Practicing Collective Leadership

Now more than ever, social change leaders need exposure to different concepts  of leadership in order to tackle the challenges we face globally. Searching for solutions to the personal, interpersonal, cultural, and systemic obstacles we face must be embedded in an ability to sense the whole, a capacity to open up to shared wisdom, and a willingness to align both intentions and actions to a daily practice of recognizing our common humanity.

The Collective Leadership Certificate Program was born out of that effort to facilitate learning that inspires a powerful sense of responsibility for and connection to the wholeness of our professional experiences. It offers a truly unique opportunity that delves into the inner work needed for leaders to connect to a team, trust in everyone’s participation, and work within a shared clarity of purpose. 

With much anticipation and enthusiasm, we kicked off the 2022 Collective Leadership Certificate Program cohort in January. With participants spanning three continents, our training and coaching sessions over the last few months proved to be a deep dive into the challenges we face when it comes to the relational process skills needed to lead collectively. 

As we continue this journey with a fantastic group of leaders, we thought we’d take the opportunity to share with you some of our standout moments that you can apply to your everyday leadership.

Here are two key takeaways for you to explore:

Embrace Your Stretch Zone

We all need time in our comfort zone, when we have the serenity and solace to reflect on our experiences; however, in order to transform our leadership, we must invite ourselves into the stretch zone. Our stretch zone lies just outside of the security of what we’ve known and how we’ve generally operated. In order to find the stretch zone, we each must know ourselves enough to determine the patterns of thought and behavior that reside in our comfort zone. With this awareness, we slowly expand to the edges of that comfort zone, using self inquiry to imagine other ways of thinking and acting that might stretch us into change. We find our edges. When we root ourselves using somatic grounding practices, we can come to know the physical sensations  that we experience when we begin to push out of our comfort zones. What we’ll find with practice is that our comfort zone expands as we learn and grow.

Expand Your Awareness of Reactive and Creative Tendencies

In the program, we use The Leadership Circle Profile 360 Feedback assessment, which offers an incredible framework to understand our reactive tendencies and creative competencies as a leader. Creative competencies are rooted in connection, love, purpose–they invite us into an inside-out way of leading. They open up the possibility for exploration, service, freedom, expansion, or possibility itself. Reactive tendencies are more of an outside-in way of leading that are often formed by the ways we seek safety or comfort, particularly when we feel our value and worth are at risk or threatened by the relationships, culture, and systems we’re operating within. These tendencies fall into three main categories: complying, protecting, and controlling.

Our collective reliance on these reactive tendencies are part of what keeps structures of oppression in place. If leadership is built from these reactive tendencies, outdated systems of leadership in which a few hold power over others are often perpetuated and hard to change.

The invitation in understanding our own leadership through this framework is to develop a greater awareness about when and why we choose to act in various ways and to expand the options we have for acting in any given moment. Holistic awareness can allow leaders to explore questions like: 

  • What does safety and worth mean for this group in this moment?   
  • Where am I /are we making assumptions about what “should” be? 
  • What are our options when we ground ourselves in purpose and connection rather than worry and fear? 

Collective leadership requires a new way of thinking, acting, and being. These new ways are rooted in beliefs, values, and a politic of power that often run counter to existing habits of leadership in our dominant culture of work. Doing the challenging inner work so that you may transform your ways of leading, following, and engaging others at work is foundational to cultivating the willingness to transform your leadership.  A hallmark of the Collective Leadership Certificate program is that it allows participants to integrate and apply their growing awareness into their day-to-day actions while immersing in a community of others attempting to do the same.

Applications for the next cohort open this fall. If you’d like to learn more about the CLCP, visit us at our website.

The Case for Rest for Black People on MLK Day

On the third Monday of January every year, the entire nation is called to pause in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the renowned activist and minister assassinated in 1968. The federal holiday was designated to honor a civil rights hero, whose accomplishments have continued to inspire generations of Americans. Dr. King challenged America  to live up to its founding dream of freedom. We have memorialized his words as a call for equity and inclusion in today’s world. And, his activism helped pull back the curtain on the hatred and mistreatment of Black Americans. It’s for this cause that he gave his life and why the national holiday is well-deserved.

