Author: Louise Santiago

Why Communities of Practice Are Essential to Equity Work

“Diversity is being invited to the dance. Inclusion is being asked to Dance. Equity is allowing you to choose the Music.”― Cynthia Olmedo

Equity — just how important is it to you, to your team, to your organization? In previous posts, I’ve been sharing the deep, introspective work that is required for leaders who want to be guardians of equity. However, it can be frustrating when not everyone shares your sense of urgency on equity.

I had the opportunity to consult with an equity team recently who felt challenged by their sense of urgency. This group of volunteers agreed to take a look at equity issues within their organization and, from this bird’s eye view, make some recommendations. One of their first tasks was to help guide the hiring process of an equity officer. But then they found themselves doing a delicate dance. They needed to balance their own growing passionate perspective for equity while still supporting the new equity director, who would be taking a slower, more corporate approach to change. 

This group didn’t want their passion for equity to burn out so they asked me to come in and consult about how they might continue their work. I shared with them the concept of a Community of Practice and showed them what it could accomplish. They loved the idea, as it gave them permission to continue supporting one another as they worked on their passion while maintaining their distinct role and lens advancing the larger work of the organization.

There is also something incredibly powerful to be gained by doing equity work within a Community of Practice. In Communities of Practice, there are three essential elements: community, domain, and practice. Let’s examine how an intentional adherence to each of these three elements is essential to making lasting change in our equity work.

Community — Share Your Personal History with Equity (or the lack of it!) 

The community element within a Community of Practice is truly about knowing and being known. Think about this in terms of understanding the unique approach each of your team members has when it comes to equity. How well do you know your team members? How well do they know you? Do you understand how their culture and life experiences have influenced their personal definitions of equality, fairness, and equity?

This kind of insight won’t be gained with traditional icebreakers or team games. Rather, Patrick Lencioni, in his book, The Advantage, suggests activities that are about personal history sharing. The goal within a Community of Practice should be to know each other and understand each person’s point of view, how that point of view is shaped, and what their values are. I’ve seen that over time, a Community of Practice can grow to a point where each person can speak and act on behalf of another person with full confidence that they are fully representing that person. That’s a powerful moment!

Domain — Commit to Achieving Equity Through a Shared Sense of Purpose 

A domain is that one thing all members have in common, the focus of their work, or the central, organizing principle. If the goal is to enhance equity with the team or organization, dig deeper. What challenges are drawing us together? What is it about equity that impels each of us to work at a higher level to achieve it? What new narrative for equity within our team can we all fully embrace?

This commitment to the domain sets a Community of Practice apart from other teams or groups. If the level of commitment feels wishy-washy, follow Simon Sinek’s advice on starting with your Why. Discussing this frames the conversation fully. Without that “fire in your belly,” without a shared sense of purpose, your team will struggle to affect change as a Community of Practice.  

Practice — Apply What You’re Learning About Equity in Everyday Life

While community and domain are essential, your individual practice, how you do your work, is the cornerstone of a successful Community of Practice. If the only time you think about equity is when you’re meeting with other members, what’s the point? You bring you to your work. That’s essential. When you don’t bring yourself to your work, simply put, you aren’t there. Your commitment wanes, your concern for others is peripheral, your team doesn’t gel. Nothing changes.

However, when you’re out there growing and evolving as a guardian of equity and you’re implementing a new equicentric leadership model in your day-to-day life, you bring this energy with you to your Community of Practice. Of all three elements, this is the one that only you can control. Who do you want to be in your practice, what do you want to contribute through your work, and how are you a contributing member of your team? 

Being the best version of yourself is more than just a Tony Robbins byline, it’s the work ahead of us as we evolve as a species. What difference can we make while we are here? In terms of equity, there is much work to be done! Equity-centered leadership coaching is an integral part of my work at the Center for Learning Leaders. If you’re ready to make changes and lead with intention and integrity please contact me. 

Women Are Ready — But how can we support each other as we move forward?

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Muriel Strode 

Despite the pandemic, I recently had the fantastic opportunity to attend a virtual event sponsored by Conferences for Women and provide the attendees with pro bono coaching. If you know me at all, you know I love talking to women who are passionate about leadership. I got my wish as I met some amazing women dedicated to their companies, their careers, and their growth. 

My big takeaway from this conference: WOMEN ARE READY.


Women are ready to create a new model in the workplace. The traditional hierarchical model of work doesn’t appeal to many women today. Thankfully, more and more workplace systems acknowledge and support the growth of women in the organization. Some women are even fortunate enough to have women’s networks within their company where they can brainstorm and openly discuss the pros and cons of different workplace systems. If that’s not the case for you, keep reading to discover how you can find or create that kind of support.

