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Yes Your Cheese Has Moved Leaders- by Jeffrey A. McLean



The most recent National Leadership Index 2012 from the Center for Public Leadership (2012) at the Harvard Kennedy School stated 69% of people surveyed believe we have “a leadership crisis in the country today” (p.3).  The survey also highlight 70% surveyed believe, “unless we get better leaders, the United States will decline as a nation” and that 68% disagree with the statement, “overall, our country’s leaders are effective and do a good job” (p.3).  These results are alarming and unfortunately in alignment with several other surveys whether about our political, business, or societal leaders.  Why do we, as a country, have such little faith in leadership today?  What are the contributing factors to a rising dismay with leadership?  One area we can rule out is the level of investment the country spends in aggregate on leadership training.  According to several recent business publications, society at large spends approximately $12 to $15 billion dollars annually on leader and management training just within the business community.  Leadership books, fads, acronyms, and processes come and go.  Each rising in popularity as the flavor of the month on how to be a great leader.  The latest trend and program for the semi-retired is executive coaches.  A tremendous opportunity for our past rule of the mill leaders.  There is no barrier to entry, hang your shingle and you are a coach.  The unbelievable paradigm is how organizations expect that an average prior leader could coach their rising potential executives as anything but another average leader.  The result, a multi-billion dollar industry of authors, coaches, consultants, and speakers who are making a tremendous income continue to produce anemic results.


So what are the casual factors to this overwhelming poor performance by leaders at large?  There are several based on current research by the academic community, but a factor receiving greater attention is the leadership crisis is mainly driven by cultural dynamics – both historical and current.  Within this construct, one dynamic emerging critical issue is diversity.  The United States is changing dramatically in terms of a demographic and cultural orientation, and yet leadership is in many ways still operating from a historical cultural reference.  Why?  A dominant percentage of authors, coaches and consultants come from an age which does not represent today’s domestic and globally interconnected diverse society.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau online data base, in 1970 for example, 87.5% of the population was comprised of whites versus 12.5% nonwhite.  Passel and Cohn (2008) from Pew Research Center communicated from a recent study on U.S. Population Trends similar findings stating in 2005, whites comprised 67% of the population and by 2050 white percentage in America will be 47% (p.1).  The emergence of a non-white society from one which historically operated as a white centric society has significant ramifications on why we are in a leadership crisis.


Leadership’s cheese has moved and it is my opinion leadership has not responded.  Two key voices in diversity, Avery and Thomas (2004) in their integration of research discuss the various dynamics including legislation in the U.S., diversity trends, and the impact of immigration all which contribute to presenting a “premier business issue” in the area of diversity (p.390).  What impact is this having on our leadership crisis?  Why does diversity play a critical role in this emerging crisis?  Two dynamics; most leaders in the U.S. continue to be white and a majority of citizens embrace worldviews which have been established over the years on perception, fact less basis which self-generates.  The potential result is bias and misaligned perceptions.  Harms, Han and Chen in their academic inquiry into leading from a distance state, “Although conventional wisdom tells us that we should not judge a book by its cover, a great deal of research tells us that we intuitively do exactly that”.  (Harms, Han and Chen, 2012, p.164)    Peggy McIntosh (1990) quoting her colleague Elizabeth Minnich, “whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work which will allow “them” to be more like “us”” (n.p.). The emergence of a non-white society from one which historically operated as a dominant white centric society has ramifications as history has provided us a lens of understanding.   Thomas S. Kuhn (2012) discusses the emergence of potential new paradigms in his seminal work stating, “new paradigm emerges, at least in embryo, before a crisis has developed far or been explicitly recognized” (Chapter VIII, para.13).  Diversity is an emergent new paradigm which leaders today have not yet responded.


In reviewing our academic pedagogical approach in multicultural leadership training, there is an apparent absence of graduate pedagogy.  Eagan and Bendick, Jr. (2008) state relative to multi-cultural pedagogy, “has traditionally interpreted the term culture to mean national cultures exclusively and has emphasized differences among nations as a central, unique focus of the field … simple stereotypes about national cultures have not prepared him to deal with this culturally complex individual in a culturally complex situation” (pp. 388,389).  Thus our possible future leaders are not being taught or sensitized to a multi-cultural U.S. leadership concept.  Zoogah and Abbey (2012) provide insightful research which relates to the emerging dynamic in the U.S. These researchers found in their sampling of forty organizations from emerging economies that self-complexity was a key requirement for future leadership success.  Zoogah and Abbey focused on one aspect of self-complexity, the dynamic self.  “Individuals with high self-complexity are able to regulate themselves in multiple roles, activities, and behave consistently with the norms of the given context”.  (p.324)  In collaborative multicultural leadership style, high self-complexity individuals, people with multi-cultural experience were preferred by potential employers and “differed from that of cross-culturally inexperienced individuals”.  (p.337)  How can we expect leaders to be effective in leading individuals different from self if they are not taught, not exposed, or not sensitive.


