Leadership Development in the Deaf Community

Coaching situation

Deaf community Leadership development

Scenario topic

Community Communication Access

Topic Focal point

Interpreter Shortage


Various Deaf individuals with little or no prior leadership expertise

Key findings

Deaf and Hard of Hearing (D/HH) leaders tend to lack a full understanding of leadership or else have a limited scope of leadership, which has continuously led to unfulfilled community objectives or else inaction by community leadership groups. This “failure of leadership” has led to the reliance on those with little or no understanding to dedicate how policy is formed as it relates to the D/HH Community.


Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990 and amended in 2008. ADA is a civil rights law aimed at helping people with disabilities fair opportunities to live prosperous and fulfilling lives as citizens of the United States. ADA includes a section covering effective communication to help the D/HH in their communication needs related to employment, medical, and various other services.  Two of the most often used communication auxiliaries used by those with hearing loss are Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) and Sign Language Interpreters. On the street, these resources are critical as they allow D/HH people to become inclusive into the society in which they reside. While CART and interpreters are plentiful in the state of Nebraska, the supply has not been able to keep pace with the demand. D/HH leaders have long left the responsibility of advocating for these resources to state and federal organizations. While policies have been helpful, the actual work of implementing those state and federal regulations and policies starts at the street level. When D/HH leaders chose to remain inactive in advocating for the needs of their communities, they allow those who are illiterate to influence policymaking that impacts their lives and communication needs despite the protections forded to the D/HH community by ADA.


There are various organizations at the street level that have many excellent policy ideas that never come to fruition due to community leaders’ inability to create and carry through with action plans.

Interventions and Plans

Provide group leadership development through coaching methodology (ACHIEVE Model) and team rapport to educate street-level leaders that they may come to understand how to use their skills and talents to be effective leaders.

The objective being to inspire street-level leaders to assemble a harmonious and creative team to spur action at the street-level.

Reason for Intervention

Intervention in D/HH leadership issues at the street-level is long overdue. Many D/HH people aspire to become leaders in the community, but they do not know how to lead, build sustaining relationships, or establish transforming policies. When they finally figure out how to lead the community, their time has come and the lessons learned are not being passed to the next generation of leaders. This cycle needs to stop; coaching can help leaders realize their potential and how to apply it; thus starting a new cycle of passing the expertise to up and coming leaders.

Applying ACHIEVE Coaching Model

The Deaf and Hard of Hearing community is a unique association of different people from a diversity of backgrounds unified by a single thread. The thread which unites the D/HH community is hearing loss. Many individuals may not subscribe to the same ideals, but they are generally supportive of their peers with hearing loss. D/HH people share a common thread, which is having the inability to communicate effectively without some auxiliary aid. The auxiliary aids can range from hearing aids to sign language interpreters.

In order to coach the D/HH leaders, one must first understand the culture and community background. As Hamill and Stein (2011) point out, many people in the D/HH community have historically been marginalized, received inadequate education, and experienced unjust treatment. These experiences should be enough to explain the community’s resistance to receiving support from their hearing peers. Despite these dire life-impacting ordeals, many D/HH community members have been resilient and overcome many barriers to succeed in life.  Hamill and Stein (2011) also indicate that D/HH members tend to identify themselves as members of an “ethnolinguistic minority” instead of “disabled” (Note – Capitol D identifies cultural identity and lowercase d references hearing loss (Hamill and Stein 2011)). While this is positive and empowering, D/HH community members still must “negotiate their views and values within the larger dominant social narrative” (Hamill and Stein 2011). Through group think, many innovative and brilliant D/HH individuals have abounded transformative ideas, which could lead the community to a better status among the dominant society.  Thus traditional means of leadership, which have been ineffective, dominate community organizations at the street levels. It is critical to understand all this as a coach should one wish to aid D/HH leadership teams in their goal to help the D/HH community achieve better status and standing among the dominant social structure.

This author’s empirical observation of D/HH leaders has been that such individuals seek change and have good intentions, but do not carry through on their intentions. Action is only taken when a/the situation(s) attain a breaking point. In other words, D/HH leadership action is comparable to a fire department. Meaning the community leaders are dormant when it comes to advocating for the needs of their fellow D/HH citizens until a situation is at a breaking point. When things reach the “breaking point,” a situation has surpassed the preparation phase of the crisis life cycle and jumped right to the emergency phase. At this point, leadership teams scramble to contain the situation and seek support at the national level to manage a street-level crisis.

