Decolonized Leadership

What does decolonized leadership look like?, I am frequently asked. Compassionate, empathetic, vulnerable leaders? Servant leaders? Leaders who listen? Yes, and: it’s not about the individual.

Everyone has the potential to lead, and leadership is about listening and being attuned to everyone else. It’s about flexibility. It’s about humility. It’s about trust. It’s about having fun along the way. It is more about holding space for others’ brilliance than being the sole source of answers, more about flexible shapeshifting to meet the oncoming challenges than holding fast to a five-year strategic plan.

We have to shift from our obsession with individual leaders to a focus on organizational design, which tends to be taken for granted and invisible in most of our institutions.

Fortunately, conversations about new kinds of organizational design have been exploding recently. There’s a sea change happening, moving us away from the colonized hierarchical pyramid structure, with its command-and-control leadership, to a realization of how everyone has leadership potential. Businesses have been at the forefront of experimenting with organizational models that transcend the colonized mindset of division, control, and exploitation; now it’s time for the fields of philanthropy and finance to follow their lead, in order to heal divides and restore balance.


An enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, Edgar Villanueva is the chair of the board of Native Americans in Philanthropy, a trustee of the Andrus Family Fund, and the vice president of programs and advocacy at the Schott Foundation for Public Education. Follow @VillanuevaEdgar and @DecolonizWealth on Twitter.  Decolonizing Wealth is available to purchase at all major booksellers and many local bookstores. 

Edgar Villanueva