Indigenous Leadership Theory

Indigenous Leadership

I have not explored leadership theory to a great extent, primarily because I find myself reacting in much the same way that Carolyn Kenny noted of her own students – I become frustrated with theory that does not provide empirical evidence, practicality and context. I find that Carolyn Kenny’s introductory article in her edited collection entitled Living Indigenous Leadership: Native Narratives on Building Strong Communities, in which she critiques some existing leadership theories, makes so very much sense to me. I am often struck by the practicality of traditional Indigenous knowledge, and how very much that knowledge could serve to complement and, in fact, improve Western knowledge, leadership and educational models. Much of the historical leadership theory has focused on individualistic theories, and I found it interesting that this was one of the reasons that many Indigenous women have rejected traditional feminist theories.

I have often struggled with traditional feminist theory myself. I attribute this to the fact that I approach that theory from a liberal arts and humanities background, which stresses the importance of the human narrative and the inter-connectedness of all human beings. This is why I struggle so often with the attack on humanities and liberal arts studies by so many who view these discipline as less valuable because they do not provide a direct path to an identifiable “job.”

So where am I going with this? I think that traditional Indigenous models of leadership, in which leaders were chosen for their integrity, their persuasive abilities, their skill in relating and connecting to all beings, can serve as an excellent model for leadership in traditional Western societies. As Kenny notes, traditional Indigenous leadership is, at its core, relational (as is the study of humanities and liberal arts).

I also found it interesting that Kenny noted that leadership in the traditional Indigenous world often meant either stepping down, or actually stepping up into a role that one had no desire to assume. This suggests that humility is a key component of traditional Indigenous leadership – a concept that is unfortunately often lacking in western societies!