Women Leaders in ILA's Women and Leadership Community: Leadership Lessons We All Can Grow From
Karen A. Longman: Leadership Grounded in Faith
by Randal Joy Thompson
Randal Joy Thompson is an International Development Scholar-Practitioner and Founder of the company Excellence, Equity, and Empowerment.
The backstories of the many high caliber women leaders in ILA’s Women and Leadership member community offer valuable lessons for young women moving into leadership positions and inspire all women leaders to keep pushing, sometimes against all odds, to break the barriers that women face. This article is the third in a series that highlights women in the community and shares their stories of perseverance and exceptional achievement. Sketches of their personal lives also provide us a view into how high achieving women balance their work and home lives. Karen A. Longman, professor at Azusa Pacific University, is one of the founders of the Women and Leadership community and is co-editor of ILA’s Women and Leadership book series. She brings a faith perspective to her leadership and to her academic writing and is another example of the diverse backgrounds and high caliber of ILA’s members.
Karen A. Longman: Leadership Grounded in Faith
Numerous recent studies have examined the motivators that influence the leadership aspirations and experiences of women, among them the desire to invest fully in a meaningful cause, sensing a calling to leadership, or being affirmed in areas of giftedness that contribute to organizational effectiveness. For some women, recognizing the platform that such positions provide to empower and collaborate with others is the impetus for stepping into leadership. For Karen A. Longman, professor and Ph.D program director in the Department of Higher Education at Azusa Pacific University (located in Southern California), these motivators have shaped a career of teaching and research that has focused on leadership development for women and people of color working in faith-based higher education.
Along her professional journey, the International Leadership Association (ILA) has provided a professional “home” for Karen, beginning with a round-table session she led at the 2009 Prague conference titled, “Women and Leadership in Higher Education.” It was from that informal conversation that a decade-long professional partnership with ILA member Susan R. Madsen emerged. Working together with others, Susan and Karen envisioned and launched ILA’s Women and Leadership Affinity Group (WLAG), recently renamed the Women and Leadership member community, that currently involves more than 1,000 participants.
In recognition of her significant contributions to women’s leadership development and research related to this area of study, Karen received the community’s Award for Outstanding Scholarship for Established Scholars at ILA’s 2019 Women and Leadership conference in Scotts Valley, California. Criteria for recipients of this award include having focused their professional work on advancing the understanding of women in leadership across sectors and having published and presented theoretical, empirical, or applied research in a variety of mediums for at least five years. Karen fully met these criteria, having presented nearly 90 academic papers, workshops, and invited lectures since 2008, most recently including three presentations at the 2019 Ethnographic and Qualitative Research Conference (EQRC). The EQRC has also recognized Karen’s professional accomplishments in the field by granting her its 2018 Distinguished Scholar Award.
Karen’s interests and passions span the world, having lived and/or taught in Austria, Norway, and several countries of Asia. Her contributions to nonprofit organizations have included lengthy stints on the board of directors of two international organizations and her current role on the board of trustees at Greenville University (IL), where she served as vice president for academic affairs prior to moving to Southern California. While finding joy in opportunities for extensive international travel, Karen’s sense of “home” is rooted in West Michigan, where a four-generation summer cottage embodies the meaning of “summer” for her.
In addition to intentional commitments to family and friends, Karen’s contributions to the leadership field also include a recent co-editor position on a Special Issue of Administrative Sciences focused on “Perspectives on Women’s Higher Education Leadership from Around the World,” co-editing (with ILA members Susan R. Madsen and Faith Wambura Ngunjiri) the seven-volume book series “Women and Leadership” produced by the ILA in conjunction with Information Age Publishing, and her co-editing of a peer-reviewed academic journal titled Christian Higher Education: An International Journal of Research, Theory, and Practice.
After earning her Ph.D. at The University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher Education, Karen began her career in Washington, D.C. by serving for 19 years as Vice President for Professional Development and Research at the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU), an international association that now serves over 180 institutions that link faith with academic excellence. As part of her work at the CCCU, Karen designed and led an executive leadership development initiative that included targeted leadership development for women and people of color and has served over 500 participants over the past 20 years.
