Rooted in community: Indigenous-influenced leadership

Kendra Lowden, MS, EdD candidate. Director of Leadership and Tribal Initiatives at CWEL.
Kendra Lowden, EdD Candidate, MS
Director of Leadership and Tribal Initiatives
April 9th, 2024
Kendra Lowden and colleague hold up an Indigenous blanket.

Healthy work cultures—we all want them, but how do they start? Creating a healthy organizational culture is often the responsibility of leaders. In child welfare agencies, those in leadership positions need to be mindful of how their leadership styles impact employee recruitment and retention.

Western leadership can widely vary. From top-down management to methods valuing innovation. In contrast, Indigenous leadership offers a way to transform mainstream leadership—by using community, harmony, and collective well-being.

Indigenous communities use a people-centered approach to leadership. Under this, cultural practices and beliefs are cornerstones of relationships. The care and well-being of others are prioritized in decision-making. Along with a focus on the long-term best interest of the community.

Mno bmadzewen is an Anishinaabe concept meaning to live a good life in a balanced way. Within this worldview, meaningful connections are formed with each person in the community. This interconnectedness with all people is a bedrock for effective relational leadership.

Like with Indigenous leadership practices, relational leadership styles acknowledge the importance of cultivating relationships. This should include professionals at all levels. Not just staff in decision-making roles.

Relational leaders shift thinking from short-term to long-term. They invest in developing strong relationships. This way, team members know their value, and the organization is positioned to be a strong one that can sustain challenges.

Since time immemorial, Indigenous ways of leading have been rooted in culture and community. Leaders practicing with a relational mindset can foster strong collaboration and trust in organizations. Developing a culture of community where every person feels valued and respected leads to enhanced teamwork, shared goals, and greater success for child welfare organizations.