E. Hackney, Ph.D.
Diane Runnestrand, Ph.D.
& RUNNESTRAND, SPRING, 2003
our struggles to develop our authentic selves as educators, leaders,
women, and researchers continue, we all gain a greater appreciation
for how difficult it is to incorporate the values of democracy into
In this paper we
will introduce a community of women educational leaders, their struggles
for personal and professional accountability, and their inquiry
toward the development of leadership wisdom in a democratic culture.
Such leadership wisdom is not the norm in todays educational
organizations. Influenced by the work of researchers, educational
leaders, and professors of educational administration, traditional
leadership has been based on hierarchical thinking and prescriptive
skills that have promoted the status quo (Davies & Foster, 1994;
Maxcy, 1994). This paper tells the story of a group of women educational
leaders who are supporting each other as they challenge tradition
and explore the application of democratic leadership in educational
settings. Their story is a result of the analysis of data collected
over the first three years of the Wellspring Communitys existence.
The authors of
this article studied the Wellspring Community for Women in Educational
Leadership as participant observers through the qualitative examination
of their own and other participants experiences. As participant
observers, the authors have struggled with their own biases and
have attempted to ensure the trustworthiness of their interpretations
and reporting by checking each others perceptions
for credibility and relying on other group members for data verification.
Where applicable, the authors have also utilized participants
voices to ensure authenticity in reporting.
Women, and Educational Leadership
belief in the value and superiority of the democratic political
system unites most Americans. Images of the American flag, political
campaigns, and first amendment rights are pressing concerns that
are fiercely defended across America. When our country was in its
infancy, Alexis de Tocqueville identified the values of liberty
and equality as the bookends that support democratic beliefs. de
Tocqueville identified many threats to the democratic society, but
saw the aristocracy of manufacturers as perhaps democracys
greatest threat. He recognized that the workplace had the potential
to create conditions similar to the aristocracies that caused most
Americans to flee their European homelands. de Tocqueville also
recognized the leadership dilemma of the master and the workman
in a democratic society when he said that the workman was born
to obey, and the leader was born to command. As de Tocqueville
predicted, the American workplace has become one of Americas
most powerful institutions and the struggle for democracy within
this setting has become a pressing concern for leaders who seek
toembrace a democratic, value-based leadership style.
Many women educational
leaders articulate a heightened pressure to create and maintain
more democratic workplaces for several reasons: a) Their knowledge
about any social phenomenon, including their leadership, is strongly
influenced by their social, cultural, and historical contexts; b)
Their life experiences are closely connected to those of others
about whom they care and with whom they work; c) They believe that
female leaders do not have to exercise power over others (Astin
& Leland, 1991); and, d) They believe that the American educational
workplace should be more of a community than an organization. Because
schools are different in structure and purpose from the typical
American business organization--different because most education
in this country takes place in a not-for-profit or a publicly supported
settingtheir espoused missions resemble more those of human
service agencies rather than those of large business organizations
(Sergiovanni, 1992). Consequently, many women struggle to conduct
their leadership in a more authentic, socially responsible manner.
They are keen to create and maintain an enlivened educational culture
grounded in the principles of democracy that profess human affairs
to be conducted best through intelligent activity rather than through
habit or force (Dewey, 1932, 1936; Garrison, 1997; Hawthorne &
Henderson, 2000; Henderson, 2001).
face a number of challenges as educational leaders today. Because
early theories of leadership failed to include the social, historical,
and cultural contexts of women, the organizations behavioral
expectations for women leaders are often incompatible with women
leaders world views and life experiences. Furthermore, because
womens experiences are closely connected to those of others
(Gilligan, 1984; Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986;
Helgeson, 1995; Astin & Leland, 1991; Hackney & Hogard,
1999), on a more personal level woman leaders are challenged as
gender influences transactional relationships among themselves and
others. A womans sense of self is highly affected by others
perceptions of what constitutes being male or female and assuredly
has impact on what it means to be a female leader. Moreover, women
in educational leadership historically have combated culturally
engrained beliefs that self-assuredness, confidence, and directedness
are not acceptable female traits. Women who ascend into higher leadership
positions must contend not only with their own development as their
world views evolve, but also with cultural expectations and biases
that are added to the burden of legitimizing their positions
among their followers (Curry, 2000, p. 3).
