Category: Leadership Coaching

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.

Embodied Leadership—The Key To Lasting Change for You and Your Team

A young women practicing embodied leadership.As a leader, you have to be willing to change and adapt. If you resist change, your team will follow your lead and will quickly flounder. Most organizations recognize this, which is why they invest millions of dollars on training leaders. Yet, according to an article on the Harvard Business Review, studies show a 60-70% failure rate for organizational change projects.

Organizational change is so difficult because there is a huge chasm between knowing you need to make a change and being able to actually implement it. For example, perhaps you know you need to be a clearer communicator, but you get in a hurry and your quickly-drafted-email confounds your assistant once again! Or how many times have we read about the importance of exercise or healthful eating, yet it doesn’t seem to translate into action? There is a disconnect between our understanding of the ways in which a changed behavior could be beneficial and its actual implementation.

If you’re like me, a 60-70% failure rate is simply unacceptable. The ability to follow through with a change, or a challenge, is a vital skill that all leaders need. I’ve recently discovered an approach that can bridge the gap between knowledge and action—embodied leadership.

My Discovery—A Lifelong Friend and a New Approach to Leadership

Louise Santiago and Marie ConnollySeveral years ago, I enrolled in a coach development program through Coaches Rising. Through the class, I met Maria Connolly. We soon found that we had a deep connection based on our mutual belief, that everyone has innate leadership skills

Maria is a somatic coach, and I am an executive leadership coach. Our unique blend of talent helped us realize that we could offer opportunities for women to bring forth their own inner leaders to expand their world, their community, and themselves, so we launched Newave Leaders.

Embodied leadership became a theme in our work together. 

In order to be an embodied leader, you have to make sense of your story, understand where you come from, understand what you believe, and importantly, how your emotions are showing up in your body. All these things are impacting whether or not you can step into the next phase of your life. Without this understanding, this embodied intelligence, you won’t be able to make lasting changes in your behaviors and attitudes. 

We realized how important this idea was to lasting change! So, to share it with others, we designed an annual women’s retreat. These retreats are an opportunity to travel to different parts of the world and truly retreat and explore our depths to actualize a plan to embody the changes we wish to make as we push ourselves to the next level of growth. 

Maria and I both lead and experience the retreat each year and have found it enriches our own individual coaching practices. I’m so excited to have the opportunity to develop my own practice and collaborate with a great partner around the intersection of our work. (If you’re interested in learning more about Newave Leaders, check out our blog, or sign up for our newsletter.) 

Embodied leadership coaching is also an integral part of my work with my Center for Learning Leaders clients. If you’re ready to make sustainable changes and lead with intention, integrity, and in alignment with your purpose, please fill out the questionnaire on my Coaching for Executives page.

A Split-Second Strategy to Better Manage Your Emotional Response as a Leader

A leader snaps at a team-member then remember to reappraise her emotions. “You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”-Buddha

At one time or another, all leaders experience strong negative emotions—irritation, discouragement, frustration, and even anger. We all know how disturbing it can be to lose control over negative emotions, even if only for a moment because a lot of damage can occur in that moment.

How you handle these emotions can be a make a huge difference in the success of your team. Most of us have probably experienced working with an irritable supervisor or touchy coworker and it can be distracting and draining! Let’s consider a few common ways of handling negative emotions, and examine what modern research tells us about how a 21-century leader can best manage her emotions. 

Express or Suppress?

The history of conventional wisdom in regard to managing negative emotions is a long and interesting one. But one aspect of this multigenerational discussion seems to continually resurface: Should we express or suppress our negative emotions?

For much of history, popular wisdom held that one should never express negative feelings and that doing so could only be harmful. However, during the mid-20th century, there was a major shift among many influential psychologists. They contended that strong negative emotions should be expressed. The thinking was that if these negative emotions went unexpressed (anger in particular), it could cause ulcers, heart attacks, headaches, etc, as well as wreaking havoc on human relationships. 

So, where do we stand now? 

How should leaders respond to a negative incident? Should a leader master her frustration, put on a fake smile, and not discuss the problem? Or should she honestly and fully express her feelings? Which one of these is going to work best?

