A Postmodern Perspective: Diversity, Power Dynamics, and Leadership Development


A discussion about leadership development in adult education would be incomplete without surfacing the influence of systemic power dynamics in society. Any good adult educator will tell you that, in creating, planning, and designing courses, workshops, seminars etc., the power dynamics of society and in the learning facility (even in cyberspace) need to be considered. For example, “In our everyday world, men are commonly accepted in positions of leadership. This is evident in every facet of our society. Men compose the majority of our national and local leaders. This accepted and assumed power transfers to the workshop setting. So what happens when a workshop leader is a woman?” (Johnson-Bailey & Cervero, 1997, p. 44-45).

The power dynamics of gender are changing overtime. Forty years ago, “…women accounted for about 5% of managers in organizations (Schein, 1973)…[in] 2009,  According to a 2009 report by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, women held about 40% of management jobs in the United States; however only 2% of organizations listed in the Fortune 500 had CEOs that were women” (as cited in Coder & Spiller, 2013, p. 21). That we have acknowledged power dynamics in society in the context of leadership development represents the postmodernist perspective that beliefs surrounding who in society is capable of quality leadership is affected by socio-political values, but this awareness is far from complete.

So, in the 21st century, more women (not enough, but more) consider themselves leaders. Besides gender as a dichotomy (also a misconception); however, there are other assumptions about identity groups and leadership embedded in societal laws, morals and belief systems. It is the responsibility of the developer and or facilitator of a leadership development course to reveal the influence of these beliefs, and acknowledge subjective value systems and potential internalized oppression at the outset of becoming leaders, especially leaders who inspire other leaders. Hyater- Adams (2010), suggests that, “…transformative narratives, can be used to help unpack and re-script assumptions, attitudes, values, and biases of leaders as they operate in systems of privilege” (Abstract). It could be argued that the use of narratives could be used outside of the formal learning environment as well. As has been demonstrated throughout the posts on this site, leadership development happens in multiple settings be them formal, non-formal, and informal, and the belief or oversight that it escapes societal influences and historical legacies of systemic oppression is a misnomer and a regret, but I am sure it exists and is often times not addressed within these settings. Hopefully, as time progresses, more people will recognize the subjective nature of defining the characteristics of leadership in society. Until then, I challenge you to surface your values and beliefs about what makes a leader and how diversity plays a role within them.


Coder, L., & Spiller, M. (2013). Leadership education and gender roles: think manager, think “?” Academy Of Educational Leadership Journal, 17(3), 21-51.

Image retrieved from http://www.futurity.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/gender_leaders_1.jpg

Johnson-Bailey, J., & Cervero, R. (1997). Negotiating power dynamics in workshops. New directions for adult and continuing education, (76), 41-50.

Hyater-Adams, Y. (2010). Learning diversity and leadership skills through transformative narratives (TM). Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry, 8(4), 208-232. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/869068934?accountid=1343


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