Equity-Centered Leadership—Change and Self-Care

A team working with equity-centered leadership. “One key to successful leadership is continuous personal change. Personal change is a reflection of our inner growth and empowerment.” — Robert E. Quinn

Would you like to be viewed as a guardian of equity?  The kind of leader who doesn’t create an environment that’s simply “accommodating,” but is actually brave enough to transform the environment.

This is easier said than done. In order for this to happen, we must transform how we operate and learn to acknowledge everyone’s voice. What’s your situation? Whether it’s a classroom, office environment, community event, or some other location, we all struggle with sustainable change. How can we as leaders play our part?

The answer: become an equity-centered leader. That was the topic of my last two posts, where we covered three steps in the “equicentric” leadership model. There are five processes to this model: name it, activate self-awareness, remember the past, commit to change, and schedule self-care. 

Using this model you can become a more adaptable leader. The “equicentric” leadership model was created by Laura Aguada-Hallberg and me with the goal of empowering leaders as they take their journey toward becoming a more equity-centered leader.

Let’s discuss the fourth and fifth steps in this model.  

Step Four in the Equicentric Leadership Model: Commit to Change 

Committing to change in equity-centered leadership.Too often, we’re unknowingly shaped by others in ways that don’t serve our higher purpose. Author Zaretta Hammond, in her book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, says that we each carry an array of narratives that can act like “software” in our brains. These narratives are in place to tell us how to behave in different contexts. 

According to the book, these narratives are often dominated by what she calls a “master narrative,” that is, society’s idea of how a person should act.  Hammond says that everyone needs to form a counternarrative, based on their personal identity and experiences, that rejects any misconceptions in the “master narrative.”

That’s why, in this step, we ask leaders to construct their own counternarrative that acknowledges how their experiences might inform their actions. At this point, we also ask that they make a commitment to lead with equity as their goal. We check in with the leaders over a six-month period to see how their counternarrative has evolved.

Step Five in the Equicentric Leadership Model: Schedule Self-Care

Self care in equity-centered leadership.It’s impossible to be an equity-centered leader without a consistent schedule of self-care, without it, you will only find yourself frustrated and burnt-out. Do you feel like your health, personal relationships, or workload are unsustainable? If you do, then that’s where you need to start. 

Be sure to schedule a time for self-care in your calendar, and honor that time. It should be non-negotiable: that time is sacred. Finally, you should know that the work that you put into your self-care ensures that you can be there for your community in the long-term. How can you encourage others to believe in their self-worth if you consistently neglect your own?

Moving Foward 

In my experience, leaders are often left with very little time for self-reflection, which leaves them constantly in a reactive state. To my mind, that’s the true value of this model: it forces us to think proactively about equity. 

It’s only when we can learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, even when that discomfort is the awareness of our own biases, that we can begin to challenge, and with any luck change long-standing systemic inequities. It takes time and focused effort to learn how to be an intentional leader. 

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. 

As leaders, we all want to play a part in creating sustainable practices that have the power to transform our communities. 

 

Equity-Centered Leadership—Self-Awareness and Remembrance

A woman thinking about equity-centered leadership. “Self-awareness is the ability to take an honest look at your life without any attachment to it being right or wrong, good or bad.” – Debbie Ford

Have you ever wondered, “How can I be the type of leader who asks all the tough questions, challenges the status quo, and call out biases, even when it’s uncomfortable?”

The answer: become an equity-centered leader. That was the topic we covered in my last post, where we reviewed the first of five steps in the “equicentric” leadership model. There are five processes that fuel this “equicentric” leadership model: name it, activate self-awareness, remember the past, commit to change, and schedule self-care. 

I believe that, through the effective use of this model, you can become a more dynamic and adaptable leader. The “equicentric” leadership model was created by Laura Aguada-Hallberg and me with the goal to empower and support leaders as they take their self-reflective journey toward becoming a more equity-centered leader.

Let’s discuss the second and third steps in this model.  

Step Two in the Equicentric Leadership Model: Activate Self-Awareness 

Self-awareness in equity-centered leadership.There’s an old truism which points out that in order to change the world you first must change yourself. This is something that all effective leaders must understand at some level. However, before there can be change, there must be self-awareness, and that’s where the second step of the model comes in.

In this step, leaders name their biases and reflect on how they affect their power, privilege, and behavior. In order for leaders to transform a system, they must first identify their own biases and assumptions relating to that system. Otherwise, there can be no real change. 

This doesn’t mean that we should feel guilty about the power and privilege we hold, nor is it about feeling sorry for ourselves or pitying others. Self-awareness is an opportunity to recognize and call out experiences we’ve internalized, as well as understand when we move in and out of positions of power. 

When we ask leaders to engage in this step, we have them share an experience where some bias or privilege influenced their behavior. This step can be difficult. Although we all readily admit that we have biases, naming them and exposing their effects can be painful. But unless we push ourselves and experience some discomfort, we can’t move forward.