I fully realize the provocative statements contained in this writing will evoke a level of resistance by ordained social pillars, but an honest dialogue is required.  Statements about classism, meritocracy, and identity will most likely cause some to be uncomfortable.  So be it.  Our leadership crisis originates from a lack of willingness, or acknowledgement to be multicultural.  Though not a new phenomenon, classism has indeed been in existence in the U.S. for many decades and arguably dates back to the formation of the country.  As Liu, Hernandez, Mahmood, and Stinson (2006) suggests “poverty, classism and racism date back to the founders and authors of the U.S. Constitution which were cognizant of the rich and poor residents of the land” (p.66).  What is new is the intensity.  It is emerging in our language with the narrative including divisive terms such as: takers, makers, not one of ours, and so on.  As Sue and Sue (2008) state, “whiteness is transparent” (p.262).  We, whether we admit it or not, observe conversations which blatantly voice how white oriented we continue to be.   Could a Lincoln type leader emerge in society today as one of our greatest leaders?  His leadership principles would be a lightning rod within society.  Consider Lincoln’s leadership traits according Donald Phillips (2009) where he lists among many; “Invest time and money in better understanding the ins and outs of human nature. Remember, human action can be modified to some extent, but human nature cannot be changed. Showing your compassionate and caring nature will aid you in forging successful relationships. When you extinguish hope, you create desperation” (Part I – People, Lincoln Principles section, para.1). 


Society and thereby leadership must accept the fact that our social structure is becoming fragmented.  The income gap is widening, classism is blatant, voices are muffed, and diversity is in name only.  What America needs is a luminary.  A leader who will galvanize a multicultural society aspiring us to a new frontier.  A luminary brings light.  A luminary brightens the path forward.  A luminary harnesses his or her character in a culture of personality to bring the masses to a new place.  It is not about a book on the steps of leadership.  It is not average coaches coaching for unrealizable results.  It is not being taught in universities.  It is not something one can buy.  Leadership is a leader’s personal proposition, a proposition of character, a proposition of commitment, a proposition of acting on one’s courage in the face of diversity.  Leadership is internal, where the light is the catalyst for people to gravitate and follow.  All leaders of today must ask themselves two questions; is my inner light shining and am I in leadership for personal gain or to contribute to the ALL people I lead?  If for personal gain, get out of leadership.  Let someone committed to the calling and being a luminary step into the position.  Remember, one does have to be a Kennedy, King Ashoska, or Mandela.  If each leader lead the individuals within their sphere of influence to a higher order for all independent of race, color, or creed; leaders will be embraced at a higher level, the country will rise and once again shine.  If not, I fear the future possibilities relative to social progress.



Harms, Peter D., Han, Guohang and Chen, Huaiyu (2012). Recognizing Leadership at a Distance:  A Study of Leader Effectiveness across Cultures. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies. 2012 19(2) 164-172

Kuhn, Thomas S. (2012-04-18). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition (Kindle Locations 2265-2266). University of Chicago Press. [Kindle DX version}. Retrieved from Amazon.com

Liu, W. M., Hernandez, J., Mahmood, A & Stinson, R. (2006). Linking poverty, classism and racism in mental health: Overcoming barriers to multicultural competency. In M.G. Constantine & D.W. Sue (Eds.) Addressing racism: Facilitating cultural competence in mental health and educational settings (65-103). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

McIntosh, Peggy. (1990). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Peace and Freedom. July/August 1989.

Passel, Jeffrey S. & Cohn, D’Vera. (2008) U.S. Population Projections: 2005–2050. Pew Research Center, Sociological & Demographic Trends, Washington, D.C.

Phillips, Donald T. (2009). Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times. DTP/Companion Books. [Kindle DX version}. Retrieved from Amazon.com

Sue, D.W., & Sue, D. (2008). White racial identity development. Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice (pp. 259- 283). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Zoogah, David and Abbey, Augustus (2012). Cross-cultural experience, strategic motivation and employer hiring preference:  An exploratory study in an emerging economy. International Journal of Cross Cultural Management. 2012 10(3) 321-343

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