Racial Identity and Its Influence on Leadership Development

The complexities of modern society require that today’s leaders encompass many characteristics that past leaders did not need to possess. Not only do our leaders need to be politically and socially savvy and have a broad understanding of foreign and domestic policy concerns, but they must be culturally sensitive. The leaders of tomorrow will be faced with a population that is racially diverse, and they must be able to address the needs of varying cultures, socioeconomic groups, and minority concerns. Therefore, leadership programs designed to groom leaders of the future need to consider race and its impact on leadership. Colleges that offer leadership programs realize that these specialized opportunities influence other areas of a student’s life, including social, academic, and professional domains. Understanding how racial tolerance and racial diversity contribute to leadership aspirations and their derivatives could help colleges design programs that will shape leaders in a way that will better prepare them to address the variety of issues they will inevitably face.

In an effort to expose the relationship between race and leadership, John P. Dugan, an assistant professor of higher education at Loyola University in Chicago, recently examined data from more than 8,500 college students throughout the United States. He discovered that collective racial esteem (CRE) and self-esteem were critical to the overall impact of race on leadership. Specifically, Dugan found that the participants who had high levels of CRE identified more closely with their races than those with low CRE. He also noticed that in addition to CRE, multiple dimensions of race played important roles in determining leadership effectiveness and development, and as of yet, these dimensions have not been fully explored. Dugan suggests that if colleges want to fulfill their social obligations to identify and shape the leaders of the future in a socially responsible way, then further research in this area is essential. “Evidence from this research provides a starting point to engage in this important work,” said Dugan.

Dugan, J. P., Kodama, C. M., Gebhardt, M. C. (2012). Race and leadership development among college students: The additive value of collective racial esteem. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029133

Related articles:
Can Racial Bias Be Changed?
A Secret (and FUN!) Guide to Multicultural Competence (Part 1)
Multicultural Efforts Need to Be Increased at White Universities

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  • miranda


    August 23rd, 2012 at 12:35 PM

    I know that for a lot of people their race is a big determinant of how they define themselves. I have never felt that as I am a white female in what is I realize a white society for the most part, at least where I live. So I know that right there aome will stop reading and think that I have nothing to say about the issue. But I do. I hate it when people let those external things like race and sex or even religion define who they are. You are so much more than your sex or your skin color- yyou are worth more than that and by the same token you can’t let this identify or limit you! I realize that for some people this is a strong connection that they feel with their culture but I would like to think that in some ways we have moved beyond this and that we can only be defined by how much we give and what we do and not what we look like to others.

  • Billy


    August 23rd, 2012 at 3:15 PM

    Isn’t this what a large part of college should be about in the first place? Teach young college students about the world and their role in it, inciting them to go out and make a change for the better?

    Ok I get that it’s about creating a career path too, but really, I want it to expand those young minds too. A lot of kids don’t get this until they go away to school, so i think that schools should take on this responsibility to develop our leaders of tomorrow and provide them with the skills that they need to create that great new society that I think many of us are still searching for.

  • heather


    August 23rd, 2012 at 8:38 PM

    I have to disagree with what’s said here.Whether it is the workplace, or college we are constantly talking about race.does that not foster a feeling of difference?!why can we not concentrate on things other than race?if a student leadership is required to function optimally,it needs to understand the plight and problems of all students irrespective of their backgrounds-be it racial,gender based,cultural,or whatever.let us take the problem as a problem,not as a problem of a particular race!

    we should be concentrating on helping people,not about seeing how one race has problem A and another has problem B.yes it may be true that those two problems are highly prevalent in the two groups but if we take them as a challenge rather than a race based problem we will be in a much bigger and better frame of mind to take them on.What’s to say problem A will never affect race B?

    Inclusiveness should be the buzzword and a feeling of difference will never promote it!

  • 4 cell bot

    4 cell bot

    August 23rd, 2012 at 11:59 PM

    Well to lead people you need to know their problems and issues, you need to be able to understand them and with the diversification in the society only increasing, it makes sense for leaders of the future to be aware of and to e sensitized of people of different races.

  • sloane


    August 24th, 2012 at 3:56 AM

    I tend to agree with Heather.

    The more we talk about race and things like that then the more of an issue that they remain. Sometimes if you just stop talking then the problem goes away.

    but maybe there are certain factions that don’t want it to go away as they may find that they don’t have as much to complain about anymore and that is the kind of attitude that they thrive on.

  • Roxanne C

    Roxanne C

    August 24th, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    While I don’t believe that you have to be of a certain race to understand racial issues in this country I do believe that you have to be sympathetic to the past plight of many of these races and offer them the kind of leadership that will help many of them step out of the past and into the future. It is true that many times if you don’t look like they do on the outside, maybe they initially will not take you seriously. That is where courses and leadership abilities will come into play. You have to know what you believe in and you have to know what is important to you. If racial equality is something that is, then eventually it will be noted that you are genuine in your efforts to effect change and you can make some very positive contributions to whichever aspect of your community or state most interests and compels you/

  • sims


    August 25th, 2012 at 7:49 AM

    Think that it’s pretty safe to say that for MANY voters it is never about what a leader stands for, what issues he or she supports, and how well educated and suited they are for the leadership position. What matters to them is what kind of connection he or she is able to make with these potential constituents. Does he say the things they want to hear or tell them the cold hard truth? In my experience people want to hear what they like and not necessarily that they are going to have to do some hard work to achieve anything. We are still looking for the easy way out and have a hard time facing facts that this is never anything that really is possible. So maybe instead of just a few being in leadership classes designed to help them connect, what the rest of us need is Reality of Life 101, teaching us how to do things for ourselves instead of always looking for some way or some program to bail us out. That’s my opinion anyway.

  • W.T


    August 25th, 2012 at 10:32 PM

    A good leader is one who is able to understand things not just from his point of view but from the points of view of all those he leads.So to have a racial ‘know’ of other races for a leadership role sounds like a good development. After all, a leader should work for all those he leads and not just follow a narrow path from his point of view that is often created based on what race he belongs to. This is a very important step in a society wherein people from all races have representation in all professions and groups.

  • leighton


    August 26th, 2012 at 8:43 AM

    I think that the biggest factor here is having leaders step into these positions who are doing this in a way that is socially caring and socially responsible. We have quite enough “eladers” who don’t quite comprehend that responsibility part. Let’s train our next generation of leaders to do do more, want more, and be more.

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