As it turns out, neither strategy is truly effective. 

Completely suppressing negative emotions has led to a whole host of negative consequences—fewer close relationships, less social support, and lower life satisfaction. Suppressing our negative emotions also elevates other people’s stress response. The problem with this strategy is that it essentially says, “Ignore the problem until it goes away,” but instead of going away the emotions fester. 

What about fully expressing one’s anger? Since suppression can be so harmful it would seem like the other extreme, expression, could work. However, fully expressing the frustration you’re feeling in the moment can destroy the trust you’ve built with your team. What’s more, instead of bringing you relief, expressing your negative emotions often leads to only more negative emotions. 

Quickly Reappraise Your Viewpoint

Modern research is pointing to a different way of dealing with negative emotions—reappraisal. Reappraisal is the re-framing of a problem where one focuses attention on the problem’s root. Instead of viewing a problem as a threat, which decreases performance and motivation, it’s viewed as a challenge. 

Reappraisal works so well because it is a way of redirecting negative emotions instead of trying to stifle or encourage them. It can be helpful to take deep breaths and let the negative emotion wash over you, then redirect your focus towards the challenge. 

For example, suppose you are driving down the freeway when another driver cuts you off trying to make their exit. Immediately, you feel a swell of anger overtake you. Now you have a couple of options—let the situation ruin your day or try to reappraise it. Instead of labeling the person as a reckless driver, perhaps she was late for work and worried about upsetting her boss, or maybe the woman was driving someone to the hospital. 

Notice that it was a slip-second decision to reappraise the scenario. The original appraisal was involuntary—that person is a reckless driver. Whereas the reappraisal, or re-judging of the situation in a more neutral or positive direction, took a concerted effort as well as strong awareness. Studies have shown that this small effort can alter one’s subjective emotional experience very quickly.

This reappraisal strategy is priceless for those of us that are leaders. The complexity of executive leadership, especially when combined with the modern entrepreneurial spirit can be both rewarding and challenging. Leaders need to be able to handle negative emotions in a constructive way. 

So the next time you feel a spark of anger towards your bumbling colleague, try to reappraise the situation. You just might be saving yourself a world of hurt. 

Exceptional leadership isn’t accidental. One-on-one coaching is the fastest way to get the training, support, and accountability you need to focus on your growth as a leader. If you’re ready to lead with intention, integrity and in alignment with your purpose, please fill out the questionnaire on my Coaching for Executives page.


Showing Vulnerability to Your Community: The Ultimate Test of Trust

Leader showing vulnerability in a Community of Practice

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” ― Brené Brown

There’s a ubiquitous idea among community and business leaders—hide your weakness, at any cost. 

This approach may work at times if the goal is gaining power, but it’s nearly impossible to be an effective leader of a Community of Practice (CoP) with this philosophy. As my last blog post highlighted, trust is the essential element in any Community of Practice, and the only way to gain the trust of your team is by showing vulnerability. 

A few years ago I experienced the truth of this. My husband and I worked with a realtor who promised amazing results after we saw our “dream house” that was clearly beyond our reach. Somewhat worryingly, she told us, “trust me”. 

While these words can be oversold by many a person in sales, she really meant it. She went on to describe what was basically a Community of Practice among realtors. 

She and her colleagues meet weekly in a consultancy approach where they forward their most challenging clients and, together, craft an approach to the seller that, in almost every case, gets them a winning offer. While their domain is evident (real estate) and their practice (sales) is easily defined, their sense of community that allows them to share their practice elevates their work beyond the typical realtor working one client at a time to sell one house after another. 

Their willingness to engage in a shared approach, demonstrate vulnerability (after all, there is a commission on the line), and find new ways to solve the problem of successfully matching home buyers and sellers was impressive. This vulnerability made it far easier for me to trust that I could indeed trust this realtor to find us the right home.

When building a Community of Practice (CoP) community collaborators must share their practice, and even more daringly, their struggles with their practice. In fact, a measure of effective community building is the growing sense of trust within the group. With a strong sense of community, our domain becomes our passion and purpose. Without it, our domain is as simple as the place we go to work. 

