What makes a good leader? Are the desired qualities the same the world over and in every field? Those questions were at the heart of Emma Fieldhouse’s research as a 2017 IDRC Research Award Recipient. “There is a lack of clarity on how conceptions of leaders might differ across regions,” says Fieldhouse. “The perspective of Southern leaders is noticeably absent.”
Fieldhouse focused on four leadership development programs for young researchers in the Global South to learn about how they conceptualize leadership, how they integrate gender and equity considerations, and how they define and evaluate the successes of their programs. Program participants described what good leadership in their contexts meant to them, and the challenges they faced in getting there.
For programs and participants, becoming a leader wasn’t seen as an end in itself, but as a means of achieving downstream positive effects on institutions and communities. For example, Emma found that women taking part in one program faced great challenges in being accepted as leaders in their communities, “yet they were so determined to persevere and succeed so they could make life better for others.”
Fieldhouse learned that emerging leaders in the South overwhelmingly believe that interpersonal skills are the most essential leadership elements, even in the realm of research. That includes collaboration, building trust, empathy, and nurturing other leaders. “Knowing this is important in order to assess success, because if we get this wrong, we could be evaluating things that don’t really matter, or we could be further marginalizing perspectives and experiences that should matter,” she says.