The work of Curry
(2000) and others (Hackney & Hogard, 1999; Hackney & Bock,
2000; Hackney, Bock, & Runnestrand, 2000) has suggested that
women leaders are acutely aware of the development of their own
leadership personae. They are readily able to reveal the effects
of the intellectual, the cultural, and the experiential on their
growth, and profess strong belief systems that have helped them
to discern who they are. These findings are consistent with the
research of Josselson (1990) and Marcia, Waterman, Matteson, Archer,
and Orlofsky (1993) who posit that identity is a formative process
influenced by values, beliefs, goals, interests, commitments, and
If we accept these
feminist constructs, along with the democratic principles discussed
earlier, we are challenged to incorporate the social, historical,
and cultural contexts of women into a reconceptualization of leadership
characterized by interdependence, sharing of power, collaborative
problem solving, and a focus on democratic values for more socially
altruistic ends. Greene (1988) eloquently described this as opening
spaces where freedom is the mainspring, where people create themselves
by acting in concert ( p.134).
Leaders who ascribe
to this social philosophy will engage in collaborative, creative,
and intellectual leadership activity. They will demonstrate a love
of learning, embrace human growth, commit to continuous self-development,
and at the same time remain sensitive to the beliefs, styles, and
circumstances of others. They will readily demonstrate empathy and
reject oppression, exploitation, segregation, and neglect. Moreover,
they will be morally driven to exhibit and engage in socially responsible
practice (Dewey, 1932, 1936; Garrison, 1997; Greene, 1988; Hawthorne
& Henderson, 2000; Henderson, 2001).
Women face challenges
when they decide to engage in a reconceptualization of leadership.
This prompted the authors and others to develop the Wellspring Community
for Women in Educational Leadership, a place where like-minded women
leaders could come together, grow together, and explore what it
takes to create a more democratically principled workplace. The
women participating in Wellspring believe that effective democratic,
value-based leadership must begin with a personal and professional
formative process. They believe that self-exploration and development
are vital to a womans leading, and that this exploration and
development happens more readily when they are involved in self-study
and professional inquiry among like-minded others. The creative
tension they experience as women leaders in traditional educational
organizations encourages them to challenge prescriptive notions
of leadership, to question the taken-for-granted roles
and responsibilities traditionally ascribed to women (Curry, 2000,
pp. 87-101), and to activate their critical reasoning to construct
their own conceptions of leading. They engage dialectically
with the determining forces around [them] (Greene,1988, p.
From Self Discovery
to Social Action
Women need space
where they can break through the masked and the falsified,
to reach toward what is also half-hidden or concealed (Greene,
1988, p. 58). For women to develop the confidence and courage to
reconstruct leadership theory and practice, they need the support
of other women leaders. Participants are finding that support in
the Wellspring Community for Women in Educational Leadership.
Grogan (1996) attests
that often missing [among women] is a source of confidence
for bringing about social change (p. 32). Though some women
have succeeded in securing top-level leadership positions, they
are often alone in the organization, without peers, and without
the company of like-minded others. Consequently, challenging the
prescriptive notions of leadership, disrupting the rules, arbitrating
conflicts from a different value base, and upsetting
the balance of power become frightening endeavors for women serious
about deposing the truth and broadening the accepted
practices of leadership.
such as keeping ones employment and avoiding alienation of
peers, often supercede a womans desire to precipitate change
in the organization and in her life of leadership. Going public
(Palmer, 1998) with beliefs and values for organizational change
requires a security founded in knowledge, conviction, and the support
of others. The transformation of culture by challenging existing
value systems is a dangerous task, one that might easily never be
initiated or might be abandoned in process. If women are to create
a clearing, a space, where in the midst of things they might
explore, challenge, and transform existing notions of traditional,
hierarchical power and authoritywith any success, they must do so
with the support of an enclave.
