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Whenever the law school has an event explaining to us how to “get ahead” in the corporate or legal fields, the speaker always makes steam come out of my ears. For Asian-Americans, the problem at law firms is increasingly obvious, as Asian-American associates bill more hours and earn more money for the firm, only to be passed up when bonus and promotion time comes around. (For more see here.) To combat this, the speaker will often say that Asian-Americans need to develop their “people skills” or need to step away from cultural norms of deference to authority by speaking up more, etc. This strikes me as fundamentally wrong-headed and moronic; why should a disadvantaged group conform to views of privileged white leadership, instead of pointing out the dangers of implicit bias and fundamentally changing the way we view leadership?

The cult of “leadership” has largely grown up around features already viewed as “leaderly” in the dominant society — features that tend to be prevalent among patrician white men. Yet, when these features are exhibited by other groups, they are still perceived as un-leaderly. Consider the first identified “glass ceiling” group, women. When women exhibit stereotypically “female” characteristics and gender roles, they are viewed as unsuitable for leadership. Yet, when women exhibit stereotypically “male” leadership characteristics, they are rated poorly for their incongruity with the traditional gender role! (See Eagly and Karau for more: http://web.pdx.edu/~mev/pdf/PS471_Readings_2012/Eagley_Karau.pdf). Women are caught in a Catch-22: Behave in a “female gender role” and get passed over, or behave in a “male gender role” and get slammed for being a “bitch” or “difficult to work with.”

Perhaps we need to fundamentally reconsider what good leadership looks like. Stereotypically white male leadership skills often lead people astray; for example, leaders who merely talk first and talk often are more convincing, even when they have the wrong answer. Maybe we should stop listening to these guys, particularly if they’re incompetent! This is one of those problems with the Presidency — you only get to be President if you want to be President, and frankly, wanting to be President requires a lot of ego and dangerous amounts of self-confidence. Rather than getting competent leaders, we get persuasive ones, even if they persuade us to do things fundamentally against our self-interest.

Instead of conforming to the view of leadership as defined by a white male hierarchy, we should be moving people towards a different view of what a good leader entails. Good leaders can be focused on competency rather than politicking, listen to others’ ideas before speaking, build consensus, hear out minority opinions, and be willing to change their minds. A leadership cadre of blowhards, regardless of their race or gender, does not particularly appeal to me.

http://web.pdx.edu/~mev/pdf/PS471_Readings_2012/Eagley_Karau.pdf

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