’ve never seen a book like it. I would think as our world grows smaller and ever more inter-connected, books like this one might grow in popularity. Helpful for politicians, educators, business, travel–almost every industry is touched by a countries sense of leadership. We do well to study this now and be aware of the differences when we engage in ministry.
Andy, great summary and application of the book to the context in the American south. My wife grew up in South Africa with parents who served black and Indian communities. She left there before apartheid ended and in later years met people who lived there after it ended. I heard on person say to her, “It’s just not the same. You need to remember it the way it was.” I thought, “Wow, remember it as the apartheid system?” She pointed out that white folks pointed out the unrest after Mandela took over leadership as proof that things changed for the worse. The loss of power is hard for those who held it. As far as the American south goes, do you think churches are better served by engaging politics or focusing more on the gospel and kingdom values? I recognize they are not mutually exclusive, but either can be overtly addressed. See you soon! I don’t want to see any shark bites on you!!
Well done, Andy. A great read and summary of the book. This is a great question you pose:
In what ways would our view of others, especially those we lead and those we are looking to empower, if we sought to listen and understand rather than speak for a place of knowledge and omniscient?
As you have transitioned to more of a denominational role, what does this look like for you in your context?
Excellent post Andy!
I really appreciate all the outside perspectives.
Your insights into the Bible Belt South, its religious expression and racial tensions that are so foreign to my Pacific Northwest world.
I agree with you that other countries may not be as inclusive as the think they are.