suggests that for women to develop as authentic leaders true to
their leadership personae, they must develop cultural and social
insight; they must understand the politics of feminism and the genderization
process within an organizational culture; and they must move
beyond the difference paradigm (p. 8). This translates
into women studying themselves in formal leadership roles, actively
promoting the expansion of knowledge and experiences of all types
of women in all types of leadership settings, analyzing barriers
against and strategies for social change, and exploring how the
male hegemony has affected women and men in formal leadership roles
Women need to continue
to challenge authority as it has been prescribed historically and
create their own discourses about the ethical dilemmas of
leadership in everyday practice (Harding, 1991, p. 49). The
women of the Wellspring Community recognize that critique alone
is insufficient if, as women leaders, we want organizational and
social change to occur. Likewise, they recognize that for multiple
truths to be known and plural conceptions of leadership to be accommodated
multiple voices must be heard. Only then will organizational structures
be altered through changes in policy, programming, planning, evaluation,
and organizational development.
speaking, to displace the traditional hegemony that surrounds leadership
theory and practice, Harding (1991) suggests that women leaders
will need to re-evaluate and disrupt the rules that have defined
feminine dispositions toward leadership as inferior to the masculine.
This would require the study of existing power relationships and
open arbitration of value conflicts. The structures that have held
the hierarchy in place, and power in asymmetrical balance, would
need to be challenged so that an organizational reconfiguration
Community was conceived with these ideas in mind and has developed
over the last three years to address the unique needs of women educational
leaders. Our experiences are chronicled in the next section.
A group of women
involved in educational leadership at a northeastern Ohio university
and local school districts had been talking about creating a professional
group that would support, encourage, and provide resources to women
school leaders in the area. Everywhere we went--to meetings, conferences,
and classes--we were hearing the voices of women who felt alone,
isolated, excluded from the power players in the profession. Because
one of us taught a course on women and leadership, and the others
held responsible positions at the county level, we were considered
the locals who could make something happen. Fortunately,
at around the same time, the male superintendent of a local educational
service center believed there was a need for such a group. He told
us, I know we need to do something for the ladies, I just
dont know what. We assured him that we would find out
what the women school leaders needed and would have
a plan for him in the near future. When we presented our plan, he
graciously pledged institutional support for the first year.
Need: What We Learned
In the years previous
to the establishment of Wellspring, several members of the group
began hearing a common voice of concern among women leaders. Through
a series of conversations with other women leaders significant themes
about who they were and how they felt about themselves emerged.
A diverse group of educational leaders expressed a number of common
concerns, but one theme emerged as dominant. As the only female,
or one of a group of very few females, practicing leadership in
their organizations, these educational leaders were experiencing
an enormous sense of personal loss. Specifically, these women expressed
the feeling that what had been lost for the sake of survival or
fitting in was a sense of self. Missing was the authentic
self and what remained was a shell of the former self. Having to
conform to the male structure and model of leadership and organization
had forced many women into a chameleon role. For the sake of fulfilling
the mission of the institution, these women had made huge personal
sacrifices. And while each would have been described as successful,
many of these women were emotionally exhausted. The denial of the
self had left many of them with a feeling that their souls had been
damaged. In order to survive, many women were opting out of leadership
positions or leaving existing organizations. This pattern of flight
was seen as a potential problem. What would happen to their organizations
if the really talented women leaders left? Through these conversations,
the same idea kept emerging, what was needed was some way of assisting
these women leaders in maintaining their souls, which
would allow their authentic selves to prevail within their organizations
so that the next generation of women leaders would not be
faced with the same dilemma.
We knew that we
still needed more data than we had to establish a need for what
we were thinking of as a center. We facilitated several
focus groups and conducted many interviews with women educational
leaders in a three county area. Overwhelmingly, the results of the
interviews confirmed what we were hearing and observing: a desire
for professional, intellectual, and spiritual renewal.
The women we interviewed
envisioned a place to confront issues of concern, dialogue,
reflect, problem-solve, and move forward together. These
women did not want to come together to complain and commiserate,
but to raise the level of professional development out there.
They envisioned a shared place to develop skills, to learn
and grow with colleagues, and to challenge each others thinking.
They were interested in a multi-faceted program where they might
research together, write together, and become better acquainted
with womens issues. They also felt called to social action.
