SLC logo

Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc.
Caring for Our People with Disabilities & Chronic Illness

"Making life better!"

Computer-based training at Turtle MountainLeadership: Reservation Style

More and more, we hear talk of the need to ‘walk in two worlds’, to be able to succeed both on the reservation and off of it. There are few matters in which those two worlds are completely separate, and leadership is no exception. Leadership means an understanding and sensitivity toward others.

You cannot lead other people and not understand them. It means being aware of the motives of individuals without being judgmental.

As a teacher in a classroom, a vocational rehabilitation counselor or a health care worker, you are a leader both in your organization and the community. The students and clients you serve, their families,are all looking to you as the expert. You will be more effective in that role if you have some knowledge about leadership in reservation communities.


A key task for leaders in any culture is to learn the difference between criticism and personal dislike. At times this is not too difficult, but there are times when it is very hard to do. Leadership means the ability to withstand criticism because leaders are constantly criticized. Being a good listener will help. Most leaders profess they are good listeners, but they aren’t. A good leader/listener is able to learn something about him/herself from every conversation.


When there is a crisis a leader has to be able to determine a solution as quickly as possible and have the courage to implement that solution. Leadership is the ability to problem solve. Leadership is the ability to make decisions and take responsibility for their consequences. Leaders who can’t make a decision or take responsibility for a decision they made are despised and held up to ridicule. Courage has been a Dakota tradition for a thousand years. There have been many great leaders who built the strength of the Dakota people click here to go to a page of leadership examples in Dakota History.

Leadership – Reservation Style
A leader on an Indian Reservation has to possess a variety of leadership and managerial skills in addition to the skills taught in a typical MBA program. He/she also has to have knowledge of Indian people, social and economic conditions on reservation and a good sense of humor.
A key to leadership on a reservation is getting people to like you. Holding your tempers, never shouting at people, never putting people down are a must for a leader if he/she wants to lead for a long time. Generally speaking, reservation people, unlike non-Indians will not follow a person who offends them. Non-Indians might say, "I do not like him, but I follow him because I respect him", while reservation people will refuse, when possible, to follow a person they do not like. This is contrary to conventional wisdom that says leaders have to realize they will not be liked by everyone. On reservations, people tend to take a look at the whole person. If they do not believe you are a good person, your knowledge of budgets, contacts in Washington or degrees will not make you a good leader in their eyes. Generosity is another key virtue a reservation leader must possess. Nothing will turn people against a leader more than should they be perceived as stingy, and not willing to help other people.

NEXT arrowDakota values and leadership

Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc. -- P.O.Box 663, 314 Circle Dr., Fort Totten, ND 58335 Tel: (701) 351-2175 Fax: (800) 905 -2571
Email us at: