Leadership Development through Mentoring in Higher Education: A Collaborative Autoethnography of Leaders of Color

Sep. 01, 2014

Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, Vol. 22, No. 4, 373–389, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this collaborative autoethnography, the authors explored how 14 faculty and administrators of color, identified as emerging leaders within their campus context, experienced mentoring and how these experiences have impacted their leadership development and sense of well-being in the higher education context.

This qualitative research project employed collaborative autoethnography (CAE) as its research method. CAE is a methodological variation of autoethnography in which the researcher utilizes his/her autobiographical data as a window into the understanding of a social phenomenon.

Fourteen participants from 12 different higher education institutions in United States ultimately joined the research project in July 2011 and continued with the study through December 2011. The participants held institutional roles of dean, program director/assistant director, and department chair; some simultaneously held a faculty appointment at the rank of assistant, associate, or full professor with or without tenure.

Data were collected in three ways: (a) responses to monthly writing prompts and related online discussion, (b) monthly virtual focus groups, and (c) document collection.


In this study, the authors provided evidence of the importance of supportive, developmental professional relationships in the lives of emerging leaders in higher education, especially among people of color. Leaders of color in faith-based higher education identified such relationships, involving psychosocial and career development functions, as fairly limited within their institutional settings.

The findings reveal that the male participants in this study had sought out professional mentoring in and outside their institutions. However, female leaders tended to rely on personal relationships for psychosocial support even related to professional matters.

Many of the participants noted that the four-day of the project alone had become a platform to establish professional mentoring relationships. The participants, discovered that many of them were lonely in their own institutions as people of color and had few sustaining professional mentors. They exposed to each other scars to their souls that had occurred when colleagues implied their incompetence, distrusted their accomplishments, or stole their ideas and presented them as their own. The participants communicated to one another about job opportunities, read each other’s professional work for comments, encouraged each other for writing and publications, and invited others to present together at conferences.
Serendipitously, participants formed a mentoring circle and pledged support to one another within the constellation of developmental relationships developed at the project. This self-reflective and other-analytic process of collaborative auto-ethnography unexpectedly provided missing links to their professional developmental relationships.

In summary, the development of leaders of color through formal and informal developmental relationships is vital, in part related to the changing demographics of the United States and higher education itself. The development of leaders of color can take place in short-term relationships that provide encouragement beyond institutional boundaries as evidenced in this case. The authors argue that personal and institutional factors contributed to the participants’ limited access to professional mentoring within their higher education contexts. The findings from this research project emphasize the importance of institutional leaders, colleagues, and individuals themselves accessing information and promoting relationships that provide the benefits of mentoring to broader constituencies within academe.

Updated: Mar. 15, 2017