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Leadership Development in Relationship to Diversity


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For decades, the leadership of business organizations has wrestled with the issue of cultivating diversity within the upper echelons of the enterprise.  In the past, a convenient answer to this question was the implementation of Affirmative Action programs; however, the test of time has shown that these programs are usually token steps that do not achieve effective diversity and further weaken companies’ ability to compete in global markets due to the installation of ineffective leaders, simply based on a demographic quota (Black Enterprise, 2004).  A far superior model exists in effective leadership development programs which embrace diversity, utilize proven methods, and in the end result, are able to simultaneously achieve effective and diverse leadership.


With the aforementioned pursuit of effective diversity-driven leadership development in mind, this research will discuss the issue in-depth, and ultimately, present recommendations by using various theories and models gleaned from that research.


Reinforcing the Value of Diversity in Leadership

In the Abstract to this research, the assertion was made that not only is leadership diversity the key to competitive advantage for the modern business entity, but also that the previous attempts to achieve diversity through Affirmative Action was ineffective from its inception and is even more so in the modern day after the ravages of time (Mosley, 1998).  This is not merely the opinion of one source of information, but can in fact be proven through a more thorough discussion of the concept of Affirmative Action from within.

Affirmative Action itself was created in an effort to help in response to the discriminative barriers that were prevalent when the bill was first enacted, in the mid 1960s. At this time, the country was in the wake of nationwide civil-rights demonstrations, and racial tension was at its peak. Most of the corporate leadership positions in America were occupied by white males, who controlled the hiring/termination and advancement of employees into leadership roles, thereby holding the power to stop one’s career path in its tracks. The government believed that these employers were discriminating against minorities and believed that there was no better time than the present to bring about change. When the Civil Rights Law passed, minorities held the widespread belief that they should receive reparations for the years of discrimination they endured. The government responded by passing laws to aid them in attaining better employment as remedy for past wrongs, and for the vast majority of the public at that time, this approach seemed to make perfect sense, whether out of guilt or a misguided sense of propriety (Riggio, et al, 2002).


Affirmative Action supporters make one large assumption when defending the policy in assuming that minority groups want help, or more precisely need help in order to reach leadership potential because they are somehow not as skilled as other people because of differences in their racial/ethnic makeup.   This line of thinking fails to take into account some significant facts.  First, there is no valid documented proof in the history of legitimate science which can correlate intelligence or aptitude to racial or ethnic diversity, as well as many kinds of physical challenges which of course do not compromise the cognitive abilities of the individual.  Second, the assumption is made that everyone within diverse groups is simply awaiting opportunity to be delivered to them like a gift.  Both of these are complete falsehoods and have led to the supporting myth upon which Affirmative Action was built- the assertion that minorities are inferior to the majority, and therefore, must be given unfair advantage to reach leadership roles lest they fail to reach them.  The truth of the matter is that talent exists in all types of people, and the true challenge lies in bringing out the best in each individual and helping them to ascend to the type of leadership to which they are best suited (Murphy, et al, 2003).


Leadership Clarified

When the average person conjures up a vision of a leader, they automatically will likely have thoughts of kings and queens, presidents and military giants, whose courage, wisdom and fortitude advanced them to the pinnacles of power.  When discussing leadership in the modern enterprise, however, the true vision is vastly different.


In terms of the elements which make up successful leaders, nature/nurture, as well as the types of leaders themselves all comes into play.  First, the nature/nurture issue should be explained; there are those who say that good leaders are born and not made.  While this adage makes for an impressive sounding way to give credit to solid leaders, the truth is that not all leaders are what one would call “born leaders”.  Rather, the individual most likely possesses certain attributes that make them likely to be able to be mentored to the point where they could at some point be effective leaders (Buttner, et al, 2006).  Further, the issue of what a true leader is needs to be understood.  Once again, the general stereotype of a leader is a fearless, legendary figure like Franklin D. Roosevelt, who led the United States through some of its most trying times, or even a classic leader like the legendary King Arthur, whose bravery and deeds are the stuff of legends at this point.  The reality is, however, that an effective leader may be the person who only supervises one person, but leads them to achieve great things, or even someone who works independently but does their job so well that they are in fact a leader of themselves in a significant way.  The point is that leaders come in all styles, levels of responsibility, and most importantly for the purposes of this research, diverse backgrounds.  It makes no sense for someone to be deprived the chance to develop leadership skills because they fit a certain ethnic/racial category than it does to put them into a leadership role for which they are unqualified because of same.  Therefore, putting aside programs like Affirmative Action which do just that, the migration to true leadership diversity becomes a topic to examine.


