By the time you see this post, you will no
doubt have read a lot of reflections on this time of uncertainty. In a recent
IISC staff check-in, we lifted up several principles and practices to support
our community as we, like so many other organizations, move to largely virtual
work. We hope these ideas will provide some comfort and guidance to you, as
Lean into relationships.
The COVID19 crisis brings into stark relief an
awareness that we’ve long held dear. We are all connected and the well-being of
each of us is important to the well-being of all of us. So, first and foremost,
we want to lean into our relationships, engaging with our colleagues, clients,
and partners as people first. If ever there was a time for people to know how
much you care, it’s now. You can
demonstrate that care in very practical ways.
Pause and connect. Whether it’s a one-on-one
conversation or a meeting, make space to find out how folks are doing before diving into what they are (or should/shouldn’t be) doing.
Think respect. Knowing what we know about
human differences and structural inequities, expect that people will have
different perspectives and experiences of these uncertain times. Respect will
look different for different people. So, upgrade your Golden Rule (do to others
as you’d have them do to you) with the Platinum Rule (do to others as they’d
have you do to them). Find out what respect and support look like from their
point of view.
If in doubt, communicate. Connect with people
more, not less. Be as clear as you can about actions, risks, policies, and open
questions. Be clear about how decisions are being made and when/how contingency
plans might go into effect.
Pick up the phone to handle tough or emotional
conversations. Enhance that with video conferencing whenever possible so folks
can see one another.
Minimize unnecessary emails to leave room for
Be a spirit, not a ghost. In other words, let
folks know that you’re available. Don’t let virtual work turn into a
disappearing act. Reach out to colleagues through whatever communications
mechanisms you have at your disposal.
Now is a time for us to deepen our trust in
both people and the process. When we know who’s around us and what they are
about, and when we have confidence that they operate with integrity,
transparency, and skillfulness, it’s much easier to trust leaders and the
processes that they facilitate.
Continue to tap into one another’s strengths as
individuals and as a collective. Remind yourself of what you and others are
good at. Connect to folks within your network who are good at different things
Trust the process. This is often easier said
than done. It’s easier to do work in community when we trust our leaders and
have experienced their commitment to transparency and to our core values. Here
are some of IISC’s core values:
Shared power: People have a right to be
involved in the decisions that affect them so they have influence over the
quality of their lives
Love: We believe in the dignity of all human
beings and in taking care of each other and of our planet. Love is a force for
Accountability: We align our work with
frontline and grassroots communities of color most impacted by racism in
general and this crisis in particular.
Take appropriate actions.
Take care of yourself so you can take care of people around you. If ever there were a time to “put on your own mask before helping others,” as the airlines advise in an emergency, it’s now. Everything we can do to stay healthy makes us able to resist the virus, reduce the likelihood of spreading it, and be in a position to support others at work, at home, and in our communities.
Take risks for what we might do. As a small organization, we face economic and other risks, just like every other nonprofit, foundation, and small company. We may need to take some financial or other risks in order to support our colleagues and serve our clients in these times.
Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. While it’s important to be prudent and thorough, we don’t want to be immobilized by a false expectation that we can act with perfection. In fact, that expectation is a marker of white supremacy culture that we’d do well to abandon in general, and especially in these times. Let’s figure out what “good” looks like and move forward.
An addendum: Given the specific conversation we were having as a staff, we didn’t discuss several very common sense and justice-oriented actions beyond our work community. Here are a few other important actions that we can take as individuals and as a society.
Keep yourself informed about how to avoid spreading the virus. The CDC’s guidance for individuals and businesses is a good place to start. If you see something in social media that’s hard to believe (or if it’s new, outrageous, and too easy to believe), be sure to fact-check it before heading the advice or sharing it with others. Start with the World Health Organization’s Myth Busters page and sites like Snopes.com.