Step Three in the Equicentric Leadership Model: Remember the Past 

Remember the past in equity-centered leadership.What experiences have shaped your relationship with equity? This step is about looking back to prior experiences to find what insights they give us. For example, have you experienced a moment of stunned silence, vocal anger, a difficult conversation, or some other reaction to inequity that still sits with you today? What, if anything, do you want to do or have already done about it? 

When we look back to gain insight on how our past experiences have shaped us, we become better prepared to build our counternarrative.

The next steps toward becoming a more equity-centered leader are to commit to change and schedule self-care. We’ll be discussing these steps in future posts on equity-centered leadership. 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. 

Equity-Centered Leadership—What Is It? And How Is It Cultivated?

Equity-centered leadership: From awareness to commitment

We’ve all admired leaders who are willing to ask the tough questions, challenge the status quo when it isn’t working, and call out long-standing biases, even when it’s uncomfortable. What enables these leaders to do so? And how can you become that kind of leader?

These leaders are equity-centered, or what UCLA professor of education Pedro Noguera calls “guardians of equity.” In other words, they have equity at the core of all their work.

In the context of this discussion, what is equity? (We’re going to be using equity in education as our example setting, but these principles apply to many different contexts.) UNESCO’s “Handbook on Measuring Equity in Education,” says that equity “considers the social justice ramifications of education in relation to the fairness, justness and impartiality of its distribution at all levels or educational sub-sectors.” And according to the handbook, equity is measurable, which is extremely valuable as it allows us to make comparisons of equity.  

Although these measurements are important, leaders should go beyond just tracking metrics on equity issues, equity is also a felt and lived experience. That’s why social-emotional learning is vital to improving the culture of organizations. 

How do you become an equity-centered leader?

This requires some introspection from those of us in leadership roles. Of course, most leaders have little time to spend reflecting on their personal relationship with issues of equity. However, it’s vital that we become aware of how our identity and experiences shape our approach to issues of equity. Why? Because we can not disrupt inequities if we don’t understand our relationship to them. 

That’s why Laura Aguada-Hallberg, the Interim Assistant Dean for Learning, Leadership, & Change Programs at the University of the Pacific, and I developed a five-step process for “equicentric” leaders. The goal of this process is to empower and support leaders as they take their self-reflective journey toward equity-centered leadership.

There are five processes that fuel this “equicentric” leadership model: name it, activate self-awareness, remember the past, commit to change, and schedule self-care. Let’s discuss the first process. 

Step One in the Equicentric Leadership Model: Name It

This first step is all about reflecting on and naming our experiences—especially the ones that relate to our perception of equity. We do this by trying to “step outside of ourselves” and look back to see our life with fresh eyes. When we do this it becomes easier to name our experiences in ways that resonate with the experiences of others.

When we work with leaders on this step, we ask them to list all the elements that define their identity and to name as many as they can. Then, we ask them: “What connections are you making between your identity, your culture and our previous conversation about the definitions of equality, fairness, and equity?” 

Finally, they create their own categories and labels for their identity and experiences. We ask the participants to identify things like gender, cultural background, and job title that contribute to how they see the world and how the world sees them. Leaders must acknowledge, accept, and recognize these influences in order to understand and lead others. 

During this step, it’s important to identify all of your labels, every category you fit in, and use them as a critical entry point to begin to understand who you are. In leadership discussions, I often encounter microaggressions that reflect a lack of awareness. For example, a leader might say, “I was raised by a single mom and I was able to achieve this goal, so others should be able to do the same.” This simplification that reduces all experiences into singular aspects of a person can be harmful to others in both action and policy. Without a deeper awareness of the many contributing factors that make up oneself, a true understanding of others is much more difficult. 

The next step toward becoming a more equity-centered leader is to activate self-awareness. We’ll be discussing this, in a future post on equity-centered leadership. Equity centered leadership coaching is an integral part of my work at the Center for Learning Leaders. If you’re ready to make sustainable changes and lead with intention, integrity, and in alignment with your purpose, please contact me.

The Three Essential Elements of a Community of Practice—Part 3: Practice

Essential elements of a community of Practice: PracticeWhat makes a Community of Practice work? I’ve been exploring, in a three-part series, the key elements that make up a successful Community of Practice. We’ve already examined #1 domain, and #2 community, so now it’s time to dive into the final element, practice. 

In this series, we’ve seen how the domain establishes the general area of interest for the community members made up of mutual peer relationships. The practice element entails the sharing of real-life experiences, stories, tools, and ways of addressing problems. So in order to have a strong Community of Practice (CoP), you need strong practitioners!

In a CoP, knowledge is not created in one place by external experts and “taught” so it can be used in practice by others. In a CoP, every member of the team is a Steward of Knowledge. As guardians of their practice, each team member is an expert by virtue of already being a strong practitioner. Ideally, each member brings with them diverse experiences and over time this valuable learning gets pooled. The individual members are empowered to take any new learning back to their domain. 

This interaction also strengthens a sense of shared purpose and values between community members. How the group shares, codifies, elevates and even celebrates each person’s practice demonstrates the community’s commitment to supporting each person in developing their practice. 