The senior-level leadership of most of the CCCU’s North American member institutions, which represent over 35 Christian denominations, has historically been predominantly white and male, although demographic trends reflect slow but steady increases in the number of women and people of color serving in cabinet-level roles. Much of Karen’s research and professional commitment has focused on “changing the face of leadership” to be more inclusive, in response to a theological conviction that honors and affirms the potential and giftedness of all people. As she explains:
My conviction is that Christian higher education should be leading the way in terms of modeling a kingdom perspective that values the gifts and abilities of each individual. There’s a powerful verse in the letter of Saint Paul to the church in Ephesus: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (2:10, New International Version). Our job is to spot potential, affirm that potential, build people up, and deploy the natural talents that have been built into them to accomplish the “good works” they’ve been designed to bring to our world.
Involvement on a faculty member’s research team is required of all students during their second and third years of coursework and Karen’s research agenda over the years has often involved a group of three to six students in the Higher Education Ph.D. program at Azusa Pacific University. Various research projects have focused on the motivators and barriers that influence the aspirations and leadership experiences of women who work in male-normed organizational cultures. For example, three sources of motivation for women to consider or advance into leadership have been identified for women working within the context of Christian higher education: (1) having an awareness of giftedness or calling that contributes to leadership confidence; (2) responding to “relational responsibility” either to an individual or to the mission of the institution that prompts advancement into leadership; (3) benefiting from a variety of developmental relationships, often in the form of role models, mentors, or sponsors.
In relation to the first motivator of awareness of giftedness or calling, Karen’s research team found that women of faith often felt (and responded to) a stewardship responsibility to use their abilities for the benefit of their institutions. Accordingly, they accepted leadership roles, not out of personal ambition, but because they were aware of their abilities and desired to more fully invest themselves in furthering the mission of the institutions where they served. Karen’s co-authored chapter, “The Role of Purpose and Calling in Women’s Leadership Experiences,” in Susan Madsen’s 2017 edited volume Handbook of Research on Gender and Leadership Development explores this motivator in greater depth.
The concept of “relational responsibility” as a second motivator for women to advance into leadership relates to an altruistic commitment to invest in the wellbeing of others. In some cases, relational responsibility involved responding to a specific request from a senior leader for support (e.g., the president urging a high-potential woman to apply for the provost’s position) while in other cases, the sense of responsibility emerged from the encouragement of colleagues or people positionally “below” the emerging leader. Similar to the literature related to an ethic of care or “care for the institution,” some women agreed to step into leadership because they sensed the need to bring their abilities to advance the organization’s mission in constructive ways. Karen explored this motivator in her co-authored article, “Relational Responsibility as a Motivator for Women to Lead,” published in 2018 in the Journal of Leadership Studies (volume 18, number 1). [ILA members, log in to gain free access to the Journal of Leadership Studies and this article.]
The importance of women being supported by a constellation of relationships beyond their own organization has emerged from several of the studies undertaken by Karen and her research teams. In a recent article titled, “The Secret Sauce: How Developmental Relationships Shape the Leadership Journey of Women Leaders in Christian Higher Education,” she and her co-authors (APU Ph.D. students) investigated the extent to which developmental relationships such as mentoring, coaching, and sponsorship were significant in the leadership journeys of 30 emerging and current women leaders in the CCCU. When asked to identify that factors that influenced their leadership journey, various relationships (both formal and informal in nature) were typically among the first responses. The distinctive roles of mentors, coaches, and sponsors were also examined, with few of the participants reporting having experienced the benefits of access to a coaching relationship. Particularly when facing professional challenges (e.g., issues related to organizational culture and limited opportunities, perceived sexism, and self-perceptions of leader identity), the benefits of having a constellation of developmental relationships beyond one’s own institution were evident. In short, the authors advocate that such relationships are a key ingredient in the “secret sauce” of leadership success in this context.
Overall, Karen credits her involvement with ILA as providing a “constellation of developmental relationships” with colleagues and friends that has brought significant opportunities for publishing and presenting her research, advancing a cause that Karen views to be her life’s work. As an encouragement to other ILA members, Karen offered this personal note in conclusion:
Who would have guessed that the people I met at a round-table discussion during the 2009 ILA conference in Prague would lead to a network of friends and colleagues who have so enriched my life? Much of the research that has shaped the past decade of my career has been encouraged and shaped by conversations at ILA conferences and the ILA Women and Leadership book series (Information Age Publishing) represents a significant contribution that advances the field. I am well aware that the “stuff of life” is relationships, and ILA has provided a platform to develop some of the most meaningful relationships of my life. For that gift, I am grateful.