Support the hourly workers in your life and community. “Tip outrageously if you are out. Say, ‘This is for the tips I know you’re missing right now.’ Call your hair stylist if you’re not coming in like usual. Ask how they are doing. Send your tip or the cost of your haircut via Venmo.*
Advocate for government action. Remember that our government is supposed to be of, by, and for the people. Let your local, state, and national representatives know what you and your community need. Advocate for school districts to keep feeding children even if schools are closed. Insist that evictions be halted during the emergency and help people find support if they face eviction. Insist that water and utility shut-offs be halted during the emergency. Help people connect with legal aid if needed in these situations. Support efforts to provide economic relief to hourly workers and small businesses. Insist that everyone needs access to health care and all workers needpaid sick leave. “Call and … talk as long as you want. Tell whoever answers the phone that you think healthcare should be for everyone. Now more than ever.”* See this list of demands from organizers for even more concrete things to demand from the government to protect the public and especially the most vulnerable members of our communities in these times.**
** Thanks to our friends at Change Elemental for this. See more ideas in their message, With Care.
Cultivate a strategic, collaborative mindset.
Human actions are driven by a complex set of
factors, including how we are thinking, how we are feeling, and the
relationship between the two. In times of uncertainty, we want to lean into a
few essential aspects of the collaborative mindset.
Assume the best. Without overlooking the
difference between intent and impact, we also want to make the generous
assumption that everyone is doing their best to show up and contribute.
Offer and receive grace. If people make
mistakes, offend, cause harm, or miss opportunities to do good, we want to
offer grace and forgiveness. This isn’t an effort to erase the harm or error.
Rather, it’s an offer to see the whole person and support them as they correct
or repair. If we are the ones making the mistakes or causing harm, we invite
ourselves to be gentle with ourselves, avoid self-shaming, and graciously
receive grace that is offered by our colleagues.
See challenges as opportunities and growth.Like “trust the process,” this is not
new advice. And yet, in these times, it’s especially important to look for
opportunities as we survey the landscape. We’re asking questions like: How can
we move important work forward without face-to-face gatherings? How can we
share our particular strengths in this moment? How can we repurpose “found
time” that will no longer be used for workshops or convenings so that we can
advance projects that have been waiting for time and attention? How can we
improve our communications and deepen our relationships?
When we introduce IISC’s Dimensions of Success framework, we point out that the goal is for leaders to balance their attention on results, process, and relationship over time. The corollary is that sometimes, as collaborative leaders, we need to focus more heavily on one dimension than the others. In these times, it’s hard to overdo the focus on relationships. And, if we’re going to achieve the results we are seeking to manifest in the world, it’s essential that we build or strengthen our processes so that they are sturdy enough to carry us through these tough times.
So, as you go about your day-to-day work, and even as that work is interrupted and transformed, we hope that you’ll hold tight to the people around you, stand firm on your values, and take the actions you can to mitigate the crisis. Let’s all strive to water seeds of hope and nurture the seedlings of possibility, wherever we find them.
Equipping your Race, Equity, and Inclusion Team to Lead Organizational Change
Are you an “accidental equity leader” in your organization, or one that is regularly tapped on the shoulder to address equity and inclusion challenges? Ever wonder how on earth to get your smart, passionate collection of staff, board members, and other stakeholders on the same page about what racial equity means for your work? Ever wish you and your team had more strategies and skills for moving your organization from affirming racial justice values to adopting racial justice practices and pursuing equitable outcomes?
IISC is delighted to announce a new cohort-based learning experience designed to equip existing or nascent equity teams. This experience builds on our workshop Advancing Racial Justice in Organizations, creating deeper opportunities for learning and action than are possible in the one-day workshop format.
We know that operationalizing racial justice values and pursuing racial equity requires not just insight and information, but also changes to organizational culture, systems, process, and practices. Whether you are leading a single organization or a network, and whatever issues you address, you need a carefully designed plan and process for making those changes together. And, in order to design and facilitate such a collaborative process, you need a team that is well-equipped to guide your stakeholders to learn and plan together.
This cohort experience is an exciting opportunity to learn with your colleagues (you’ll come with a team of five or six people), leaders of other groups (the cohort will include four organizations or networks), and IISC’s team (an experienced pair of consultant/trainers). The experience includes:
A detailed application process with prompts to guide your team’s thinking about organization’s readiness, assets, and challenges
In-depth pre-work assignments to continue exploring your organizational and personal strengths and growing edges
A webinar to establish shared language and analysis
A two-day workshop to learn together
A virtual peer coaching session
Two virtual coaching sessions with the IISC team
You can download more information and the application here.