The Migration to True Diversity in Leadership

After setting aside Affirmative Action, given its demonstrated shortcomings, the challenge, and indeed correct course of action for the achievement of leadership diversity is the implementation of training, mentoring and the availability of opportunity to all individuals within an organization not because of their ethnic/racial makeup, but in deference to it altogether (Henderson, 1994).  This critically important point requires more clarification to avoid confusion in what is meant.  From the entry-level of an organization, those people who are best qualified for positions, or perhaps those who show the aptitude to be trained for a position based on some sort of objective skill assessment tool, should be given the position aside from their demographic attributes.  Once the individual is part of the organizational unit, and through the routine performance assessment channels shows potential to become someone to fill a leadership role, their mentoring and training process should begin.  At this point, however, the cultural differences among the leadership candidates must be taken into consideration in regard to the provision of training/mentoring if they are to realize the full potential of properly completed training.  As an example, if a leadership candidate has a hearing or vision impairment which does not compromise their ability to lead in whatever role they are being groomed for, but training materials must be presented in a modified way to allow them to correctly absorb them, there should be some adjustment made that will prevent the “student” from receiving the most effective training possible.  Likewise, the leadership candidate who may have certain religious beliefs or traditions which make it difficult to participate in training on a given day because of religious holidays which are different from the mainstream holidays during which the majority of people would be unavailable, the candidate should likewise be afforded the opportunity to be trained on a schedule which does not compromise their religious beliefs and traditions.  In fact, compromise is an excellent word to use in a discussion of the training needs of diverse groups of leadership candidates, for compromise may sometimes be needed to effectively train and mentor the individual, but the qualifications for the leadership role should never be compromised to meet an Affirmative-Action type quota system .


Effective Leadership Models

Over the last several decades many strides have been made in the field of western management theory, especially in the area of leadership style and participation.  During this time many great men have come together to advance the cause of western management through progressive thinking and the implementation of alternative strategies to leadership participation.  As a part of such progress several alternative change leadership models have been developed to help those in leadership positions to assess situations, evaluate their leadership abilities, and lead their coworkers more effectively.  Among the most successful of these alternative models are Fiedler’s Contingency Model and the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Model.  Each of these models, when correctly applied to business and educational situations, serve as excellent managerial and collaborative tools.


Fiedler’s Contingency Model is both a psychological and managerial model that has been effectively applied to both a range of business and educational situations.  This model made such an impact on leadership theory that critics were quoted as having “said that all of leadership research could be conceptually divided into the period that proceeded and that which followed the introduction of Fiedler’s contingency model” (Chemers, 1997, p. 28).  Although many business professionals believe successful leadership is based simply on one singular best style of leadership, this model argues for a more psychological approach by incorporating aspects of both personality and environment into the leadership equation.  This model was created by Fred Fiedler in the course of his research involving both industrial and organizational psychology. His research originally dealt with the feelings of clinical therapists towards their patients.  Fielder soon discovered that those who maintained a distant and uncaring approach were less likely to be successful and engaged therapists (Chemers, 1997, p. 29).  Soon Fielder compared this rational to the workplace where he found that respect and comfort both played a key role in the success of management.


As with any model, this design has a series of theory specific terminology and ideas all its own.  Fiedler’s Model contests that the success of leadership is dependent on a combination of factors identified collectively as “situational contingency” (Chemers, 1997, p. 115).


Leadership style is a fairly explanatory term in western management, and is defined by Fiedler as “the consistent system of interactions that takes place between a leader and work group” (Fielder, 1974). Leadership style has also been further identified as “the methods with which a leader solicits cooperation and commands respect” (Chemers, 1997, p. 28).

The notion of the other component, situational favorableness, has a bit more complicated definition. Situational favorableness had been casually defined by researchers as “the degree of favor, comfort, and flexibility a leader experiences within a given situation” (Chemers, 1997, p. 70).  Situational favorableness in both the workplace and the educational sector can run from situations “where relations with followers, task structure, and position power provide the leader great ease of influence, through moderate situations to very unfavorable situations” (Chemers, 1997, p. 32).


