The following pages will make the case for the use of professional level coaching in the leadership development of Native American people. As one who grew up among my own Native American tribe and who has sought to serve in various leadership roles in Native American church settings for over 30 years, I have come to have a growing awareness of the need and appreciation for good leadership. I have also come to see the benefit and power of professional level coaching when used for human development in a multitude of areas.
This paper will seek to briefly demonstrate the significant benefit of using coaching as the primary approach in leadership development with Native American people specifically. The paper will make the case for coaching’s effectiveness, value, customizable application, and accessibility for developing leaders in Native American communities and unique cultural contexts. Before delving into the application of coaching to leadership development, it is appropriate to state the undeniable importance of leadership and leadership development for all people, including Native Americans.
The Importance Of Native American Leadership And Leadership Development
John Maxwell, considered by many the foremost authority on leadership (http://topleader shipgurus.com/list.php), has made the statement, “Everything rises and falls on leadership” (Maxwell, 1998, Front Inside Flap), or as he states later in the same book, “personal and organizational effectiveness is proportionate to the strength of leadership”. (Maxwell, 1998, p. 8)
That is a powerful statement! But is it true? I think it is so true that we do not realize how true! We are grateful when progress or improvements are made in our lives, whether as individuals or in one of the organizations we are part of like our family, team, company, organization, community or government. Someone makes a good decision, unifies the people, puts other people’s true needs before their own comfort, or makes sacrifices-all to move the group forward toward a common goal. The list of leadership attitudes and actions successfully exercised is extensive, but many times we do not recognize this exercise of leadership as the very reason we make that progress and those improvements.
Strength of leadership has been demonstrated and experienced in various ways through history. Abraham Lincoln’s strength and self-confidence enabled him to rise above any feelings of insecurity he may have had, and instead to empower other leaders and unite them in facing the challenges of keeping this new country united instead of divided. (Maxwell, 1998, pp. 148-149) The benefit of good leadership has often been observed in Native American history as well. Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce demonstrated the essential characteristic of a leader caring for his people by seeking to avoid bloodshed by moving his people toward asylum in Canada (Wikipedia, Chief Joseph, Leadership of the Nez Perce, par. 8) and ultimately surrendering to the United States so more of the tribe’s children and elderly people would not freeze to death. (McCloskey, /~eslmlm/chiefjoseph.html).
Leadership is a need still recognized today! In the preface of Christian Leadership in Indian America, Billy Graham states that the “One of the most encouraging developments on the Indian scene expressed desire of many mature Indian men and women to exert Christian leadership in all areas of Indian life.” (Graham, 1976, pp.7-8) In the first chapter of the same book, Tom Claus, founder of Christian Hope Indian Eskimo Fellowship stated, “The greatest need we have in our churches today is for native leadership.” (Christian Leadership In Indian America, 1976, p. 11) The news source, USA Today, reports that former Navajo Nation Peterson Zah and other Native American leaders see the need for the development of leaders in our Native communities.
Native American leaders . . . see a breakdown in Indian country leadership at a time when the 565 federally recognized tribes of the United States are pressing for greater sovereignty, with support from the U.S. government. Dozens of Native American organizations and tribes are pressing to cultivate youth leadership skills through programs that often combine cultural heritage and public service, personal responsibility and civic action.” (Wagner, 2010, par. 5-6)
Leadership is vital, not only to our survival as people, but also to the improvement of our quality of life.
Thankfully, leadership can be learned! Many people have leadership traits instilled in them as children and we might say that some people are “born” with facets of their personalities that help make them strong leaders. Yet, no leader or person is born fully developed! In addition, what about aspiring leaders? They can awaken unrealized leadership gifts and become proficient in leadership skills that they were not aware of, nor had taken time and energy to practice so they could become better leaders. Jim Collins in his the well respected book, Good To Great, shares the results of research that explored the factors that enabled good companies to actually become great companies. One of the findings of his research team was that all eleven of the good-to-great companies “had Level 5 leadership in key positions, including the CEO, at the pivotal time of transition”. (Collins, 2001, p. 35) Those who are Level 5 leaders practice the highest level of leadership possible. He goes on to say, “I believe—although I cannot prove—that potential (emphasis mine) Level 5 leaders are highly prevalent in our society. The problem is not, in my estimation, a dearth of potential Level 5 leaders. They exist all around us, if we just know what to look for.” (Collins, 2001, p. 37) As Maxwell states, “Although it’s true that some people are born with greater natural gifts than others, the ability to lead is really a collection of skills, nearly all of which can be learned and improved.” (Maxwell, 1998, p. 25) The question then becomes, how can those leaders, including Native Americans, best be developed?