IISC is about to celebrate 25 years of service and my
husband and I just celebrated 27 years of marriage. One of my colleagues asked
how being part of IISC has influenced my marriage. I tell workshop participants
all the time that using at home the collaborative methods and mindset that we
teach will make it easy to use them at work. They will also make your home life
better because they are rooted in values that are all about building up others
and working together toward important common goals. Sounds like family life to
When I’m on my best behavior at home (as a mom, wife,
sister, daughter, daughter-in-law) I use lots of what I have learned and teach at
IISC. It’s also true that when I’m on bad behavior, I’ve usually forgotten or
laid aside what I’ve learned. Here’s a sampler …
Distinguish content and process. Use appropriate
processes for the outcomes and people you’re working with. Pay special
attention to process and how people are relating to one another.
Be clear about my role in the conversation. Am I
participating? Just facilitating? Coaching?
When I am a participant, bias toward asking
questions that build understanding and help ideas to emerge. Engage with what
others are saying rather than just advocating for my own ideas.
When coaching, ask questions and share
observations that help the coachee to gain insight. Before giving advice, be
sure the person wants it.
When I’m just facilitating, don’t do the work
for the group or turn the conversation toward me or my ideas. Help them to
think it out.
In all cases, inquire before advocating. And
then inquire some more!
Be clear about who’s the decision maker and
involve others appropriately in the process. Remember that even when I have the
authority to make a decision, I will still want to consider ways to involve
others who will be affected by that decision. And, be sure to explain my
Remember that big agreements are often built
through a series of small agreements.
Remember IISC’s collaboration lens:
Networks – Remember that my family is part of a
broader network. Cultivate relationships, build the capacity of everyone in the
network to be strong, contributing members, build a gift culture.
Exercise “power with” rather than “power over.”
Again, even when I do have power over (as with a small child), bias toward
building the person’s power to discern and act on their best motivations rather
than just imposing my will.
Work for equitable outcomes, matching my
strategies to the individual needs. Recognize that people will experience the
family and the world differently based on their identity.
Nurture the love that does justice. Deeply honor
the humanity of everyone, even people we disagree with.
When in conflict, don’t be overly wedded to my
position. Reveal and encourage others to reveal the underlying interests and
look for common ground. Explore options without commitments before trying to
move toward an agreement.
Be clear and specific about feedback. And only
offer it when you are genuinely committed to the other person’s improvement.
Make sure to give reinforcing feedback as well as constructive feedback.
Remember where you are in the open-narrow-close stages
of building an agreement. Don’t start to narrow (analyze options) too early or
good ideas may not emerge. Don’t close (make an agreement) until you’ve got all
the ideas on the table and have thought them through together.
And, of course, many of our norms for
collaboration: Remember it’s ok to
disagree. Listen for understanding. Enable empathy and compassion. Take
space/make space. Keep it real. Keep it here. Take responsibility for impact,
regardless of intent.
I’m curious about what’s on your list folks!!
Years ago, I used to joke (only half kiddingly) with Ron and
Susan Kertnzer, who were affiliates and former staff of Interaction Associates who
were married to each other. After participating in a workshop that they
facilitated, I thought we should create a workshop called “The Learning
Marriage and the Facilitated Family.” The skills we teach could strengthen some
basic building blocks of our society. And, if we would learn and use these
skills at home, using them at work would be second nature! That idea never got out
of the discussion phase. Who knows whether it’s an idea whose time will
IISC exists to bring the best of collaborative practice to the work of social justice and sustainability. In the early years, some of our detractors felt we were too apolitical, that our call to “get the whole system in the room” was naïve at best and dangerous at worst. Without a power analysis, collaboration across traditional lines of authority, role and identity was of limited interest to some of the organizers and activists we knew. Collaboration might be a good idea for the allies, they thought, but it was silly to think that bringing the power brokers or counterproductive actors in the system into the room with those most affected would lead to meaningful results. That was the early and mid 1990s.
