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.

Humble Kindness: An Interview with Dr. Aaron Shapiro

Each month, we spotlight the work of a member of The Rootwise Hub community. Below we share reflections from Dr. Aaron Shapiro on their leadership practice. We honor the courage, service, and resilience that Aaron and their colleagues in the Bronx, NY have shown the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read on, be inspired!

Tell us a bit about yourself and your current work for social change.

My name is Aaron. I use he and they pronouns. I am currently completing the final year of my Primary Care Social Internal Medicine residency in the Bronx, NY.

My work for social change largely focuses on providing quality health care to people historically and currently marginalized by and abused by our systemically capitalist, classist, and racist health care system. I got a Master’s in Public Health in Leadership and Management focused on Quality Improvement and later my Evidence-based Design Accreditation and Certification. I am interested in being able to create structures that can provide quality, kind, and welcoming care to patients who are too often not provided safe and humane health care. My clinical work focuses on providing primary care for people struggling with substance use disorders, people struggling with chronic pain, sex workers, people of transgender experience, and people in and out of incarcerated settings.

In six words, how would you describe your experience as a leader in the past 18 months.

Upstream, isolating, collaborative, inspiring, gratifying, relieving.

In your life and work so far, what has been your most transformative leadership lesson? How did you learn it?

Most of my life I reluctantly identified as an anxious micro-manager. After a failed speaking engagement and observing multiple amazingly empowering leaders, I’ve become much more intentional about instilling ownership and trusting autonomy in the people I work with. While I’ll likely never be able to fully unlearn my anxiety, I’ve been so much happier and also a much more effective (and tolerable) leader through this frameshift. I’ve been inspired by focusing less on me egocentrically teaching and steering, but instead focusing more on facilitating others’ ideas and engagement. And there are few things I find more fulfilling than colleagues owning certain aspects of projects, moving those components forward independently, and seeing strong roots for sustainability take shape in my absence.

What is your current commitment or sense of purpose in your leadership practice?

I’ve really been working on grounding my leadership practice in humble kindness. Especially working in a “hot-spot” hospital through the height of COVID, the concept of, “be kind because you don’t know what someone else is going through,” has been such an unforgivingly salient mantra for me. I’ve done – and continue to do – a lot of work to minimize the ego in my leadership. I’m working on honing a leadership practice that creates safe spaces for people to voice their ideas for improvement and turning those spaces into ones of excited inspiration where we can workshop those ideas into action.

What advice do you have for others about how and when to use their voice to make change?

I feel it’s important to constantly use our voices to catalyze necessary change. But I think it’s important to remember that using our voices doesn’t mean shouting at full volume at all times. My voice is often used simply as a tool of active listening. It’s used to object in the moment when a superior says something offensive. I also try to be intentional about using my voice to amplify others’ as well as actively silence my voice to create space for others to be heard. I’ve found that as a white man, that last iteration of my voice has more often than not been the most important iteration.

How do you take care of yourself?

My first retreat with Perry and her colleagues was over a decade ago. I have gone to “refresher” workshops, and I’ve been meeting with a spiritual director/coach trained by Still Harbor regularly for about four years now. I depend a lot on my community and chosen family for support and fun. I try my hardest to prioritize physical activity and getting out into nature. I’ve gotten slowly better at identifying things I cannot change and being at peace with that. I am intentional about working in places that I respect and whose mission I trust to drive me forward.

What are you working to imagine, create, and build through your leadership?

One of the reasons I love Quality Improvement Sciences so much is because the discipline essentially says, “We know what to do, but are we doing it? Are we doing it well? And if not, how do we do better?” And the answers to that last question are more often than not known by the people already working on those issues. We simply inherit a culture of expectations that become obstacles to actuating our work in ways we know can be done better. Maybe we feel we’re stepping on someone else’s toes. Maybe we feel like our supervisor isn’t open to suggestions. Maybe we’re already too overworked and underpaid to have the energy to take anything else on. My leadership practice is about identifying and minimizing those barriers to people living and working with fulfillment and purpose. I want to support people around me in feeling like they’re able to do everything they can to make the world a better place. Seeing so many others light up with excitement and purpose is personally inspiring to me.