The Irony of MLK Day

Despite that, it is riddled with irony and contradictions. The same government that threatened him, spied on him, and blackmailed him, is the same government that granted him a national holiday and even that was done begrudgingly many years after his death.  In 1968, only four days after his assassination, former Congressman John Conyers Jr.  introduced the bill to recognize the civil rights leader’s birthday as a federal holiday but that request was widely ignored by his compatriots in Capitol Hill. Neither Congress nor the country had recognized MLK Day until 1986, nearly 20 years after it was first introduced. It continued to face an uphill battle for all states to recognize the holiday, only getting nationally recognized in 2000. And even today, in Alabama and Mississippi, the holiday is celebrated alongside Robert E. Lee Day, a Confederate general known for his hatred of Black people and legacy of anti-black violence.

It is also the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service championed by the AmeriCorps slogan: “a day on, not a day off.” All Americans are encouraged to volunteer to improve their communities. Businesses across the country, who acknowledge the holiday, make a huge commotion turning it into an opportunity to display their commitment to DEI efforts within their organizations and make mealymouthed statements about their move towards inclusivity. We hear calls to continue his legacy by supporting the social justice causes that Dr. King dedicated his life to either through service or financial contributions. Often without the conversation about what his legacy truly was.

MLK’s Legacy & The Labor Movement

The legacy most often overlooked has been his advocacy for working people and America’s labor movement. Dr. King not only dedicated his life to fighting against racial injustice but also economic inequality, believing that the two struggles were inextricably linked. “As I have said many times, and believe with all my heart, the coalition that can have the greatest impact in the struggle for human dignity here in America is that of the Negro and the forces of labor, because their fortunes are so closely intertwined,” he said. Throughout his life, solidarity with—and advocacy on behalf of—working people was core to Dr. King’s fight for justice. In William Trotter Jr.’s book, Workers in America, Trotter reminds us that Blacks were brought to this country “specifically for their labor” and they remain “the most exploited and unequal component of the emerging modern capitalist labor force”. Black labor built this country and has been foundational to the growth of America and our economy.  Black labor continues to be exploited. Income and wealth inequality between white and Black Americans continues to increase. Now, we are navigating new methods that oppress and deny opportunity to Black Americans reinforcing that economic exploitation is the root cause of the entrenched racial hierarchy in America. As W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, the “slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.”

Activists Navild Acosta and Fannie Sosa, founders of Black Power Naps, contend, “Departing from historical records that show that deliberate fragmentation of restorative sleep patterns were used to subjugate and extract labor from enslaved people, we have realized that this extraction has not stopped, it has only morphed.”  Encouraging Black Americans to commit to community service during their time off is to minimize the focus Dr. King placed on racial disparity. To be Black in America is to constantly feel the weight of history and oppression on your shoulders— the economic disparities, government sanctioned violence, COVID impact or even falling victim to Western culture’s idea that “grind culture” equals success. Black workers deserve rest.  On the only federal holiday that even tangentially acknowledges its ongoing mistreatment of Black people, it is revolutionary to choose to rest, reflect, and restore.

Rest is Activism. Rest is Revolutionary.

“Rest is preservation of individual and collective selves for a radical and undisciplined wellness; and destruction of industry as a compulsory and natural law.” -heidi andrea restrepo rhodes, Choreography of the Body’s Collapse: The Anti-Capitalist Politics of Rest