They wanted to understand the cultural and professional insensitivities
in their professional organizations and to develop professional
support systems. In doing so, they would be better prepared to challenge
the status quo and to redefine educational leadership as more democratically
inclusive and just. But most importantly, they wanted to associate
with a group of like-minded others, to build collegial relationships,
to find support, and to be intellectually challenged.
and analyzing the data, the original group of planners invited a
group of twelve women, representing local school districts and universities,
to join us to plan for the future. We met several times to understand
what we had learned and to translate it into a mission, to articulate
them as a purpose, and to respond to them with a structured program.
The planning sessions were enlivened with hope, commitment, and
creativity! Yet, we grew to know each other as individuals who did
not always agree. Biases were exposed. Irritability levels were
piqued. Power relationships were negotiated. Concerns were voiced.
The group grew to understand the meaning of the term collaboration.
We were determined not to reproduce the traditional male model of
planning and implementation. Yet, as women who had grown up
in the hierarchical organization, we struggled with the process.
A couple of the women who would become part of the group called
us periodically to ask, Arent you ready yet? When will
this group get-together? Finally, we felt it was time to expand
our group to those who would accept our invitations to join us in
this formative process.
We invited positional
school building and district leaders, university faculty, and doctoral
students who had expressed interest in our work. These were women
who were risk-takers, attempting to lead in alternative ways; they
were women who were vocal about the place of spirituality in their
work; and, they were intellectually active women who prioritized
their own growth and development. Fifteen women accepted our invitation
and met for the first Wellspring salon in December of 1999.
We developed a
position statement that would periodically undergo review and revision.
The original statement included a mission, the purpose, and the
proposed structure of the group. The mission stated:
Womens Leadership Community is committed to linking female
educational leaders together for constructive educational reform
through leadership development, professional renewal, inspiration,
and personal growth.
It was decided
that the community would invite female positional or non-positional
leaders of both public and private educational organizations that
serve students from pre-kindergarten through the university to become
a part. The participants would be asked to commit to an active role
in planning and leading the salon format, in sharing resources,
and in setting the communitys course for the future. Once
participants were assembled, they conceded to a formal purpose statement:
Womens Leadership community will provide a sustained intellectual,
professional, and spiritual renewal for participants. Through Wellspring,
women will find opportunities to share resources and find affirmation,
support, nourishment, and inspiration as educational leaders. The
community offers women educational leaders opportunities to reshape
the educational culture through their collaborative efforts toward
investigation of alternative dispositions to leadership, expansion,
and redefinition of their conceptions of leadership, development
of creative approaches to leadership, improvement of communication
and collaboration across the continuum of roles and responsibilities
in educational organizations from pre-K through the university,
and renewal of their spiritual selves.
Structure of the
The dream of the
original group was that Wellspring would become a place where women
could meet and find resources. We thought of creating a data bank,
stocking a professional library, editing a journal, and offering
professional development programs and services. That dream was somewhat
modified when the actual group-- those who accepted our invitations
to participate-- assembled.
We had methodically
scheduled an inaugural two-day session together, our first salon,
the first regular meeting of distinguished guests as
Webster would define it. We knew that we wanted the experience to
be meaningful for the participants, to be characterized by serious
professional and intellectual challenge, and to be a source of inspiration.
We also wanted participants to shape the future direction of the
community. That became reality when the group decided to abandon
the planned agenda and recreate what our two days together would
look like. The original planning group learned the first of many
lessons: letting go. What we had scripted as a tightly programmed
two days composed of checking in, professional
reading, dialogue, reflection, contemplative quiet time, and collaborative
planning for the future turned into something that looked much different
as authored by the newly conceived group itself.
For the time being,
putting aside the idea of a center, and responding to
the desires of the participants, we formed a group that meets regularly,
at least four times a year in a salon format. We share responsibility
for planning each future salon. In enactment of our mission, at
each salon we incorporate intellectual activity. We read together,
discuss issues of concern, and acquaint each other with new theories
and research. We have read works by Heilbrun, Blount, Grogan, Capper,
and Bateson, among others. Yet, for many Wellspring participants,
the discussion of individual issues and concerns has been the most
beneficial part of our time together. The practical application
of theory and current thinking has guided the discussion of many
topics generated for discussion: dealing with overbearing men in
the workplace, handling changes in leadership in the organizational
hierarchy, accepting a woman leaders social responsibility
to others in the workplace, knowing when to leave and when
to stay in a position.