We know that you have bunny friend, can you tell us about them?

WHAT IS THE WORD LIMIT!?!?!? My bunny friend is Pinecone. He’s a one-year-old Holland Lop. He is literally the fluffiest living creature to ever live on Earth. I got him during COVID times, and he has been a lifesaver for me. He loves snuggles, fresh hay, and big carpets to zoom on. Yes his picture is the background of my phone, and yes I threw a super extra bunny themed first birthday party for him.

What is authentic leadership?

Most people know authentic leadership when they see it but have a hard time figuring out what makes up the authenticity factor we trust.

We’ve found that it comes down to representing your beliefs and values in action. What’s nice is that this definition can apply to an individual as well as to an entire organization. And it offers a clear pathway for development!

Half of the development work is the inner work of figuring out what you believe and value. The other half is about bringing those beliefs and values in action and being accountable for when you go astray.

In a way, leading authentically means being an author of your life, bringing the stories and stuff inside out. This metaphor needs a bit of unpacking, though. At first pass, authoring your life might seem devoid of the self-inquiry that authentic leadership calls us to do. It might sound more like creating and selling an image or a story, which might actually be the opposite of what we’re looking for in leaders. But if we really look at authors who are successfully generating ongoing original work that is trusted and engaged by their readers, they are immersed in this cycle of turning their lived experiences or understandings into ideas and then turning the stories birthed within them into words. Authentic leadership relies on a similar cycle of making meaning of experiences inwardly and then putting that meaning out into the world in order to have another experience and begin again.

The more you embrace life and leadership as an ever unfolding story, the more this praxis (cycle of reflection and action) becomes intuitive and natural. Often the biggest stumbling blocks are either not taking the time to figure out what you believe and value or expecting to arrive at a time when you get to stop engaging the praxis.

A robust authentic leadership development program (whether formal or informal) must support leaders in developing the “muscle” needed to engage this cycle as a matter of both ritual and instinct.

Authenticity is not something that you can develop on your own: it requires relationships with others and the world. It is only through relationship that your beliefs and values are turned into action. It is also not you can develop without failing at it. As human beings, we are all unreflective or inauthentic sometimes. It is your awareness and willingness to receive feedback from the world and others in those moments of misalignment that will allow you to begin again .

How can you seek greater alignment, honesty, and clarity between your inner and outer lives? Leading in this way is as simple as meeting yourself and others right where you are in any given moment. Leading in this way is also as radically aspirational as actively living into the ideals of an ever-emerging sense of self and offering others space to do the same. There is freedom in this orientation to leadership if we are willing to dive into the reflection, the action, and the relationships.

The Path to Resilience

Having to integrate and heal following challenge, stress, tragedy, or loss is naturally an emotionally painful process. Each of us must discover our own ways to move through distress to resilience, and yet, life calls us to resilience if we listen.

Resilience is not simply about about getting rid of the pain we experience quickly (though many may want you to confuse this kind of psychological toughness with resilience). The movement toward resilience is a movement toward wholeness through understanding.

Sources of resilience

Our intuitive ability to move towards wholeness is strengthened and renewed by:
  1. RELATIONSHIP: Loving, supportive, and trusting relationships and communities.
  2. FAITH (PURPOSE): Confidence and trust in ourselves, others, and life itself.
  3. ACTION: Our ability to communicate our feelings and needs, to take action, to ask for help, and to set boundaries appropriately as needed.
These are renewable sources of resilience that can be sought out, cultivated, learned, and practiced every day. You might begin by reflecting on your sources (no matter how big or small they might be):
  • I have… Who are the people, places, and communities that nourish me?
  • I am… What are the beliefs, values, and mindsets that give me strength and hope and connection?
  • I can… What are the choices, actions, words, and skills that help me navigate difficulty?
Organizations, communities, and institutions can tap into these sources of resilience just as individuals can: “We have…” “We are…” “We can…” That said, our dominant culture, by and large, does not focus on promoting these renewable sources of resilience for everyone and certainly does not include everyone in defining the “we” of collective resilience.

