What does a lifetime of leadership look like?
By Alicia Reynaga ’22
Ronald Riggio, Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology, received the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Leadership Association during the 22nd Annual Global Conference in November 2020. Professor Riggio has authored over a dozen books and hundreds of research articles regarding leadership scholarship in I-O psychology, Social Psychology, followership, inclusivity, charisma, and many more.
As a part of the Leadership Legacy Program, ILA recognizes two honorees each year for their “significant lifetime contributions including prominent published works, influential support of the body of leadership knowledge, and practice.” This recognition is one of the many testaments to the talents of professors in the CMC community and their global contributions to prominent scholarship. Professor Riggio says as a longtime member of the ILA community, who has served on the committee that chose past honorees, it was humbling to be included amongst such dignified scholars. He said, “It is motivating and makes me want to do so much more.” However, Professor Riggio believes that leadership scholarship does not exist within a vacuum, and that without the devoted research and observations of his students he would not be able to achieve such feats. “I work in teams. Whether in student research teams, or with colleagues, or even faculty here. It’s kind of like leadership, the award is really for the team: the colleagues and students that I have had throughout the years”
For Professor Riggio, reflecting on his legacy of leadership studies comprises mainly a study of observing how communication can lead to certain behaviors and relationships. When asked about some of his greatest challenges he has faced as a scholar in leadership studies, Riggio affirmed, “Leadership is fantastically complex. It is, at its heart, a relationship, but it’s a very unique relationship.” The complexities of leadership studies only continue to vary from person to person, with some of the newer complexities emerging as a result of newer studies on leadership from a non-Western perspective. “Early research focused on the leader, specifically the person in the leadership role, however, we do not know much about global contexts of leadership.”
Dominant practices that characterize how we look at leadership studies are predominately shaped under Western scholars, focusing on typically White males. Riggio highlighted how an increasing number of leadership scholars are looking at leadership under the guise of personal contexts such as culture, gender, race, and socio-economic status.
When looking at the exclusion of minority voices from leadership scholarship, it is clear that leadership studies need to adapt and reinforce more inclusive practices. As an editor of Inclusive Leadership: Transforming Diverse Lives, Workplaces, and Societies, Professor Riggio said that his support of inclusive leadership practices is not recent and, “Inclusive Leadership is something that I’ve been concerned about for many years, but it took a while to create the annual Kravis-de Roulet Conference that allowed us to bring renowned researchers and practitioners in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion to Claremont.” In politics, Professor Riggio mentioned it is especially clear that leadership is reliant on wealth and other external factors that give greater influential power to who can become a leader.
When asked about his opinion on the areas of leadership scholarship that need to be modified in order to be more applicable to the diverse roles of contemporary leaders, he mentioned that companies need to approach leadership with less emphasis on a top-down approach, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Leaders must develop new strategies for managing teams and supervising projects that do not rely on “micromanaging, which is one thing we already know doesn’t work”. Professor Riggio said, “We have learned however, that performance and productivity of teams does not have to diminish because of remote work, but leaders do need to provide the right kind of support to team members. The leadership challenge is how do you motivate people at a distance when you do not have that ability to interact in the same way?”
As a former student of Professor Riggio, joining the Kravis Leadership Institute became a natural progression for developing my skillsets as both a leader and a follower. I am grateful that I have been able to learn under Professor Riggio, because as someone who will be entering the workforce very soon, his course has been the most applicable in regards to understand the qualities needed to be an active follower and learning how to foster enriching relationships with leaders that I admire.
“Leadership is really about leaders and followers working together, taking into account the context in order to achieve shared outcomes.” – Professor Ronald Riggio