Imagery of Regent people and campus

Dissertation Abstract

Leadership in At-Risk Communities: The Case of Myles Horton

James Randall Wallace
February 2007

Nearly every study of leadership has focused on privileged groups such as professionals or senior executives. What has been conspicuously absent are studies focusing on leaders in at-risk or distressed communities. These are sometimes referred to as communities of poverty. Bennis (2001) and Burns (2003) both identified the need for leadership research to address the chronic problem of the alleviation of poverty and the need for grassroots leadership from the poor to accomplish the task. This research examined, through a mixed method research design in which case study is nested within content analysis, Myles Horton, a proven developer of leaders in at-risk and distressed communities. A grounded theory of leadership in at-risk communities and the components of communal residence, radical subordination, reconciliation, reframing, restoration of people and community, and responsibility are explained. This leadership theory is referred to as incarnational leadership due to its reliance on a worldview incorporating kenosis, love, and justice. Incarnational leadership exhibits elements from key theories such as social identity, self-efficacy, learned helplessness, creative and applied problem solving, empowerment, risk in society, change and tipping points, optimism, resilience, the psychology of forgiveness, logotherapy, and hope. Incarnational leadership is compared and contrasted to transforming and transformational leadership, servant leadership, self-sacrificial leadership, and authentic leadership theories.