During each salon,
we also nourished our spirits through inclusion of the arts and
humanities. We have enjoyed experiences with clay, collage, poetry,
meditation, and inspirational prose. We are finding it more and
more essential that we weave care of our spirit selves into the
entire salon experience. We are finding that these experiences become
the mettle that gives shape to our intellectual and the professional
After the first
salon, three women decided that the group was not for them. Two
others have dropped out over the course of the past year, both for
personal reasons. Three more have joined and are active members.
Our group has stabilized with twelve committed members and has assumed
the responsibility for its own sustenance.
Although this project
is in a pilot phase, members have already reported benefits from
participation. During each salon we ask each other three questions:
a) What has changed for you in your life and leadership since our
last meeting? b) How have you made your workplace a more compassionate
and democratic place? c) How has your participation in Wellspring
influenced these changes? In response to these questions members
have shared evidence of their growth and the growth of their organizations.
Such examples have included growth in self-confidence, accomplishment
of projects or goals that were essential to the leadership potential
of the individual, and advancement along career paths. Many of the
participants have attributed this growth to the intellectual, professional,
and spiritual support and challenge they have received from the
group. The narrative that follows is one participants reflective
description of the intellectual development, the personal and professional
growth, and the spiritual renewal she has experienced as a result
of her participation in the Wellspring Community.
After the first
meeting of Wellspring I felt empowered to take control of my life
in a new way. Putting my struggles out in the room where no one
had an agenda regarding my success or failure was a safe process.
This allowed me to be really honest. This no strings attached
environment is one I rarely have the opportunity to enjoy due
to my position. I believe that, because of the environment, members
are able to give much more honest feedback to one another.
When asked at
our second meeting to describe what had changed in my life since
the last time we were together, I felt I had a story of transformation
to share. At our first meeting I was angry, hurt, and lost. Due
to a change in leadership and leadership style in my institution
I felt that for the first time in 12 years I was needed but not
wanted. I felt that in order to survive, I was going to have to
become a new person or leave. This was reflected in our artistic
spiritual renewal time when I created a clay woman with a giant
hole in her middle.
The group held
up a mirror so that I could reflect on my choices. At the time
I was debating on applying for a presidency in an area institution.
In hind site I realize that my application for president would
have been to prove my competency versus coming from a sincere
desire to be president. One member of the group held up what I
will call a reality mirror. She told me I wasnt even being
realistic. I didnt have my Ph.D. completed so I was wasting
time debating whether or not to be a president. She advised me
to finish the Ph.D. now. She also told me to take my sabbatical.
I felt the timing of taking the sabbatical during my new presidents
first year would make me very weak. She felt it was the only way
I would survive the situation. By leaving and finishing my Ph.D.
I would give him a chance to establish his own presence. I would
allow him to see the benefit or lack of benefit my presence brings
to the institution. I would have time to reflect and stop spinning
around. I would finish my Ph.D. and then no longer feel trapped
should I decide that I, indeed, needed to leave.
She shared a
story with the group about stepping back. That was the best advice
I received in a long time. She told a story about being a little
girl and trying to learn long division in school. The more she
struggled with the process of learning long division the more
upset she became and thus the more confused she became. She became
so upset about the process that her mother decided that running
around in all that confusion couldnt possibly be good
for her so she took her out of school. She stayed home and played
and left long division behind. After being out of school for a
couple of weeks the school phoned to inquire as to why she was
missing school. Her mother explained the situation and said that
"the school had her so confused that there was no way learning
could take place and that when she was no longer confused she
would come back to school. A few more weeks passed and she
finally went back to school less confused. She stated that this
was her first sabbatical and that she had learned from thislesson
that sometimes she had to step out of the situation in order to
see clearly the appropriate path she needed to follow.
A second piece
of advice that came from that first Wellspring meeting was the
idea that if you have to be present for your ideas to become
a reality then they were only your ideas. In other words,
no one else had bought into them strongly enough to assure that
they would be brought to fruition. In addition, if you always
have to push ideas then maybe you are the one who is out-of-step.
