• Jeff Doolittle

How Leadership Can Respond to Racism and Poverty


In some organizations, silence on the issues impacting the world today is deafening. Organizations and communities are more connected than some may want to believe, and I don’t mean six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. Minor changes in organizations can lead to significant differences in our communities. Experienced leaders understand that what happens at work does not stay at work, and what happens at home does not remain at home. Society is looking for modern leaders and organizations to be positive sources of influence on global issues. This article reveals the unfortunate truth about how poverty is connected to racism and how an emerging 21st Century leadership approach can be a catalyst for solving racism and poverty.

Poverty & Racism


Poverty is a little understood issue that creates real disadvantages to achieving the American Dream of upward socio-economic mobility. While most Americans (88.2%) do not live in poverty, as of 2018, African Americans were 2.5 times more likely to be in poverty than whites. The median white family had 10 times as much wealth as the median African American family. Escaping poverty in the U.S. is difficult, and racial difficulties mean that movement out of poverty for African Americans is much more challenging than it is for whites.


Over the past century, the issues of poverty and racism are not new and have remained real issues, and earlier attempts to resolve the associated issues have been inadequate. The following figure is from the U.S. Census Bureau, 2007–2011 American Community Survey, and reflects the percentage of the black alone population in poverty in the United States.

Servant Leadership


Theoretical leadership development has historically been used to explain observations, make sense or bring order to complexity, and solve problems people are facing. In 2006 researchers conducted a review of over 160 articles and books identifying 91 distinct attributes within the literature for defining leadership and there would likely be more today.

“probably more has been written and less is known about leadership than about any other topic in the behavioral sciences” (Bennis).

The world needs a different leadership approach and Servant Leadership is an emerging 21st Century model that holds potential answers for poverty and racism. This leadership theory promotes attributes of altruistic and compassionate love for others. Compassionate love is

“doing the right thing at the right time and for the right reason"(Winston).

When organizations adopt a servant leadership approach they measure effectiveness based on the growth of employees, customers, and the community. Servant leaders lead organizations to impact society positively. For example, a servant leader philosophy in an organization will focus attention on leader-follower relationships. This focus on people then leads to growing employees and, in return, growing the company.


Pioneering research in 2013 lead by Shruti Gupta found the organizational commitment to the poor and customer growth, has both a positive impact on organizational performance and poverty mitigation. When leaders get involved it makes a difference both in their organization and society. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

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