Before I started examining my leadership approach in the Fellowship, I was experiencing things and contexts that were frustrating/puzzling to me – things that I did not have words for. And when I did not have the words to describe them – I could not make sense of what was happening – why things were not working well. Leadership – which I believe is who we decide to be and how we choose to be with ourselves and others - affects everything from the moment we wake up in the morning until the moment we go back to sleep at night. Because each of person makes choices throughout the day, each of us is a leader.
After more than a year in the Fellowship, I realize some things about myself – that help me understand better who I am as a person; what my key values and goals are. Understanding those things make it so much clearer for me to work effectively in most contexts that I find myself in.
For example, one of the contexts I encountered often, if not in every single context/conversation, in the past, and more frequently since 2020, was equity and inclusion contexts. I would be in a room full of highly educated and resourceful people with genuine intent to do good; to be inclusive, and yet decisions made by the group would often have the opposite effect. It happened so often that I became impatient and distrustful of people around me. Through my Fellowship, I learned words to describe what I was seeing and experiencing in those contexts/conversations -to myself and to others. Words like “people’s identities and experiences shape their developmental level around equity and inclusion.” Even if they were highly educated, had well-intended goals, they may not be at the development stage to fully understand, accept, and know how to work differently with the differences that matter in the room. For those of you who work specifically as DEI practitioners, you know I am referring to the language and tools from the Intercultural Development Continuum (IDC) and the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI).
I was familiar with the IDC/IDI before the Fellowship, but the Fellowship gave me the time to fully work with it; to learn the skills to engage with different people along that continuum. Knowing and practicing and making it a part of me /my leadership style – helped me be more effective in meeting people where they are at – while not losing myself, and not losing sight of the goal of making progress on equity and inclusion – no matter how long that may take. Trusting that people can change and move upward on that continuum matters. It makes the challenging work more manageable, if not easier to face.
Alongside this continuous learning and practicing of working with all people across the IDC/IDI continuum, is regular and intentional self-care. As a person of color, this work is certain to add to already existing trauma if one does not take of oneself. What has worked for me, and what I would advise, is to remember to hang around other people who are at the same development stage as you. Also, important, do the work in partnership with others and take time to be kind to yourself.