In some ways, our critics were right and we knew it. By the late 1990s, we began to bring diversity and cultural competency explicitly into our framework. After all, collaboration is about working together, and working together across race, class, culture, and role are part and parcel of that kind of work. We stretched our core methodology. We expanded the boundaries of cultural competency to include understanding historic and present-day structural dynamics of oppression and taking action to address structural factors. By the early 2000s we were crystalizing an understanding of power, network theory, and love as critical dimensions of collaboration. Since the late 2000s, we’ve been building tools and methods to bring power, equity, and inclusion into the center of our practice. The next stage of this evolving practice has been an increasingly sharp focus on racial justice in particular, to the point where the pursuit of racial equity is part of our stated mission. And, I’m excited to see how many people see the value of bringing that enriched understanding of collaborative practice to their work for racial justice. At the same time, I’m struck by the continuing importance of protest and civil disobedience to the pursuit of justice.
In this particular moment brings a question into sharp relief in this particular moment. When is it necessary to completely disrupt life or business as usual in order to shine a light on injustices and pursue justice? Can that kind of disruption be done in a collaborative way? What’s the role for confrontation?
I am indebted to Linda Stout and her colleagues at Spirit in Action for their 4Rs approach to social change. They recognize that there are times for Resisting violations of shared values and human rights; Reforming existing systems; Reimagining alternative futures; and Reinventing communities, organizations, and societies from the ground up to reflect the kinds of values we hold dear. If ever there was a time to resist, it’s now. And those who are resisting courageously in ways large and small need spaces of refuge and restoration. It’s exhausting and dangerous work. Reimagining is often led by artists, and the movie Black Panther highlighted the power of reimagining alternative futures. I think that much of our work centers on reforming existing systems, supporting people who are working to transform their institutions from the inside out. And, in a few cases, there are genuine efforts to focus energy and attention on recreating ways of being and doing together that bring the imagined future into reality.
I’ve been sensing a growing desire for a lot more reimagining and recreating. What’s the mix in your work and your world?
I am becoming pretty good at compartmentalizing – focusing on the work that is right in front of me, even as more tragedy surrounds us and more outrage wells up within me. It’s certainly functional to be able to do that. But I don’t know that it’s always good. Part of me despairs. How many more people – and especially children – have to die needlessly? How is it that in other countries, people experience mental illness, firing from a job, expulsion from school, and all manner of personal tragedy without turning to mass killings? I want to be in the streets. I want to raise my voice with others in ways that will make a big and immediate difference. I want an end to politicians offering “thoughts and prayers.” I know there is power in prayer, and I also know that powerful prayer motivates powerful, compassionate action.
In a workshop the other day, we were exploring the ways that collaborative leadership practices support organizations and networks in pursuing broader diversity, deeper inclusion, and expanded equity and justice. Someone asked me if I really thought we would ever get closer to justice in this country, given the recent sharp turn we’re taking in the opposite direction. I offered two thoughts in response: (1) I think things are getting much better and much worse at the very same time. There is an expanding consciousness of the sacredness of human life and the interconnectedness of people and the planet; and many people who suffer under oppression are finding ways to resist and to build alternatives. That is all advancing and it’s good. And, the forces of racism, sexism, homophobia, zealotry, and more are also advancing, most recently with tacit and explicit support from the White House. (2) As a woman of faith, what keeps me going is anticipating that in 50 years, when people look back on this era, they will see it as the last moments of flailing by a dying beast. May it be so!
These days, it’s hard not to drift into apocolyptic thinking. With the fires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, mud slides, ongoing flirtation with nuclear war, rising visibility of virulent white supremacy, ending of DACA, daily dismantling of federal level protections of civil rights and the environment, and the list goes on, it’s easy to despair. I keep saying to myself and my colleagues that a strong spiritual core is the only thing that keeps me moving! That, and the reality that it’s actually possible to make some progress within my sphere of control.
