The Time is Ripe for Leadership Diversity

By Bethany Godsoe

THE RECENT DEATHS OF ACCLAIMED CIVIL rights leaders Dorothy Height and Benjamin L. Hooks call for a moment of reflection on our nation’s history, the persistent and dismaying disparities confronting us, and the role we can each play in realizing a vision of a more just world. 

The National Urban Fellows Call to Action Summit on Diversity in Washington, D.C. on April 21 was just such a moment. An extraordinary group of people came together to discuss efforts to ensure that the highest levels of public service reflect and include the diverse people and voices that give our country its vitality, ambition, commitment to human rights, and creative spirit.

It was also a chance to share a key lesson from the work of NYU Wagner’s Research Center for Leadership in Action:  The bravado of heroic leadership has gotten us into trouble as a society. It has been our downfall in multiple arenas, from foreign affairs to financial services. The time has come to find a new model that will advance our nation toward greater opportunity and prosperity. Leadership diversity is that new model.

Leadership diversity is not about getting new faces into old roles. It is about radically shifting our understanding and practice of leadership. It is about opening ourselves to the possibility that effective leadership can take many forms and look very different from one context to the next. It is about taking up the work of leadership as a collective endeavor that taps the talents of people at all levels of organizations and across all sectors of society. Creating this openness to new forms of leadership both demands and supports the advancement and contributions of previously underrepresented groups from people of color to women to young people.

As we seek to promote the dominance of leadership diversity in our national discourse and practice of leadership, we must get past our pursuit of getting past our differences. Finding common ground is not the way forward. It is the way to limit our possibilities. Let’s use this call to action to lift up our differences and make them known. Let’s start living in the tensions those differences create. Let’s work with our differences to produce breakthroughs in how we take up the work of public service leadership.

This is not something that can wait for the next generation to resolve – the moment for change is now.  As Dorothy Height was known for saying, “If the time is not ripe, we have to ripen the time.”

(Bethany Godsoe is the Executive Director of NYU Wagner’s Research Center for Leadership in Action,)

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