Women are ready to fully commit when the benefits are reciprocal. Gone are the days of blind, unswerving loyalty to an employer or organization. Good riddance I say! The women I spoke with find immense satisfaction in loyalty to an organization but they are looking for that loyalty to be reciprocated. Without commitment, women are ready to move on to a company that is ready to receive them.

Women are ready NOW, no more waiting. Mostly I heard from women about their eagerness, impatience, readiness, and deep desire to move forward, up, lateral, and most of all towards growth. That looks different for each person, but it requires intense commitment and support from leadership. Organizations and corporations would do well to take a note out of the pages of education. 

Since I work at the Graduate School of Education at Touro University California, I have a front-row seat to the fast-moving work being done on how to personalize learning. Like students, employees need the same type of personalization. They don’t come in a one-size-fits-most container. They have a complex web of life, work, play, aspirations, and tasks they are weaving into a meaningful whole. For most women, meaning-making is essential if you want them fully engaged.

Do you feel ready? Are you a woman who is tired of waiting for others to figure it out, and doesn’t mind blazing her own trail? You can do it, but you’ll do it faster and enjoy the journey more if you gain support from like-minded colleagues.

My specialty is helping people create that kind of support by building their own network or Community of Practice. This community I can help you create is built around a common concern, issue, passion, or sense of purpose. Imagine having a safe place at work where you are heard, understood, and supported and have the latitude you need to blaze those new trails

However, I also work with women that don’t have the opportunity to build their own network or community. Some of them are self-employed, others are in a transitional phase of their life, and others work in environments that are less than supportive of out-of-the-box thinking. For any woman who’s interested in blazing a new trail, my friend and colleague, Maria Connolly, and I started our collaborative network, The Great Circle Community.

Maria and I know that women are ready, with lots of plans for the future, and often are looking for the right network for support. They want to connect with other women who will help them focus on their aspirations and be held accountable to make progress toward them. The Great Circle Community is the perfect blend of my focus on social learning communities and Maria’s work on somatic coaching where integrated bodywork brings forward the intuitive knowing toward the right next step. Could this be the network you’ve been looking for? If you’re interested in joining the Great Circle Community, learn more here. And if you’re interested in developing your own team or network, learn more here.

Transitioning Out of Fear and into Hope with Collaborative Learning

This has been a year of fear and no wonder with an unprecedented pandemic, insurrection at the Capital, growing tribalism, global warming, economic instability. But instead of getting sucked into and trapped by our fears, “remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know. 

That’s the next stanza of Margaret Wheatley’s poem, “Turning to One Another.” (To read the entire poem take a look at a previous blog.) I’ve been reflecting on this poem over the last few weeks and it finishes on a much-needed positive note.

Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know.

Real listening always brings people closer together.

Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world. 

Rely on human goodness. Stay together.

We are stronger together, even with or maybe even especially because of our different opinions, backgrounds, and stories. We each have goodness within us and meaningful conversations with each other can reveal the goodness, the common purpose, and the stories behind what we care about.

In order to leave fear truly behind and find new solutions to our unprecedented challenges, we need to have an entirely new approach to listening and learning. I’ve created the Center for Learning Leaders because I believe that learning never stops, especially for leaders. Even though I work at the Graduate School of Education at Touro University, a center for learning, I’ve come to believe that there’s so much more to learning than transmitting already known facts. As important as that is, I’m far more passionate about learning what is not yet known and I’ve found that often comes from openly listening to people with very different backgrounds and stories than my own.

In their latest book, Learning to Make a Difference, Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner explore “hope for people who care to make a difference, with a practical and rigorous way to get there…” Yes, please! They discuss the need we have to gather with others who care to make a difference and introduce the concept of social learning spaces.

Imagine being part of a social learning space where every participant or team player…

  • Is listened to and respected for holding their own valuable perspective about the things they care about 
  • Is personally invested in the challenge and is genuine about wanting to make a difference
  • Is a team player, fully grounded in the value of the collective focus
  • Is willing to experiment and live with uncertainty to come up with a brand new idea

I believe in this so much, that I realized I just had to create a masterclass on transforming teams into social learning spaces. By turning to one another, understanding what it is we care about, and being willing to engage in a different way than our static meetings and workflow, we can create amazing new differences in our world. 

If you want to join me for my upcoming webinar, please contact me and let me know to add you to my invite list. Or you can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook where I’ll be sharing the details soon.

Stop Accepting the Unacceptable and Create a Community Committed to Change

Community committed to changeNothing ruins my day more than an encounter with someone who says, “Well, it’s been like that for as long as I’ve been here and there’s nothing anyone can do to change it.” If you hear that enough times, you begin to doubt whether change is even possible. It makes me sad to see leaders and teams fall into this pattern of disempowering acceptance. 

It’s when you feel isolated and alone with a problem that you can find yourself accepting the unacceptable. This brings me back to Margaret Wheatley’s poem, “Turning to One Another.” (To read the entire poem take a look at a previous blog.) I’ve been reflecting on this poem over the last few weeks and this next stanza I find particularly motivating when confronted with the unacceptable.

Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible. 

Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something. 

Know that creative solutions come from new connections.

I love this part of the poem. I want to work with others who care to work on what’s possible. Margaret Wheatley reminds us that each person holds expertise and, collectively, we can come up with new solutions. That’s my vibe, I’m all about collaboration and the synergy of the group that spins one idea off of another until they land on a common direction. It’s powerful.

If you’re a leader, and you’ve observed an unacceptable situation, what should you do next? 

You invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible. How do you start a group of people interested in making a difference in a common purpose? I appreciated this article in the Harvard Business Review, Community-Powered Problem Solving, that shared the need for leaders to think of themselves as community organizers. Before you go out and start creating your community, here are five questions the article recommends you consider that I thought were worth sharing:

  1. What community of individuals from inside the company and across external stakeholders do we need to connect to solve this problem?
  2. What platform (physical or digital forum) does this community need to start connecting in new ways?
  3. What new interactions will community members want to engage in on the platform to design a solution?
  4. What valuable professional experiences will the members get out of these interactions?
  5. What value will this new set of experiences generate for our firm and for the other organizations involved, creating a win for all parties?

While these questions are tailored for businesses and corporations, they can be adapted to many types of organizations. Your goal should be to provide your stakeholders — whether they are employees, colleagues, students, neighbors —  with the means to connect and the freedom to invent new ways to address the problem. 

My favorite approach to working as a team to address a challenge is to create a Community of Practice. Starting your own Community of Practice might sound daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. When I think back over my career, it was when I was part of a Community of Practice that I felt like I made the biggest difference. (Read my post, 4 Reasons Why You Need to Join a Community of Practice, to learn more about the benefits.)

Starting a community is one thing, but how can you ensure that you create an open space where creative solutions have the space to bloom? I’m working on a new architecture for community collaboration that will promote the kind of creative problem-solving we so desperately need right now. If you want to join me for my upcoming webinar, please contact me and let me know to add you to my invite list. Or you can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook where I’ll be sharing the details soon.

Are You a Leader Who’s Brave Enough to Start a Conversation That Matters?

Unfortunately, many people shy away from conversations that matter. In the current political and social climate, it might feel too overwhelming to even try! However, if you want to be an influential leader that inspires your community, these kinds of conversations cannot and should not be avoided. This isn’t talking, tweeting, or shouting, this is conversing, and it comes from a place of vulnerability.

This subject came up for me recently when I read, Margaret Wheatley’s poem, “Turning to One Another.” (To read the entire poem take a look at my last blog, Appreciating the Power of a Collaborative Community — Now more than ever!)

The second stanza of the poem stimulated some thought-provoking questions…


Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters. 

Talk to people you know.

Talk to people you don’t know.

Talk to people you never talk to.


Be intrigued by the differences you hear. 

Expect to be surprised.

Treasure curiosity more than certainty.


So here are the questions that come to mind…

  • Who can you have a brave conversation with — can you find someone you know, don’t know, or someone you would normally never talk to? 
  • What are the brave conversations you need to have? 
  • How can you have a brave conversation? 
  • How can you create a brave space, and listen, openly, to all the differences in the conversation?
  • How can you get to know people you don’t know very well, listen for differences and commonalities, and be curious about other people’s stories?

Before you consider those questions in the context of your own life, let me share with you something helpful. In Peter Block’s book, Community, he describes the difference between conversations and talking. An important distinction, conversations produce something while talking does not. 

Conversations produce…

  • Invitation
  • Possibility
  • Ownership
  • Dissent
  • Commitment
  • Gifts

These are the doors to transformation. This is where brave conversations can begin. 

I try to have brave conversations but then I find myself drifting into talking. I reflect and wonder what is holding me back. I recognize that I simply have more investment in not changing, in keeping that door to transformation closed. Rather than “treasuring curiosity” as in the poem, I treasure the security of not knowing. Rather than expect surprise, I fear surprise. What if I don’t like the surprise? 

In one poignant conversation recently, I opened with a brave conversation starter and clearly triggered the other person. I received a slew of negative feedback about me, what an unhappy surprise! However, I had to examine the feedback and own what was truly mine. Then I had to determine what needed to be discarded as unwarranted based on the other person’s rejection of my conversation starter. Accepting that there is truth even in the negativity is a door to transformation. Accepting that there are items to be disregarded because the person was simply lashing out is also an important door to transformation. Owning what I can and discarding what I cannot, should not, or sometimes will not own.

Think of brave conversations as the opening for something to happen. As Margaret Wheatley prompts us in her poem, talk to everyone and listen for what’s there. Then, follow Peter Block’s guidance and move into a conversation. And, then, see what is possible. I would love to hear from you about a brave conversation that results from reading this post! Please feel free to reach out to me.

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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