This month’s issue of Ebony, a popular African American magazine published since 1945, includes an article titled, Is Black Leadership Dead? The piece argues that a lack of leadership exist within the Black community (Powell, 2010). The author seeks to focus on the leaders of the past to illustrate that Black leaders of today do exist but display different leadership traits than their predecessors.
Consistently within African American culture, when leadership is discussed, the names of historical leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and most recently President Barack Obama are referenced. However, now that the Civil Rights Movement is over, and Jim Crow laws are no more, has Black leadership disappeared? Black leadership has changed faces along with the social and economic advancement of Blacks. The days of mass movements are few and today the Black leader does not have to resemble Moses, leading a group out of bondage, to be considered an effective leader. If the Black community only defines leadership based on the mobilization of people in order to meet an end goal, than perhaps the African American community is waiting for the next Martin Luther King, Jr. (Heiftz, 1998).
When examining the attributes of an effectual leader, culture and the external environment contribute to the vision and actions of a leader. According to Burns (1978), historical causation and social causation are major forces in defining leadership. Both forces, the historical racial laws, and the processes which occurred as a result of those forces, helped construct Black leadership during this era. A social theorist would argue that times produce the person and not the other way around (Heiftz, 1998). If this is true, than the hostile racial environment created the rise in Black leadership during the fifties and sixties. Now that the environment is different, times are producing a different type of leader.
Powell (2010) believes a new model of Black leadership is apparent in the 21st century. One that seeks to “build or maintain institutions that provide direct service, resources, and information to our communities; to change, once and for all, how we discuss the many challenges facing our [Black] people; and be on the front lines with the people as much as possible.” His new model does not include any traits suggesting of a Great-Man Theory, but its extremely task oriented. His 21st century perspective evaluates leadership as a type of work, task-oriented leadership, seeking to establish and fulfill a goal. Powell has created a vision for Black leadership with a new definition for the 21st century. Although other factors play into the perception of a death in Black leadership; such as the lack of media coverage of Black leaders across America, martyrdom of historical Black leaders, etc., Powell makes an interesting point concerning the change in defining leadership within a culture. Does leadership change over time? If not, does it become ineffective by consistently using the same methods within a new era?
Questions to Contemplate:
Do different cultures evaluate leadership differently?
What impact does the external environment have on the nature of effective leadership?
Is it possible for the definition of leadership to transform with the times?