As a leader, are you ready and willing to expose your strengths and weaknesses to benefit from every member of your community? This may go against your natural inclination, but when you see how effective it is, it’s incredibly motivating.

Here are ways you can take the lead in being vulnerable with your team or CoP:

Don’t be afraid of not having all the answers. You don’t have to be the first with an idea or an answer. Be the kind of person that actively seeks out others’ input. Acknowledge that you’re not an expert on a particular topic, and then ask for help. You’ll be amazed at the positive response. 

Encourage others to take the lead in important conversations. Try to engage the perspectives and thoughts of others. Ask different people to take turns at running meetings, you’ll see a newfound commitment to the shared vision of your organization. 

Expect honest feedback. Ask for your team to give feedback on some aspect of your performance. Of course, the way in which you receive these comments will impact whether you receive sincere feedback from your team again.

Regularly engage in consultancy activities. This allows you to delve into a colleague’s shoes and see their work in new, different, and refreshing way. Like the real estate group I shared earlier, this is a deeply sustaining practice that helps colleagues, or even competitors, to become collaborators. 

Be ready to try something new. Don’t let your ego protect you from being willing to step out of your comfort zone and risk embarrassment. And when you make a mistake (not if, when) acknowledge it. You’ll gain the respect and loyalty of your team when you show the humility to admit a mistake. 

Are you intrigued by what your team could achieve as a Community of Practice? Contact me to learn how your team can develop an action-oriented model of activities and ways of communicating that drives you towards your joint purpose. Or download my special report Leading a Purpose-Driven Team to learn how to get started.

Trust: The Essential Element in any Community of Practice

Community of Practice DefinitionDo you trust each member of your team? Do they trust you? Do they trust each other? According to Stephen Covey, “The ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust is the key professional and personal competency of our time.”

Trust is especially important if you’re working within a Community of Practice. In fact, a Community of Practice (CoP) based on anything but a shared feeling of trust and security—like fear or authority—ultimately will be a failure, because it’s based on an unstable foundation.

Of course, this is all easier said than done. Trust needs to be built over time and attended to on a regular basis. The trust of your team members can’t be bought, only earned.

Without attention to trust, mistrust happens all too easily. We have all had experiences where our trust has been betrayed. So remember each member of your team has had their trust misplaced, it seems to be part of the human experience.

Building trust through time and effort

Trust isn’t built overnight so you need to begin finding time to build trust within your community. I remember at one of my organizations, we diligently appropriated the first 20-minutes of every meeting to community building. And not just the “how is your week” type of check-in (which quickly becomes perfunctory). Instead, each staff member, on a rotating schedule, was charged with crafting a meaningful, opening to each meeting. On a weekly basis, that translates to 52 different ideas for a well-crafted, time-sensitive, community-building activity.

There are a plethora of community building activities both online and in print to help you get started. However, I’ve seen that the best trust-building activities are developed when I take an existing activity and then tweak it to meet the needs of this particular group. Personalized activities go a long way toward building a true community.

When these types of activities are prioritized, the first thing that begins to grow is camaraderie, a great lead-in to building trust. Occasionally, it builds competitiveness, but, as trust builds, the competition typically remains positive in tone.

To establish and maintain a positive tone, a solid set of working norms is necessary.

Most of us have experienced a perfunctory set of norms. In order to be part of the community-building experience, norms need to be organic and fluid. Rather than dictating to them as the leader or boss, encourage your team to co-construct their own set of norms. Discussion about the norms, as they are created, is important to ensure that each voice is heard in the shared behaviors for the group. Don’t forget, norms must be revisited on an intentional basis to help the group actively own their norms.

Are you intrigued by what your team could achieve as a Community of Practice? Contact me to learn how your team can develop an action-oriented model of activities and ways of communicating that drives you towards your joint purpose. Or download my special report Leading a Purpose-Driven Team to learn how to get started.

  • 1
  • 2

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

© Center for Learning Leaders. All rights reserved. Site developed and hosted by Rogue Web Works.