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Leadership Among Versus Leadership Within

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By Romina Madrid Miranda, Doctoral Candidate in the College of Education and Human Development and 2012 - 13 CIL Student Leadership Team Member

When I say 'leadership,' what are the first ideas and images that come to mind for you? I hope these images and ideas convey diverse elements such as people with different backgrounds working together, conversing, arguing, etc. If instead you are thinking of a single individual - generally a man - that is talking to others, giving directions and orientations, and answering questions, it is possible to infer that your notion of leadership reflects the traditional view. If so, please do not worry and keep reading. This is more usual than one might think. Tradition has weight in our memory. It is difficult to abandon.

The central point, in my opinion, is to shift the notion of leadership in our society to a collective experience. My conviction is that we need to understand how to conceptualize leadership as a collective enterprise in order to put it into practice, and therefore, it is more important than ever to reflect on both the concept and where we've seen it in practice.

The Concept
I argue that Integrative Leadership, understood as a collective experience, implies at least three assumptions:


  1. Leadership is historical and contextual. Thereby, it emerges within a particular context as well as in response to particular challenges. We can't be leaders in a vacuum. Leadership is a collective response to our historical, cultural, and social context; consequently, leadership can be interpreted as a reaction of people, groups, and communities to those challenges. In this way, leadership is the result of a process rather than a point of departure.

  2. In exercising integrative leadership, problems as well as solutions need to be defined, discussed, and negotiated. Personal and professional expertise is not enough. The complex social challenges we face globally are political, and therefore entail a process of collective deliberation and open discussion about the issue of power between different actors.

  3. Integrative leadership recognizes that even when change can be started by individuals, groups and communities are principally the driving forces of not only change but - more importantly - of social transformation. While the individual action is important, it should always be conditioned and oriented to the social reflection and action. At the end, it is the strength of the groups, grounded on principles of collaboration, justice, and participation, which enables society to advance.

The Practice
In my opinion, the concept of integrative leadership has much to contribute to the education field. Integrative leadership speaks to the need to democratize the inclusion and active participation of different actors, especially those who have been historically marginalized.

As a Chilean, my personal experience of integrative leadership is the Chilean Student Movement and what they are doing to address the huge inequalities within the Chilean educational system. Students from private, public schools and universities have joined, mobilized others groups - such as teachers, workers, parents and families - and have been able to create proposals for facing particular problems. They exemplify leadership as a collective process, where students are in fact, "leading cross boundaries and sectors, geographies in order to organize people, resources, and organizations in semi-permanent arrangements in order to achieve the common good" (Barbara Crosby, CIL Steering Committee Member).

The concept of integrative leadership, as exemplified in the Chilean Student Movement, can shift our understanding of leadership, forcing us to go beyond looking for leadership within individuals to the powerful leadership that exists among people.

Where do you see powerful examples of leadership among?

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