For centuries, the Black community have been victims of historic trauma and oppression that limits their ability to be idle. Without proper rest as an integral part of the fight against this system which does not address our needs for survival, we will never succeed in toppling these antiquated norms. Tricia Hersey, founder of The Nap Ministry, affirms rest is not a luxury for Black people but rather our “divine right”. Capitalism doesn’t afford many of us the opportunity to rest. The more disempowered and disadvantaged we are, the more difficult it is for us to rest. The system is designed to deny adequate resources to the many in order to benefit only a few. And while we have named the capitalist-driven epidemic of sleep deprivation, it’s important to highlight the racial sleep gap also at work here.  According to a 2015 study, Black Americans get less sleep than any other racial or ethnic group. Researchers found that while more than half of white people were getting the recommended seven to nine hours sleep per night, only 36 percent black respondents claimed they got enough rest. Though income contributes to higher amounts of sleep, even wealthy Black Americans don’t sleep as well as their non-Black counterparts. The causes for sleep deprivation are wide-ranging, including environmental factors from housing discrimination to psychological factors including the stress of discrimination and the internalized belief that rest will be associated with laziness. Rest provides the space for Black people to combat many of the factors that contribute to stress, exhaustion, and mental health issues

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” -Audre Lorde, A Burst of Light

In recent years, social change agents, particularly Black women, have re-invigorated the emphasis on rest and healing justice as central to racial justice work. In a recent interview with GBP Hersey says, “This work is really a social justice, a racial justice, an anti-capitalism — it is a justice movement. It is a movement for us to be able to reclaim our bodies as our own. You know, capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy — all of the systems that make us unwell really have to be uplifted and illuminated for us to be able to start to unravel from this idea that our bodies, our time is only to be used as a tool for the system.” For Black people, rest, by its very nature, is a form of resistance and reparations. 

To live with the scope of Black oppression in America, one must take time out for themselves. This federal holiday is a perfect opportunity to honor all that has been done by our ancestors and continue on their legacy while also getting some well deserved rest. This country owes its Black citizens more than just a day off to pay homage for their service. We have earned the right to rest, reflect on our lives, and take space from the ongoing oppression we face in this country. If you’re Black, join me in spending your time restoring, empowering, healing, and cultivating joy.

The Road to Collective Leadership

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged us, changed us, eroded and brought new life to how we live and lead. Our daily lives, from managing our health, working from home, to simple activities like dining out, all underwent rapid change. As we navigate these changes, we’ve also entered this moment of reckoning with long-standing racial and economic inequities, environmental disaster, and political polarization. And, we discovered that while we may not know what is next, we can be certain the models of the past will not suffice as we’re reimagining our future.

The Trouble with Traditional Models of Leadership

Many of us would like to think these past two years have been an anomaly, but we’re not so sure. With technological advancements, automation, and growing global systems interconnectedness, the conditions for accelerated change have been here for years. The pandemic has simply revealed the inefficiencies and suffering created by our outdated systems and models of leadership.  Traditional leadership models reinforced hierarchical power structures that led to spaces that were less likely to have diverse influences.  Power concentrated at the top of leadership, based on title and status, doesn’t foster collaboration based on our own unique strengths and shared knowledge.  This type of leadership fails us in social change.  We need room for transparency and mutual accountability — to allow trust and creativity to flourish.

We need a new form of leadership, better suited to build our collective future.

We need to consider the ways we can:

  • Move beyond control and comply models of leadershipWhat kind of controlling and complying has been habituated in our bodies, minds, hearts, and systems?
  • Embrace a relational journey of leadership where we don’t try to lead aloneWhat narratives about heroic single leaders have captured our hearts while also erasing all the complexity, collaboration, and failures necessary for change?
  • Acknowledge that healing mattersWhat needs to be lifted up, reckoned with, healed so that we may pursue the transformation that the world needs from us?

Collective leadership is a group of people coming together through intentional and liberatory relationships and processes to co-create results in their shared desired area of impact.

Collective Leadership – The Way Forward

There are so many ways that the world is nudging all of us, particularly those in social change spaces, towards collective leadership practices. We are being called on to re-envision our relationships to each other, to work, to power, and to systems. Our new reality led to real conversations about the potential for deeper and sustained collaboration. We’re finding that teams and organizations find success based on their level of collaborative practices, collective development and dedication to self-reflection, transformation, and growth. This is such an important message to pay attention to, and yet, many leaders are struggling to figure out what this call means in their day-to-day choices and actions. It can be hard to create the conditions by which a group of people can individually and collectively live into their vision for the world and their full potential as human beings. 