This theory also incorporates a concept known as least preferred coworker scale which operates as an instrument for measuring an individual’s leadership orientation.  The least preferred coworker first began as a term which has been defined in the research as meaning the absolute “worst coworker with whom they had ever worked; the one individual who most interfered with successful task accomplishment” (Chemers, 1997, p. 28).  From this point forward, a scale developed in which employees would rate their coworkers and management on a numerical scale based on these different factors.  A high score would indicate satisfaction and label a leader as being relations oriented, while a low score would make the leader task be considered purely oriented. Ideally, good leaders would score higher on components such as friendliness, cooperation, and support than those who weren’t perceived as good leaders by their colleagues. According to his theory, Fiedler believes these ratings should be assumed as accurate, and those who score badly are most likely truly unpleasant to work with.


Fiedler’s Model has been successfully used in a number of business and educational situations.  Although many national leaders do not publicize their use of such theories, case studies of successful company interventions abound.  In Fiedler’s Contingency Model all of these terms and ideas come together to express the general idea that leadership success depends in several factors including the environment and the task at hand (Fiedler, 1974).  Fiedler’s model also incorporates the idea of different leadership styles being more appropriate for different times.  For instance, emergencies would require some task oriented and driven to accomplish things quickly, while regular business leaders need to possess some finesse and personality in order to prosper over time. After reviewing the different elements of Fiedler’s model, the complexity and rational seems clear.  Fiedler’s model is even more complete since it also has room to include the role that psychological determinants, such as stress, have on leadership abilities.  In summary, this theory claims that there is not any one best leadership style, and the type of situation at hand will dictate the appropriate approach.  Therefore no one style can dictate the success of management, and flexibility should always be a priority.

Despite the thorough nature of the Fiedler contingency Model, leaders and management could still benefit from other models including the Leader-participation Model and others.  The Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership Model addresses similar concerns through the use of a slightly simpler model of analysis and application.  This model also focuses on environment as a significant indicator in the success level of leadership.  The main premise of this theory is ““that the functioning maturity of the team members is a major determinant of the ‘style’ of leadership that needs to be adopted by the team leader in order to produce the most effective contributory responses from people”  (Williams, 1998, p. 34).  Functioning maturity, a theory specific term, refers to the capability and willingness of people to do what is expected of them.  Therefore the willingness, courage, and commitment of a leader’s team members, determines what type of leadership style this person should adopt.  This theory is based mainly on the “amount of specific task-oriented direction and specialized socio-emotional support a leader should provide” (Williams, 1998, p. 47).


Pure Diverse Leadership

As has been shown in the research and the classic leadership models, it is possible and actually proper to develop effective leaders from all sorts of racial and ethnic backgrounds, and these factors should not arbitrarily hold back or advance leaders in their pursuit of effective leadership roles (Cross, 2000).  All of this leads to the idea of what constitutes pure diverse leadership, and brings all of the research full circle.  Based on what has been found, there are several main characteristics for pure diversity in leadership:


Ø ADVANCEMENT STRICTLY ON MERIT-  At the risk of repeating, the advancement of individuals into leadership roles must be based strictly on qualifications, merit, and the possibility for the individual to gain additional leadership skills in the future.  This means that diverse groups of people can, and should, be given leadership opportunities as readily as mainstream individuals.


Ø LOOK AT POSSIBILITIES, NOT LIMITATIONS- If we narrowly look at someone in terms of a physical challenge, and fail to see that they may have other talents that could make a solid leader, nothing worthwhile can happen.  Leaders, once again, come in all kinds of physical appearances, and as such, need to be evaluated aside from their negatives, but also in terms of positives.


Ø ALL KINDS OF LEADERS EXIST- It bears repeating that not all leaders have to be fearless, controversial and larger than life.  The quiet, competent individual is just as valuable given the situation and skills required.



Diversity in leadership can be achieved, and will play an important role in the future of the business world, for intelligent people from all corners of the world will be needed as the world itself grows and changes, and along with it, the need for leaders will increase dramatically.  By excluding certain groups of people, or by including them even if unqualified, everyone is done a huge disservice.  Therefore, in conclusion, leadership diversity, properly conducted, should continue as we move further into the 21st century.









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