Here are three ways to ensure a strong practice in your Community of Practice:

Curate members. Having a shared domain doesn’t, in and of itself, guarantee that a person belongs in a Community of Practice. In establishing a new CoP, it’s wise to set up a criteria for new members. You want to look for active practitioners who can contribute current, relevant, and valuable experiences. 

They should also possess qualities that make CoPs successful – such as openness and trustworthiness. For example, someone might be interested in the domain of leadership, however, if they have no experience as a leader and aren’t keen to learn, they probably aren’t a good fit with a community of experienced leaders committed to rapidly making a difference. 

Encourage transparency. The purpose of a CoP isn’t to impress others with your know-how. The community benefits when members honestly share mistakes as well as successes. Discuss new things you’ve learned, sometimes the hard way! Egos should be left by the door if you want to engage in creative brainstorming and problem-solving. 

I’ve also seen the benefit of sharing knowledge through real-life storytelling. Stories allow members to engage each other and illustrate what’s possible in a way that can’t easily be expressed in any other way. 

Providing flexible platforms for sharing. After seeing the value of sharing real-life experiences, how do you facilitate it? The best sharing of “practice” takes place during in-person meetings where dynamic interchanges from participants are encouraged. If possible, try to meet together regularly. If being dispersed geographically or having scheduling difficulties makes regular meetings difficult, you can explore meeting together via web or teleconferences, instant messaging, or chat rooms. 

There is also tremendous value in providing a storehouse of information via message boards, wikis, blogs, or video blogs. A member can post something and days later a colleague can provide feedback or ask a question. Consider having a way to collect success stories that include photos, video clips, and work samples to provide tangible evidence of changes in practice that led to enhanced results.

If you’ve been following this series, you’re beginning to see the benefits of participating in a fully engaged Community of Practice. You’re seeing how being part of a CoP can make you the beneficiary of best practices that you can share and apply in your extended networks or workplace. I can support you to create a self-facilitating Community of Practice that is built, owned, and managed by your team. Contact me to learn more or download my special report Leading a Purpose-Driven Team.

The Three Essential Elements of a Community of Practice—Part 2: Community

Essential elements of a community of Practice: CommunityDo you ever feel invisible at work or amongst colleagues? As far as most business teams are concerned, the element of “community” is often neglected. In most teams, communication only flows one way: from the top, down. Goals and decisions are made by management, with little consideration paid to those lower down on the totem pole. 

However, a Community of Practice (CoP) is different. As I mentioned in the first post of this three-part series, you can think about a CoP as being made up of three main parts: domain, community, and practice. Without all of these elements, including community, it might be a team but it’s not a CoP.

What we find is that with most business teams the focus is on the “practice” (the third element which we will be discussing in the next article), to the exclusion of the other two elements. So, let’s dive into the second element of a Community of Practice and answer the question: Why is “community” so important to the success of a CoP and how can it be fostered? 

Mutual relationships are a must.

The community element in a CoP is a web of mutual relationships within which members share their learning, perspectives, and knowledge. You can speak your truth, instead of what you think the boss or group leader wants to hear. As a community of collaborators, you can share wins, without fear of competition, and struggles without fear of judgment. 

When you’re part of a Community of Practice, you are with a community of your peers who share accountability. Decisions that affect the group are made by the community and never made by an individual member. This is due to the open exchange of dialogue and ideas. Because a Community of Practice is participatory in nature, there is more room for this transparent and bidirectional communication. 

How to foster community.

You may already have this community surrounding you without being aware of it. It’s very common for a community to develop organically around a shared domain. Wegner-Trayner shared an interesting historical example of a CoP, that of the “Impressionists” of the late 19th-century. The Impressionists would meet together at a variety of locations to discuss their new approach to painting, and while they often painted alone, their dialogue on a shared domain made them a legitimate example of a community of practice. 

Although it is true that Community of Practice members works closely together, there aren’t rules for how often communities meet—it doesn’t have to be daily. It doesn’t even have to be in person. There are very productive CoPs that meet virtually using message boards and video conferencing. Size is also not a critical component, you can have a small group made up of a handful of local people or a much larger international group.

What is necessary is a commitment to learning and sharing with each other. You’ve most likely experienced that having the same job or role doesn’t automatically create a sense of community if there is no interest in interaction. There shouldn’t be rules preventing members from entering and leaving a Community of Practice, and CoPs should remain active only as long as the members are benefiting. 

Although Communities of Practice operate with different degrees of formality, there still should be a set of agreed-upon norms. Norms are essential to building a community, without them a community cannot stabilize. These also assist with meetings. Norms provide a common language for team members to hold each other accountable during the meeting and make invisible agreements more apparent. 

Next steps

Now that you’ve established a community around a specific domain, what does a Community of Practice actually do? In my next post, I’ll be discussing the third critical element of a CoP—practice—what it is, and how you can develop it in your own community. 

In the meantime, are you intrigued by the benefits of a Community of Practice? I can support you to create a self-facilitating Community of Practice that is built, owned, and managed by your team. Contact me to learn more or download my special report Leading a Purpose-Driven Team.

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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