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Positionality and Cultural Agility in Leadership Development

Due to globalization and the expansion of digital spaces, cultural agility is more important than ever. Leaders who are culturally agile can understand, appreciate and interact with people from various cultural backgrounds. In Marisa and Simon Cleveland’s article, “Culturally Agile Leadership: A Relational Leadership Development Approach,” the authors discuss how a leader’s positionality and cultural agility impact their organization. Furthermore, they explore how leadership development programs can help cultivate leaders’ cultural agility.

Positionality and Cultural Agility

Positionality acknowledges that a person’s experiences and identity shape their views and biases. Each person may be influenced by their age, race, gender, social class, nationality and other factors. In leadership, positionality refers to leaders’ ability to recognize and understand how their self-identifications affect their abilities.

In their article, Marisa and Simon Cleveland note that today’s societies are more diverse than in the past. Therefore, race is a major factor leaders should consider when building more inclusive workplaces. Additionally, the authors refer to Kezar and Lester’s 2010 study which found that women’s leadership is more “participatory, relational and interpersonal.” Based on these findings, leaders should be aware of their relation to others in order to understand and guide them.

Leadership Development

Leaders at different levels are essential for an organization’s success. For this reason, companies are investing more resources and time into leadership development programs.

Eich identified three components of high-quality leadership programs: participants involved in building and maintaining a learning community, student-centered learning experiences, and continuously developing research-based programs. Additionally, Cullen-Lester suggest that forming and using networks can improve leadership abilities. Therefore, networking incorporated into leadership programs can develop cultural agility.  


Leadership is influence. —John C. Maxwell

To be a culturally agile leader, Marisa and Simon Cleveland advise that leaders reflect on themselves and their interactions with others and recognize what each person contributes. They can also further develop their skills by participating in leadership development programs that incorporate networking and mentoring. Subsequently, they can then understand and influence others in ways that will positively impact their organizations and, by extension, society.

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