Community Development Practice Methods

Out with the Old and in with the New: Current Discourse on Leadership Development

Before the 1980s the study of leadership development focused on the personal attributes and behaviours of those in leadership positions (Bennett, 2004).Theories of leadership development were focused around the person. However, from 1980s onward the discourse changed and current research focuses more on distributive leadership--understanding the process by which leadership can emerge from all different levels of a organization and/or a community (Bennett, 2004). The focus of the 'old theories' is to form the 'best practices' of leadership--a 'how to manual' to successful leadership (Bennett, 2004). The focus of these 'new theories' is a view of leadership that is situational based, and the behaviours of leaders are dependent on, and interdependent with, the behaviours of others within the given context (Bennett, 2004). The current discourse, points to the communal nature of leadership practice.


Community Leadership Development

 The Community Capacity Building (CCB) framework mandates the practitioner to look at community issues through a social lens. Leadership development within the CCB framework adopts a sociocultural perspective on leadership (Kirk & Shutte, 2004). In this way leadership is not a definitive concept, but rather an emerging one. Leadership is dependent on the social context and the relations within the community (Kirk & Shutte, 2004). Leadership in this perspective is grounded in and emerges from the community, and it is not external entity (Kirk & Shutte, 2004). Leadership is not an importation of certain ideals, characteristics, and 'ways of thinking' that prove to be successful in all and any situations.


In this perspective both the practice of leadership and the situation in which it plays out need to be understood (Kirk & Shutte, 2004). The idea of the heroic individual leading followers to a specific goal is dismissed in this theory of leadership. In other words, leadership is a process and not based on a person (Kirk & Shutte, 2004). Facilitating leadership through this framework is not about building individual heroes within a community, and it is about building a process of leadership that is based on the collective, and is sustainable beyond the individual.

Components of Community Leadership Development

 Dialouge for Change
Facilitating dialogue among the members of the community is a major component of leadership development (Kirk & Shutte, 2004). Dialogue is not simply organizing the members in a meeting room for open discussion, and ignoring the existing power differential among members and the possibility of members not being representative in the room. Dialogue is a disciplined way of talking, a way to develop a ‘safe container’ (Kirk & Shutte, 2004). This safe container is where expressions of vulnerability, uncertainty, and not-knowing can be expressed openly by members. In this way, learning and helping can occur between members. What emerges from this safe container is the ability of members to think together, work together and act together towards a shared goal (Kirk & Shutte, 2004). Though members may have different stances and perspectives, dialogues contribute to member agreement, leading the members of the collective to a shared direction.
Making critical connections is another component of leadership development (Kirk & Shutte, 2004). This component is about linking individual members with the collective and its shared purpose. Role establishing and role relating are two aspects to this perspective of connecting. Assisting members to establish their role, the way the individual member's perceive their role in the community, and creatively connecting it with the common goals of the collective, create sustainability. Relating the roles of individual member's with each other is another important task. This creates interdependencies that allow for the distribution of leadership. Connection through roles is linking individual members with each other and also linking the members to the common goals of the collective.

Collective Empowerment/Enrolment

This component focuses on role taking, where individual members are assisted to find their identity and voice within the interaction of the different roles and organization within the community. This process of role taking is assisted by those members whose role in the community is clearly conceptualized (Kirk & Shutte, 2004). The contribution of this process is to provide clarity, focus, and meaning to the responsibilities members take on, and it also helps to develop the relationship between members.  


Ubuntu is an African model of communal leadership, and is a model that embodies the principles of leadership development within the CCB framework (Kirk & Shutte, 2004). It is a useful model to learn from in developing a process of leadership. Kirk & Shutte (2004) learned through their research on leadership in South Africa, that a "cardinal belief of Ubuntu is that a person can only be a person through others." So, leadership is relational, and is based on, and emerges from the interdependencies between the members. A lesson from the ubuntu model is to conceptualize leadership as a process.


Importance to Community Development Practice

So, why is this leadership development theory important to community developers? Globalization and increased interdependencies, lead to a rapidly changing and uncertain environment that is complex, with multiple stakeholders, various interests and political agendas, and non linear causal affects. Leadership through this perspective is process based and emergent, building on the cultural and social context of the community. The situational characteristic of this perspective of leadership development, acknowledges a rapidly changing and complex environment.

Leadership development within the CCB framework is focused on social change and sustainability. It is about a process of leadership within a community that is sustainable beyond any individual. Leadership development in this sense is a strategy for social change, by developing a process in which change can be facilitated.

Challenge or Compliment? Positional Leadership

Positional leadership is when formal positions are created and individuals are accorded authority and status because of that formal position. Formal institutions of leadership seem contrary to the principles of community leadership. However, Kirk & Shutte (2004) argue that formal institutions of leadership can coexist with informal models of community leadership. They point to the African model, where the notion of the tribal chief (person-centered leadership) coexists with the concept of ubuntu (process centered and distributive leadership). Kirk & Shutte (2004) argue that this paradox is only possible when leadership is conceptualized through role relations, and not through the personal characteristics of individuals.