Co-facilitated by Eliza Ramos of Circles International and Perry Dougherty of Rootwise Leadership, the Collective Leadership Certificate program offers an opportunity to explore how to create the ideal environment for your team to flourish, utilizing an embodied approach that leverages the wisdom of the group. It is designed to help social change leaders improve results by empowering people to trust and rely on each other and take responsibility for outcomes that one leader cannot address on their own. The transformational executive coaching & training experience applies cutting edge leadership customized to fit your needs.

Explore pathways to:

  • Achieve wider impact with your team
  • Lead & inspire others consistently
  • Distribute authority & decisions
  • Become more aware of self & systems
  • Enable diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Cultivate accountability and trust
  • Engage in more satisfying collaboration

In the program, we unpack the essential skills to develop in this way and to create the conditions for collective leadership to thrive. Those skills include layers of listening, conflict transformation & essential conversations, contextual power analysis, compassion & boundaries. Practicing these skills cultivates an environment that empowers people to trust their own judgment and knowledge, align with their core values, and commit to a shared vision. 

Knowing the challenges social change leaders face, we invite folks to examine the beliefs and assumptions that guide their leadership, explore pathways to more grounded ways of engaging groups of individuals in leading together. The program deepens participants’ awareness of themselves, the larger system they are a part of and of their impact on others. Our cohorts are intentionally crafted so leaders may look to others with the hope that doing so will change how they see themselves, opening ourselves to new ideas, solutions and to explore our limits and potential. It’s an opportunity to practice and participate with care and attention and in community that feels responsible for each other. 

At every level, we want to encourage people to take responsibility for leadership whenever possible. This program is not just for seasoned change makers looking to open themselves up to new ways of leading but it is also for emerging leaders, teams, and anyone inspired to lead collectively in their role. The world needs more people who are equipped to co-create the collective leadership practices and structures that will meet the needs of our time. Join us in creating the conditions for you and your colleagues to stay connected through shared learning, power, and change.

Apply to join us today!

Applications are open for the 2022 cohort of the Collective Leadership Certificate Program until November 15, 2021.

SONG: Organizing rooted in community, celebration, and love

Each month, The Rootwise Hub supports and celebrates a social change organization that is disrupting, making history right now, and paving the way for a more inclusive future. 

This month, we recognize, SONG (Southerners on New Ground), a social justice, advocacy, and capacity building organization serving and supporting queer, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the southern United States through community organizing for economic and racial justice. SONG is a champion of inclusivity and intersectional movement work with a commitment to restoring a way of being that recognizes our collective humanity and dependence on Earth. The organization truly reflects value-driven, collective leadership empowering marginalized communities across the Southern states. And, their goal is liberation.

A trailblazing organization that is changing the landscape of the Southern United states with advocacy, compassion, and clear vision, SONG centers their leadership and organizing around “the shared interest of women, LGBTQIA people, people of color, and immigrants who chronically experience racism, economic injustice, transmisogyny, ableism, immigration, incarceration, and other intersecting oppressions”. Since 1993, SONG has been known for its organizing and training work across issues of race, class, gender, culture and sexuality with both LGBTQIA people and allies. SONG was born out of the understanding of the interconnectedness of oppressions and the need for multi-racial and inclusive organizing efforts. They’ve worked to develop sustainable advocacy and organizing strategies that are “strong enough to combat the Southern-specific strategy of the Right to divide and conquer Southern oppressed communities using the tools of rural isolation, Right-wing Christian infrastructure, racism, environmental degradation, and economic oppression.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the realities for us all. We have suffered grief, loss, and the devastating impact of a pandemic that doesn’t seem to have an end. SONG has adapted to the reality that COVID-19 has brought to their communities. They exemplify what it meant to be transformative leaders, embracing change and becoming even bolder in their demands for liberation. SONG has always been grounded in activism, based in community, supporting in relationships, and guided by the spirits, lives, and experiences of those who came before them. And through the pandemic, they have stayed close to these roots. They relied on each other and the importance of collective resistance and power building. 

