At a conference earlier this year, two Portland State University colleagues—Celine Fitzmaurice and Karen Noordhoff of the Center for Courage and Renewal—encouraged us to conceptualize leadership as a Möbius strip.
What is a Möbius strip? It’s a concept from the mathematical field known as topology. It takes the form of a continuous band with one side and one edge (envision a half twist in a strip of paper with the ends attached, so it has only a single surface). Metaphorically, just as two sides of a Möbius strip remain indistinguishable, a leader makes a clear and solid connection between her identity and her integrity, between her inner thoughts and her outward world, between her actions and her words, between what she is and what she does. In this way, she acts not in the role of a leader; she is a leader.
Fitzmaurice and Noordhoff prompted us to explore how our personal qualities, values and beliefs influence our objectives and guide our work. They reminded us about the complexities of leadership and explained how understanding those complexities challenges us to also consider the ways our own and others’ life experiences inspire us to lead. They posed the following questions:
- As leaders, what is the relationship between who we are and what we do?
- Do our identities drive our actions?
- How can we create environments in which others bring their best selves forward?
You might find these questions worth reflection. Our elected positions at ASHA didn’t transform us into leaders, but provided conditions for us to understand who we are as leaders. In turn, these opportunities also empowered us to inspire and instruct others interested in leadership. As ASHA officers, we want to help other members tap into their talent as leaders.
For several years, we contemplated whether barriers exist in attracting new and diverse individuals to ASHA leadership positions. Real or perceived roadblocks—even if they’re semi-permeable—could present a view of our organization as networked, hierarchical, nuanced and not equally accessible to all members. Underrepresented individuals among our members may anticipate additional obstacles to becoming leaders, as they contend with unfamiliar organizational culture.
Our leadership development, recruitment, cultivation and nomination efforts must continue to recognize the unique profiles of all members and build a socially safe, trust-based climate. We must encourage everyone to bring their unique interests and backgrounds to leadership positions within the association.
Parker J. Palmer identified “Five Habits of the Heart,” two of which seem particularly relevant in moving our association forward. The first addresses the importance of valuing otherness and the second describes the significance of creating community, so those in the minority find companionship and the courage to speak. With this in mind, ASHA leaders have and will continue to examine our own Möbius strips in order to foster meaningful exchanges and engage others in the endeavor of leadership.
Shelly Chabon, PhD, CCC-SLP, was 2012 ASHA president and is a former member of the Committee on Leadership Cultivation of the Leadership Cultivation and Nomination Board. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 10, Issues in Higher Education; and 14, Cultural and Linguistic Diversity. firstname.lastname@example.org.