This idea of letting go and just seeing what would happen was
foreign to me. But understanding this idea empowered me to take
the sabbatical. I was certain that the projects led by me would
not move forward without my presence, thus I could not find time
for the sabbatical. This new realization helped me realize that
my ideas or my projects might only be my priority and my absence
would allow me to know what the community valued. In reflection
on this experience I now realize that this process of letting
go and letting the community accept or reject ideas is the enactment
of democratic leadership. Now that I have had this experience
I recognize the value of creating a more authentic democratic
community by applying this in my work. I am striving to weave
this style of leadership into my life and am finding that it is
outcome of the first Wellspring meeting was the completion of
my Ph.D. Greater even than this accomplishment was the letting
go of my accumulated anger and frustration. The decision was strategic.
It allowed me to gain a clearer vision on how to work when I returned
to the institution. The process validated my leadership style
as authentic even if different than the changing style of the
organization. In addition, I learned that I didnt always
have to push my ideas or be present for the ideas to become a
reality. Those ideas that were important to the community were
completed. The lack of completion of some projects gave me the
opportunity to reevaluate their appropriateness in the community.
In response to
our second question of how we are making our work places more
humane, I responded that my absence had allowed all of us to breathe.
It also created a greater understanding of my role as a leader
by other members of the community. It allowed those who traditionally
follow to lead in new ways. It forced me to look beyond myself
and into the community for support, solutions, and leadership.
Because I gained a greater sense of peace, the division also gained
a greater sense of peace.
Members have shared
several examples of the benefits of the group through their responses
to the three questions. During our last salon, Elaine reported to
the group a greater sense of self worth as related to
her role in an institution of higher education and to her primary
relationship. This sense of self worth allowed her to negotiate
a new position, salary, and other resources in a manner she previously
would have found uncomfortable. In addition, the new sense of self
worth and personal clarity allowed her to end a nonproductive
Mary had always
felt that her female support staff at work was dependent on her
leadership and direction for their success. After the first Wellspring
retreat, she began to think about their development and success
in a different way. She began to realize that leadership
is the art of developing leadership in others and that with
her support, these women were capable of assuming responsibilities
for their own growth, development, and success at work. With the
change in her leadership orientation, the women began to change:
they are now exhibiting greater self-esteem and collaborating among
With the support
of members of the group, Alexa successfully assumed a new position
at a womens college. Though she loved the rigor and
scholarship required of faculty in the research institution,
the patriarchal nature of the institution left her frustrated,
hurt, and often discounted. She reported at the first meeting
of Wellspring as being tired of the boys games
and feeling sucked into them to survive in the institution.
Members of the group encouraged her to find the courage to let go
of dominant culture status issues and follow her heart to a more
appropriate institutional setting. She is now the Dean of Graduate
Studies in a small private womens college.
Many members of
the group have reported the importance and benefit of being able
to share the issues that are critical in their personal lives. Karen
openly has discussed her family obligations and how they have affected
her work. Meeting the needs of her husband, children, and her institution
has left her empty and exhausted. The group has offered
Karen support and encouragement. She arranges home and
professional commitments, including visits from in-laws, so that
they do not keep her from group meetings.
For its members,
Wellspring represents a place where they can be whole persons who
do not have to compartmentalize their various life roles. Members
have found support for a number of concerns: dealing with empty
nest issues, sibling relationships, conflict in the family, struggles
and conflicts with significant others, and the issues of raising
children. We participants feel that discussions around these concerns
are vital to our well being; we make sure they are woven into the
fabric of the salons and addressed with the same importance, authenticity,
and support as those issues that stem from work related discussions.
for Authentic Human Synergy
The women of the
Wellspring Community face concerns that have arisen out of the evolving
personality and dynamics of the group: concerns based in conflicting
and competing interests, honesty, balance of purpose, and moral
and ethical responsibility.