Therefore, practicing resilience in community or organizational settings requires embracing everyone’s experiences and seeking to transform the culture to cultivate sources of resilience for all and include all when defining “we”. This practice requires embracing the centrality of each individual experience in making up the collective experience AND the impact of the collective culture on each individual. No one else can tell you how to adapt towards wholeness AND you are not separate from the culture of systems and institutions you belong to.

The best ways to launch pathways to resilience as a leader both personally and within your organization is to focus on the work of cultivating connection, trust, communication (priorities, boundaries, needs), and agency.

Finding flexibility and balance

Resilience can be paradoxical. It’s built upon a balancing of honoring the complexity of human needs in the dynamic reality of our existence. Holding resilience work in gentle, flexible balance is essential to lovingly guiding yourself and your organizations on the path to resilience. Resilience as a priority asks us to listen, to be present, to meet the moment, honor the need, and to flow. How can you flow towards wholeness?

Consider this from the American Psychological Association:

“Resilience involves maintaining flexibility and balance in your life as you deal with stressful circumstances and traumatic events. This happens in several ways, including:

  • Letting yourself experience strong emotions, and also realizing when you may need to avoid experiencing them at times in order to continue functioning.
  • Stepping forward and taking action to deal with your problems and meet the demands of daily living, and also stepping back to rest and reenergize yourself.
  • Spending time with loved ones to gain support and encouragement, and also nurturing yourself.
  • Relying on others, and also relying on yourself.”

Consider the importance of nimble both/and strategies to meet yourself and others in your needs as you seek to bring intention to developing rivers of resilience that flow from deep sources of relationship, faith, and action.

15 Leadership Practices Worth Exploring

How do you communicate you authenticity and ability to lead to others effectively? Can you just show up and say, “I’m here. I’m a leader. Let’s go.”? Is there some badge you wear when you’re ready that says, “Certified Leader”, so that everyone knows we are capable of leading them? 

Not always that simple, right? That’s because we communicate our leadership to others by leading. 

Leadership is all about practice. Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t titles and roles that we might have or seek or be given that act as badges in a way. And yet, when any one of us steps into those roles, people are looking at the ways that we show up, the ways that we take action, the ways that we practice leadership in order to evaluate how they engage with or follow or collaborate with us. 

Practice, Practice, Practice

So what are those practices? We’ve developed a list of 15 leadership practices that when studied and learned and practiced effectively can truly transform any one of us into a leader who will be recognized as such through our actions. Here they are:

  1. Listening Deeply
  2. Engaging Joy & Humor
  3. Living Compassion & Kindness
  4. Being Present & Generous
  5. Practicing Observation & Non-Judgment
  6. Connecting to Higher-Purpose
  7. Communicating Values
  8. Identifying Feelings & Needs
  9. Hosting Conversations
  10. Holding & Honoring Boundaries
  11. Understanding Choice & Control
  12. Dealing with Dualities & Paradoxes
  13. Navigating Power Dynamics
  14. Being Accountable
  15. Practicing Forgiveness

Now, you have the list! Maybe you’re thinking, “This is my magic wand. I’ll review these tonight and tomorrow show up in a new or different way.” I hope you’re inspired and thinking that… truly. And the challenge here is to really dive into these practices as we would a workout regiment. Doing 15 pushups tonight will not radically shift our arm strength and core, and yet doing 15 pushups every night and getting feedback and support in refining our form will over time fundamentally change our arm strength and core.

So, if you want to take your practice to the next level, I’d say you have a few options:

  1. Conduct a rigorous self-assessment: How are you doing in each of these areas? Get out a pen and a journal and begin to reflect. After journaling on each of the areas, if you find yourself unsure or curious to learn more, ask people around you for feedback, do some research, and set up a workout routine of sorts for the practice areas that you need to hone better.
  2. Get a coach: An executive coach, leadership coach, mentor, advisor… someone who will listen deeply, challenge you, support your reflection, and leave the choices up to you!
  3. Find a training program: Sign up up for a leadership or personal development program in a community that will help you develop greater awareness and understanding of yourself in the particular practices that feel like a struggle to you. May I suggest The Rootwise Hub? 🙂

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