In the field of organizational management, research shows that the crisis life cycle has three main parts which are preparation phase, emergency phase, and adaptive phase which can be broken down further as depicted in the following diagram:

(Chandler, 2010)

The author’s empirical observation has detected that street-level D/HH leaders tend to bypass the preparation phase (which includes the warning and risk assessment segments of the phase) and jump straight to the response segment of a crisis. This is similar to a fire department; they remain dormant until they receive a phone for help. However, unlike a fire department, the D/HH community never reaches the recovery segment of the adaptive phase. Leaders tend to combat the crisis (response segment of Emergency phase), get it under control with external assistance (management segment of Emergency phase) and make sure the situation has little or no chance of returning (resolution segment of emergency phase) then the cycle ends. This is an ineffective way to handle a crisis. D/HH leaders lack the awareness and understanding of how to avoid getting to the emergency phase and how to recover from the crisis so that it is a win-win situation for both the organization they represent and the community they support. Kinley and Jonsen (2012) noted that:

it is entirely natural for decision-making groups, whatever their motivations and guidelines, […] to suppress information flow, have more extreme attitudes, make more extreme judgments, be less flexible in adapting their approach to changing circumstances and – yet amazingly – have greater confidence in their decisions

this statement is very true in the D/HH community. The authors’ observations have detected that such attitudes are the results of “Groupthink.” In so many words, groupthink is the act of making collective decisions “together,” thus discouraging individuality and creative thinking, which could spur transformation. In the D/HH community, leadership development has revolved around tradition from past leaders who were successful during their representative era’s. Kinley and Jonsen (2012) also state that groupthink tends to lead to bad decisions as opposed to individual leader decisions. They also recommend the use of coaching as one solution to avoiding group think (Kinley and Jonsen, 2012, pp 714).

To apply a coaching model in a team coaching situation, a coach should first get to know the team and build rapport using  Bruce Tuckman’s Group Development model known as Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing for the team initialization then follow up with Coaching methodology.

In the case of the D/HH community ACHIEVE was chosen, the seven stages are as follow:

  • A

    ssess the current situation

  • C

    reative brainstorming of alternatives

  • H

    one goals

  • I

    nitiate options

  • E

    valuate options

  • V

    alid action programme design

  • E

    ncourage momentum

(Dembkowski, Eldridge, and Hunter 2006)

The ACHIEVE model, which gets its roots from the GROW model (Ben-Hur, Kinley, and Jonsen 2012); seems to be the most effective choice to coach the D/HH community toward its leadership development goals and help them break from past leadership traditions which have been ineffective. The first step of Assessing the current situation will force leaders to recognize that they are following an ineffective leadership system that stymies growth. In the process the leaders can also be made aware of how things stand in terms of the goals and issues they seek to tackle (e.g. the interpreter shortage issue). Each step after that will provide a different focus on both leadership development needs and community goal pursuing. The coach will take into account all the variables related to culture and history to guide leaders while following the steps of the ACHIEVE model. All the while, the coach will document how the team progresses through Tuckman’s Group Development model and eliminate group think habits such as:

  • suppress dissent
  • focus discussion on things that they already agree about rather than things they disagree about
  • have more extreme attitudes and judgments on a wide array of issues and decisions than the individuals within the group
  • have greater confidence in the correctness of their decisions and attitudes than individuals
  • lead individuals to publicly endorse decisions and attitudes that they view as normal for the group, despite privately holding reservations

(Ben-Hur, Kinley, and Jonsen 2012)

This coaching process can be challenging as it relies on how the group progresses from the forming stage to the norming stage of Tuckman’s Group Development Model.  Progress through the seven steps of the ACHIEVE model may prove to be easier once the group reaches the norming stage in the team development life cycle.


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    The Journal of Management Development; Bradford

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    The Seven Steps of Effective Executive Coaching

    . London: Thorogood.


    (October 6, 2019).
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    Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology

    21(5): 388–406.
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    International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching & Mentoring

    17(2): 174–88.