Some members of
the community have wrestled with their relationships as employees
in the same work organizations and as members of the Wellspring
Community. To complicate this situation, after competing for the
same position, one of the members was placed in a supervisory position
over another. Fearful of jeopardizing or damaging personal and professional
relationships, the women involved were overly cautious with their
words and actions. Alexa wondered how these two members of the group
were able to take full advantage of the community in which expectations
are that others listen, encourage, and renew each others
spirits. Moreover, the strain the relationship was putting
on the rest of the group became most uncomfortable. The tension
between these two women became more and more tangible; within a
few months, the woman in the subordinate position quietly made her
excuses, retired from the group, and declined to discuss the situation
The group also
dealt with a request that could result in a similar situation. Joannes
work supervisor had repeatedly expressed interest in joining the
group. Although her presence could create inner group conflict and
could also cause discomfort for another woman who had professional
difficulties with her in the past, Joanne was concerned that if
her supervisor was not invited to join, she could suffer a loss
of friendship, or even withdrawal of support for her participation
in the group.
The community addressed
this dilemma, and felt it healthiest to leave the group intact.
Yet, the community had been struck by a comment Joanne had made:
How can we give back to the world? We need to help people
to recognize what they have contributed. Maybe our worth-while-ness
comes from helping other groups to form. Thus, the Wellspring
Community has assumed responsibility for outreach to other women
leaders. It is often difficult for women to take care of themselves
as well as they take care of others (Gilligan, 1984), so Joanne
and Alexa have chosen to be involved in expansion beyond the original
group. They have agreed to assist another group of women, led by
Joannes supervisor, who are interested in forming something
similar to what we now have. They share with them processes, experiences,
and resources. Alexa offered them a home at her institution;
the group is meeting quarterly; it is healthy and growing!
have forced the group into deliberative dialogue about our responsibility
to support other women educational leaders. If, in fact, we are
serious about promoting a democratic culture, rich in diversity
and characterized by inclusion, why are we conducting our group
in a way that suggests elitism and exclusion? We wrestle with questions:
Is this an expression of selfishness, or is it responsible
care-taking of a group that has become precious to us? Joanne
stated she is worried about our bigger purpose and mission.
If we are true to our mission and purpose should we not be concerned
with organizational and social reform beyond our own selves and
our organizations? Do we not have a responsibility to others
and to our profession? However, Emilys comment, Isnt
it enough that we grow individually
why do we have to have
a collective initiative? illustrates the conflicting opinions
within the group.
Over time, the
group has settled into an intimate group of loyal friends and professional
colleagues bolstered by their work with the extension group and
the support they experience with each other.
Balance of Purpose
for the writing of this and other articles reporting on the Wellspring
Community experience, concerns about our mission and purpose were
expressed within the group. The Wellspring mission states that the
community exists to offer women educational leaders intellectual,
professional, and spiritual renewal. Earlier in this writing, we
described the ways the group has attempted to infuse these components
into every salon we collaboratively plan. Because we are a group
of academics and practitioners, there exists what Mary calls a
natural, predictable tension and we struggle with what constitutes
a balance of these components. Of course, some of the academics
believe we are shortchanging the intellectual; and, of course, those
who are practitioners believe that the application of theory is
most important and essential to their leadership development and
feel that we should not spend too much time on esoteric ideas. We
have had discussions about this issue periodically and try to become
more comfortable with the notion that we are all part of a profession:
we have different roles, one group is not superior to the other,
and we can learn from each other. The academics offer us lofty ideas;
the practitioners keep our feet on the ground. This creates what
Suellen calls an eclecticism, an interesting fusion of things.
fusion of things has evolved into more symbiotic relationships
within the group. Personal and professional barriers have been crossed
and intellectual power has been diffused. Through no real conscious
effort, participants have ascended to a higher common place where
roles have become irrelevant. Our analysis suggests that the safe,
open space created by the group has encouraged participants to relinquish
hierarchical roles and traditionally defined superordinancies for
more egalitarian, mutually respectful inter-relationships.
Being able to share
authentically ones knowledge, beliefs, opinions, and feelings,
is the bedrock of the group; commitment to authenticity is critical
to the success of the group. Mary expressed this well when she said,
The group is becoming so intimate that honesty is an imperative.
However, several situations have occurred that threaten authenticity
within the group. One, of course, is the situation that has arisen
among the co-workers discussed earlier in this section; the others
are more reflective of some members apparent discomfort within
the group. The group has hesitated confronting this dilemma and
four women have decided to leave the group. Their leaving is not
perceived as a positive outcome, and at this writing we are not
aware of why they chose to leave. We wonder: Did they find the group
process uncomfortable? Were other members impositional with their
opinions and beliefs? Did they experience a philosophical rift with
the group? Elizabeth stated that these womens leaving is the
result of the groups failure to deal with issues in a forthright
manner: Maybe if we had talked to them about this they might
have stayed. At this writing, the four who left the group
are still unwilling to discuss their decisions beyond a very superficial
and Ethical Responsibility
A more difficult
dilemma we face, perhaps an extension of our problems surrounding
honesty, is related to the responsibility we have to one another
as it relates to the more personal sides of ourselves. More specifically,
recent concern over one members apparent emotional problems
caused Lucy to raise the question: To what extent do we intercede
in one anothers lives? If a group member develops a
behavioral problem, such as chronic depression, personal anxiety,
alcoholism, or an eating disorder, is it the role or responsibility
of the group to confront that issue?
Also, as our group
matures, closer relationships will develop among some of the members.
If, for example, two women within the group were to develop a romantic
relationship, what sort of effect would this intervening personal/social
factor have on the group? The sharing and support found in our group
encourages close ties and intimate relationships. Yet, much in the
way that nepotism can violate equity in the workplace, such relationships
could threaten the constructive dynamics of the group. We wonder
if future close relationships, or at worse, the dissolution of those
relationships, will affect the groups mission and purpose.
Issues of morality
and ethics complicate the discussion as we debate these questions
and we have not come to any consensus about how, or if, we would
handle such problems. Though composed of successful
and powerful women leaders, the group has exhibited stereotypical
female gender-linked behavior: we have hesitated to surface those
issues that begin bubbling in the sidebars for fear of offending
others, hurting others through confrontation, damaging fledgling
relationships, and altering the groups dynamics. As the group
evolves, we do know that we will need to be gently confrontational
and deal with these issues if and when they arise. This, too, must
become the work of the group.
group has had many successes, but has also uncovered many concerns.
Though initially we did not begin with a stated value of democratic
leadership, we have all come to characterize many of our leadership
challenges as an effort to democratize our leadership style. The
process of collaboration has helped us to name our challenges and
identify our struggles. This is just one of many benefits of collaboration
that we have grown to appreciate. The benefits of having many minds
apply their unique talents to a specific problem or issue adds a
dimension to our group that many of us find lacking in our workplaces.
The recognition of the value of collaboration has increased our
commitment to the development of a democratic workplace.
Though we are convinced
of the Wellsprings value to each of us individually, we continue
to be concerned about the effect our efforts are having on our respective
organizations. The impact we have in the lives of our organizations
and professions is primary; we all want to make positive contributions.
Perhaps our overarching
conclusion is the difficulty of creating authentic experiences for
ourselves and for the others with whom we share our lives. This
struggle for authenticity takes on many dimensions. We struggle
to make the Wellspring experience authentic. How do we create an
environment that is safe? How do we peel away the defense mechanisms
we carry with us in other social settings? How do we remain authentic
when sometimes an authentic response would threaten other members?
How much challenge or disagreement is appropriate in this setting?
To date, the Wellspring members have avoided confrontations and
disagreements, we wonder if this will continue and also wonder what
will happen if it does not continue.
to our concerns about authenticity relates to our future research
efforts. Can participant observers report honestly about experiences
in which they are intimately involved? As researchers, we wonder
how we will balance issues of safety and trust with the need to
report accurately the experiences of the group. We realize that
the groups verification of data is imperative if we are to
maintain the integrity of our research. This too will become the
work of the group.
As our struggles
to develop our authentic selves as educators, leaders, women, and
researchers continue, we all gain a greater appreciation for how
difficult it is to incorporate the values of democracy into our
lives. We struggle with how we will become more generous and generative;
how we will respect autonomy, yet share a collective purpose; and
how we will prioritize our own and the groups learning and
development. These questions have not dampened our efforts and enthusiasm,
but have given us a new appreciation for the work that lies ahead.
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E. Hackney is the Dean of Graduate Studies at Ursuline College.
Dr. Diane Runnestrand
is Assistant Professor for the TAP Program at Ursuline College.