Hello Bush community! Here I am writing my third learning log. I started this journey as a Ph.D. candidate and a Director of School Partnerships, and now I am a newly minted doctoral graduate and Senior Director at a nonprofit organization. As a Puerto Rican who persevered to gain success as a working musician, educator, and arts administrator, I have always been passionate about developing my leadership skills while also understanding how my race and cultural heritage might be keeping me from achieving my full potential. Anyone from a historically excluded and marginalized background has the right and freedom to be themselves by representing their cultures, identities, or heritages in this White dominant space we call the United States. The Bush fellowship is transforming me through all these new opportunities. I treat receiving the fellowship as a transformational learning experience, as this has shaped the person and leader I am today.
I finally recognize that my leadership has the opportunity and responsibility to play a key role in rebuilding and contributing to substantive societal change. I believe it is our duty as a society to intentionally include and celebrate those excluded populations. The principles of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are inherent in my leadership and essential to its future. For me, this means living in alignment with my core values every single day. As I look to the future, I must remember this is forever work.
Developing more capacity in the way I lead is apparent. There is no set deadline as ongoing transformation is the goal. In understanding how to develop more capacity, the ability to have an executive coach is life-changing. I have been working with my executive coach on building my intercultural competence. I am focusing on building trust and a sense of belonging with other employees to further my leadership development. One of my fears when applying for the Bush Fellowship was imposter syndrome. With the support and resources, I am able to work with my executive coach in dismantling this persona and move forward with being the best leader I can be. I have been doing a lot of reflecting on how I communicate. I took the Intercultural Conflict Styles (ICS) assessment. The ICS is a validated, empirical measure of an individual’s approach for solving problems, managing disagreements, and resolving disputes with others. The ICS Inventory focuses on communication, problem solving, and conflict resolution styles used by people from many different cultures. This Fellowship provides me the resources to eliminate any discomfort I have as an imposter and validate my forward progress as a leader.
The past 20 months has been a learning experience in understanding my leadership style. I think back to my application for the Bush Fellowship. I talked about suffering from imposter syndrome. I had a big battle mentally with this the first few months as I transitioned fully into a new position at my organization. I am blessed to have an amazing therapist. They have really helped me to amplify my voice as a subject matter practioner in my field. In amplifying my voice, I am able to illuminate my leadership throughout my organization by disrupting the system of inequities, but to also met employees where they are. This aligns with part of my Fellowship plan to eliminate any form of imposter syndrome.
Further, my life has been energized since receiving the Fellowship. My executive coach has pushed me in a way to move me past imposter syndrome, while utilizing new resources the Bush Fellowship allows for. For example, being trained in the ICS will allow me to navigate how to communicate/guide conversations with employees for conflict resolution. The continuation of my monthly executive leadership coaching is making me listen, learn, and reflect constantly to enhance my social justice awareness. Working in a predominately white institution, I feel that this is the next logical step in my leadership training. I am excited to finally have a full list of leadership development that continue to take my leadership to uncharted waters which entails strengthening my DEI work to develop more capacity that centers on core results to further my practice of adaptive leadership, self-awareness, racial equity, system change, developing peer networks and using a results-based frame.
As I continue to develop my leadership, I am building an infrastructure of practices and responsibilities to bring a strong knowledge of intercultural competence, social justice, research, and education to guide organizational change throughout my entire organization. I have been learning so much over the past few years. One thing that is very apparent to me now is how people view me a high-profile equity and inclusion position. I embrace the discomfort. Living in a country that has been very polarized the last years is challenging me to reflect more on how to lead. I view all of this as learning experiences. I continue to learn something new every day about my leadership style. Through my executive coaching sessions, self-care days, and conversations with individuals, I am building up my cultural capacity. Developing this capacity is another form of practice. It is not a one off, it is a commitment that takes time. And with practice, there are goods days, and not so good days. Building leadership requires intentional self-care. It is normal to have emotional reactions to change and transitions. Guidance throughout the year from my executive coach has allowed me to build my leadership skills. My understanding of my leadership has evolved since becoming a fellow.
Before excepting the fellowship, the transition to a full-time position led to a momentary pause in my doctoral studies, as I sought to effectively balance writing my dissertation, working full-time, and being a single father. Still, this brief pause allowed me to engage in self-care and hone and focus my diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) research into practice and has ultimately ascribed the paths that have led me to this point. My path has not always been easy, nor has it been clear, yet my desire to test, expand, and push the boundaries of DEI in my field has fueled my persistence. My leadership is driven by the questions and concerns that have evolved from my lived experience, and I am committed to incorporating them appropriately as a matter of deeper understanding in my ability to lead.
As per developing a self-care awareness, strategizing this requires new skill sets to establish growth, innovation, community, and cultural change. Self-care is an essential element for leaders to engage in effective recruitment, retention, and promotion strategy, and an employee training requirement, its insights and perspectives must be embedded into the fabric of how institutions operate every day. Active listening and learning should be put in the context of self-care. This also shifts the accountability more fully to the side of leadership and establishes a perspective. In establishing a self-care leadership mindset, it is only through explicit exposure to unfamiliar concepts, building relationships with people who are willing to challenge worldviews, and compelling evidence of the injustice and unfairness that runs throughout the organization, that leaders will be able to contextualize what has been previously kept invisible.
Personally, I am engaging more and more in self-care. I have a great therapist, I am being physically active, I am making more time for my son, and most importantly, I am establishing boundaries for me time. It is of most important that I focus on me. I used to think I was being selfish and needed to put more hours into work, but actually if I am not happy, then what is the point of all of this? The more balanced I become, the more I am an effective leader. Without discomfort, without that fear, or without going into that zone of never having done this or that, we cannot stretch ourselves to think beyond our limits.
Throughout my life I have come in contact with a variety of people, each unique in their own way. There are so many good and imperfect people that have contributed towards my leadership journey. I cannot acknowledge them all here, but just know that everyone has played an important role in teaching me how to center and amplify my marginalized voice. I would like to thank my Papi for being my one true constant in supporting me throughout my life. Through the good and bad, I will cherish his words and love that have lifted me up when I was down. I hope to pass on his ability to communicate through powerful metaphors to my son. I would also like to thank the rest of my family who stood by my side as I left North Carolina as a young man with a lack of vision yet supported me in taking my time to truly find myself. I am thankful to my college professors and senior team at my organization for guiding me to become a stronger leader. The ability for each of them to shift perspectives and mentor me in contextualizing this fellowship will not be forgotten. Thank you to those in the Bush administration for providing support for me to develop my leadership skills. I will always be grateful for the support everyone has provided. To those of you reading this learning log, you get to be whoever you want to be. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Thank you to everyone once again.