Leadership Studies Ed.D. Dissertations


Tempered Radicals and Servant Leaders: Portraits of Spirited Leadership Amongst African Women Leaders

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Judy Alston


There have been few studies on experiences of African women in leadership. In this study, I aimed at contributing to bridging that literature gap by adding the voices of African women leaders who live and work in or near Nairobi Kenya in East Africa. The purpose of this study was to explore, explain and seek to understand women’s leadership through the lived experiences of sixteen women leaders from Africa. The study was an exploration of how these women leaders navigated the intersecting oppressive forces emanating from gender, culture, religion, social norm stereotypes, race, marital status and age as they attempted to lead for social justice. The central biographical methodology utilized for this study was portraiture, with the express aim of celebrating and learning from the resiliency and strength of the women leaders in the face of adversities and challenges to their authority as leaders. Leadership is influence and a process of meaning making amongst people to engender commitment to common goals, expressed in a community of practice. I presented short herstories of eleven of the women leaders, and in depth portraits of the other five who best illustrated and expanded the a priori conceptual framework. The study contributes to the understanding of leadership by adding the voices of African women to the debates on leadership experiences and expressions. The conceptual framework consisted of three elements: Africana spirituality, tempered radicalism and servant leadership. The data demonstrated that the three elements combined to produce what I have referred to as spirited leadership. As servant leaders, the women empower their constituents, build or reconstruct community, heal both themselves and their constituents, and enact service because it brings them fulfillment. As tempered radicals, the women portrayed a range of strategies from quiet resistance, to utilizing personal threats as learning opportunities, acting as intercultural boundary spanners, leveraging small wins and collectivizing among others. Spirituality served as a source for direction and purpose in life and leadership, a source of leadership practices and strength in the midst of challenges. Put together, all these resulted in spirited leaders who are both tempered radicals and servant leaders.