I've had the privilege of studying different forms of leadership. Early on, I adapted the gold standard of leadership from a capitalist patriarchal lens. The standard of leadership has been modeled, defined, and dominated by white men. Many libraries and bookstores have entire sections dedicated to leadership development from this perspective. As a black woman, I have implemented cultural values such a community and interdependence as integral values in my leadership. Since becoming a Bush fellow, I've had the opportunity to immerse myself in a culture of leadership that aligns with who I am and what I believe in with no adaptions.
I decided to seek formal leadership training by enrolling in a doctoral program in management and public service at Hamline University. Among other benefits, I decided to return to school because I was especially interested in diving deeper into interpersonal or what is sometimes known as leadership's soft skills. September will be two years since returning to academia, and I have grown tremendously in understanding what it means to be an emotionally intelligent leader. As a clinician by training, I was very familiar with the importance of emotional intelligence. After all, the entire premise of my work as a mental health professional was centered around concepts related to emotional intelligence. However, I knew if I was to be successful in my transition from clinician to leader, having a deep understanding of emotional intelligence through a leadership lens would be necessary. Some of the best leaders I've had the privilege of working with were self-aware and understood the need to be adaptive. These leaders showed up as themselves and not who others wanted or believe them to be. Authenticity is an undervalued quality in leadership and, in many ways, is not given the credit it deserves. People want to know that leaders are human; knowing and understanding this has affirmed my commitment to showing up human. I can recall a quote I once heard from a leadership coach, "the conduit to influence is not competence, it's warmth." In other words, one's ability to connect with others and be received as an authentic leader will determine one's ability to gain buy-in from those you need to get the work done. I've carried this quote with me since that day.
Now more than ever, it has become more challenging to lead with warmth in a political climate that is overtly racist to the point where the entire nation feels compelled to state their opinion and stance, most times unsolicited. I've spent countless hours in virtual meetings with white colleagues who are overcompensating by focusing the conversation on Black, Indigenous, People of Colors repression. Unfortunately, white people don't recognize that centering the conversation around their feelings about racism against non-white bodies is problematic. I don't experience these conventions as space to heal but rather the opportunity for white people to appear "non-racist." Unfortunately, my desire for white people to heal so they can stop projecting their pain vis racism onto non-white people is out of my control. As a result, I will continue to practice accountability while still standing in my truth and the truth of my community. Further, it looks like not checking out when the discussion becomes more about validating those in power and less about making real and measurable change.
My leadership style has evolved with newly acquired skills but has remained grounded in integrity and service to others. Like many, as a result of COVID-19, I have had more time to strengthen my skills to enhance my leadership qualities. I believe the space and opportunity to invest, reflect, and rest have clarified who I am as a leader. This time of reflection has also allowed me to be more creative about the kind of leader I could develop into. Leadership is not about where you work, what position you hold, or how high up that position is on the org chart. Those variables are surface descriptions of leadership that is forever changing. More importantly, these hierarchies are produced in what bell hooks calls "White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy." That type of leadership alone is not something of value. Leaders interested in equitable, authentic, transformational change prioritize, creating space for people to realize their leadership potential. Good leaders value listening, spending a great deal of their time in reflection, and are interested in remaining curious about the world around them. They take up space with their presence and spirit, not by having the loudest voice in the room. I had an opportunity to read Susan Cain's Quiet, a read that provides an alternative narrative for leadership that hasn't been embraced by society as a whole. As an introverted leader, Cain's passionate work about introverts' extraordinary talents has been incredibly affirming. Cain suggested, "introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes because when they are managing proactive employees they are much more likely to allow employees to run with their ideas." The common idea that leaders need to be extroverted, boisterous, and take risks is valuable because we are not a monolith. We must celebrate diverse ways of leading. However, introverted leaders add value by developing leaders by sharing space and working across the board instead of up the ladder. I believe some of my greatest leadership qualities come from being an active listener, observer, and introspective.