As a membership-based organization, SONG develops leaders united together in the struggle for dignity and justice for all people. SONG recognizes oppression is born of isolation and understands the importance of connection and a shared worldview in the pursuit of liberation. In addition to leadership development training and regular convenings, SONG also identifies and carries out community organizing projects and campaigns. Notably, for the past three years, SONG has been securing the release of mothers and caregivers across the South through their  “Black Mama’s Bail Out” campaign. SONG’s efforts are helping to move the needle on a large national push and collaboration with other organizations to end bail, pretrial detention, and mass incarceration.

SONG is not just an organization that fights against white supremacist capitalistic ideologies embedded in our society, but they fight for the future that they want to see. They fight for the futures of our wildest dreams and the future that we deserve. As one of SONG’s core values shares, “Our work is about transformation to a just, fair and liberated society that meets the needs of its people. SONG chooses to organize around longing, desire, and hope before anger and fear. Sometimes we are angry and heart broken, but our work comes forth from a place of celebration and love for our communities.”

SONG’s community building and organizing work over the last year was led and championed by leaders, Aesha Rasheed and Wendi Moore-O’Neal. Relying on the lineage of great leadership, Aesha and Wendi opened themselves to being transformed by their movement work with the shared vision of “liberation in our lifetime”.  They committed to cultivating a team and an organization that cares about the whole–the fullness of each person’s humanity. As freedom fighters and weavers of space, Aesha and Wendi strive to build strength, resiliency, and sustainability in SONG through connecting and empowering people who are “doing the work to make life better for us all”.

Despite the most challenging conditions, this landscape brought SONG’s activism to the forefront. People were hungry for their advocacy and leadership. Their membership doubled over the last year and has expanded to include new campaigns and chapters across the south. They responded to the need for increased skill in political work in political and grassroots organizing and capacity building across communities. 

In their 2020 reflection Video, SONG reminds us that now is the time to choose team justice. Our fight is not done. Our fight is not over. We need organizers and passionate people for change. Now more than ever. To donate to SONG and become a member, visit their website at

A portion of profits from The Rootwise Hub go towards making a financial contribution to the organization we spotlight each month. We select the organization or movement that we support each month from nominations that members of our community make. To nominate a social change organization, click here.

Six Powerful Listening Behaviors to Transform Connection

At a certain point in my life, my motto became “say less.” I’d discovered I preferred being on the outskirts of conversations, hearing and observing everyone engage with each other. I thought my position on the periphery of social environments made me excellent at listening.  

Needless to say, I was shocked when my sister told me recently, “You are a terrible listener.” I’d spent countless hours hearing her challenges and offering her sound advice or a different perspective. I’ve considered my reserved and assessing nature to be a benefit to my listening skills. So, it was a real challenge to be confronted with an opinion of me so vastly different from my own. My immediate response was defensiveness. I felt slighted by her critique. 

Putting my defensiveness aside, I decided to seek her honest feedback. I asked her to tell me more about how she felt and the specific ways in which I could have listened better. As she spoke, I listened with intention, stifling my desire to respond in order  to truly understand her perspective. Instead of just hearing her, I took in what she was saying and observed her with a more keen awareness. I realized there was so much more to what she was sharing with me than just her words.

There is a difference between hearing and listening.

Most of us regularly make the crucial mistake of confusing hearing with listening. Often in our effort to problem solve or empathize in conversations, we hear words and quickly create a narrative colored by our feelings, thoughts, assumptions, or judgments. This narrative, more often than not, creates an ego-centered response to what others share with us. We envision previous experiences that felt similar to what they were sharing. Or many of us are guilty of shifting to “fix-it” mode. How can I help? How can I resolve the issue?  Many of us are unknowingly but justifiably bad at listening. Not because of any malicious intent or lack of respect for the people we are sharing space with, but because we were never taught how to listen well.

Learning to listen is critical to our lives both personally and professionally, especially in the areas we are leading or working with others.  Though “85% of what we know we have learned through listening,” it remains a deeply underdeveloped and unexplored skill for so many of us.  According to Forbes, human beings generally listen at a 25% comprehension rate, and less than 2% of all professionals have had formal training to understand and improve their listening skills and techniques.  On a typical business day, we spend 45% of our time listening, 30% of our time talking, 16% reading and 9% writing.

Listening is a skill that like weightlifting must be honed through consistent practice and proper technique. According to Harvard Business Review’s “Listening to People” by Ralph G. Nichols and  Leonard A. Stevens, “to be good listeners we must apply certain skills that are acquired through either experience or training. If a person has not acquired these listening skills, his ability to understand and retain what he hears will be low”.

So, how can we listen more effectively?

There are a few different frameworks that can be supportive in practicing listening. This one below comes from our collaborative work with Sharon Bueno Washington. It is not a cycle or series of steps so much as all of the practices that must be attended to in dialogue that is rooted in intentional listening.

The External (often observable) Behaviors of Listening in Conversation:

Active Listening: Making a conscious effort to be present in our bodies and to hear the full messages being shared. It requires that we give our full attention not only to the content being communicated but also to the meanings, feelings, body language, and context being communicated to us.

Seeking to Understand: To discover what someone is really sharing with us, we expand the conversation by asking open, honest questions. This requires both that we seek to understand and that we have a willingness to be changed by what we learn.

Speaking from “I”: To listen to others often requires that we also are vulnerable in sharing the truth of our own personal experiences. In doing so, we listen to ourselves, and we can then speak using ‘I’ statements. Speaking with “I” honors the reality that our experience may be one part of a larger reality or truth that we seek to understand together through dialogue.

The Internal (often unobservable) Behaviors of Listening in Conversation

Awareness of Assumptions: Doing the inner work of uncovering the beliefs that underlie our opinions; of getting curious about how our bias informs what we’re hearing; and of allowing our assumptions to be challenged as we seek to understand. If we don’t want to understand, listening is purely performative.

Pausing on Judgment: Putting aside our drive to assess, diagnose, or judge others. There may be times when our expertise in assessment, diagnosis, or judgment is called upon or necessary, but truly listening is about pausing judgment until we’ve developed enough understanding and/or clarity to guide a discerning use of our assessment.

Remembering the Whole: Grounding ourselves in why we are practicing listening and noticing all the elements of what is unfolding. Remembering the whole might mean connecting to our purpose and values, noticing themes and patterns, zooming in and out of the details, or identifying all of the people, places, and things that are influencing us and others in the conversation.

So, what’s in it for me?

Consider how it feels when you feel listened to with intention. Consider how it feels when you feel unlistened to or misunderstood. Intuitively, we can understand the importance of having colleagues and team members who feel listened to, who feel heard. But often the protests come when people consider how much time and effort it will take–time and effort they say they don’t have. Consider listening as preventative, helping avoid misunderstandings, conflicts, resentments, and misalignments from taking up too much time. Imagine the impact of a group of people who feel valued, trust they can say what they need to say, know their perspective matters, and are regularly practicing listening themselves. If to exercise leadership, as scholar Ronald Heifetz says, means to be “orchestrating the process of getting factions with competing definitions of the problem to start learning from one another,” then we leaders definitely need to learn how to listen more intentionally.

As I learned to leverage the power of active listening, I created the space for my sister to feel heard, valued, and appreciated. By listening, I connected with my sister at a deeper, more meaningful level. She’s been able to reveal herself to me more openly, she’s unafraid to show me her vulnerabilities, and her  hopes and fears, joys and excitements in life. In our personal and professional lives, active and empathetic listening allows us to develop self-awareness and an understanding of others.

If you’d like more expert leadership insights and resources, check out The Rootwise Method, our foundational interactive course to help you bring your full potential to your role. This course will meet you right where you are, inviting you to tap into your own wisdom so that you can get what you most want our of life and work. 

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