I’m reminded of two poems …
I am only one
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything
But still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
— Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909) Unitarian Universalist minister
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
In spite of the times, I hope you are looking for and encouraged by the acts of resistance, reform, recreating and reimagining that are all around us. There is much we can do to advance justice and sustainability, even in these trying times. Think carefully. Love fully. Work together. Practice community care. While each of us is only one, together, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
Photo credit: Ginko biloba leaves by James Field (Jame). Ginko trees are considered endangered even though they are cultivated worldwide, because so few live in the wild. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unportedlicense.
I’ve often said that language is difficult, but it’s all (or at least most) of what we have to communicate complex ideas. I can remember when doing “diversity work” was seen as cutting edge, relevant, and powerful. It was an effort to change historic structures of exclusion, to change outcomes for people of color and women who suffered the brunt of racism and sexism. It was a chance to speak truth to power, and it seemed for a while that power was listening. Until it wasn’t. Or, more precisely, until the listeners started to hear “diversity” and think only about “heterogeneity.” With the stroke of a pen checking off boxes, the work was domesticated, watered down, simplified, and downsized into simply getting different faces in the place. And folks who were thinking bigger thoughts had to find new ways to talk and to get others to think and act on inclusion and equity.
I remember in the mid-2000s when I started saying “We don’t do diversity work, but if you want to think about diversity, equity, and inclusion, we might be the right people for you.” Now, I’m afraid, that equity might be running its course. I’m encouraged, on the one hand, by how many more people and organizations are asking questions about equity. And about how the equity conversation focuses on what we want, not what we don’t want. I’m all about the positive vision of life chances fulfilled without barriers based on any aspect of identity. And it’s also clear to me that some of those folks are using the language of equity precisely to avoid talking about racism, sexism, and other -isms that produce and sustain inequities. Somehow “equity” and even “inequities” are more comfortable rolling off the tongue than racism, classism, sexism, or homophobia. I wonder if “equity” as a concept is headed the way of “diversity.”
Still, if we are going to advocate for equity as the superior growth model for our country, as our friends from PolicyLink have so aptly argued, I wonder what language will help to keep our attention focused on dismantling the drivers of inequity in order to increase the odds that we’ll actually achieve something approaching equity. The science surrounding the origins, consequences, and remedies for unconscious bias or implicit association seem to be promising entry points for some people who are reluctant to enter a discussion doorway marked “racism” or “privilege.” And, research and practice around communications and messaging gives us other avenues to pursue. In these days of particularly fraught racial discourse, what are you finding useful in your practice? What are you finding gets in the way?
The tagline of the Black Lives Matter movement is “Free from violence. Free from oppression. Free to be our full selves. Free to love. Freedom Now.” Their rallying cry is a powerful quote from Assata Shakur. “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
The past few weeks have reminded me that loving and supporting each other requires us not only to fight but also to mourn together. There are opportunities around us every single day. The recent shootings of police, alongside the seemingly endless list of black and brown civilians shot by police, seem to have awakened the nation in a new way. That is good, as long as we can “stay woke” long enough to do something meaningful. Still, I can’t help but wonder what hushed and gentle conversations we’d be having on television and in communities, workplaces, and houses of worship without the deaths of the police officers. Isn’t the almost daily murder of black and brown people enough to cause somber reflection? Aren’t the calls for action coming from grieving families, activists, celebrities, athletes, and everyday folks enough to make and sustain meaningful change?
The discipline of mourning takes on new depths today. I mourn for the lives lost in the past week at the hands of police. I mourn for the lives lost in Dallas overnight. I fear for the lives of peaceful protesters who will be painted with the same brush as the Dallas snipers. I wonder how we will recover from this latest development and how we will keep it from spawning an escalating cycle of violence. Praying for wisdom, peace, justice, healing.
I remember how heavy my heart felt after the Orlando shootings, the Newtown massacre, the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Raekwon Brown, Jonathan Ferrell and so many young people of color, the Boston Marathon bombing, the attacks of September 11 2001, the kidnapping of the Chibok school girls. There are so many heart-numbing tragedies and atrocities across our country and our world. And we are rightly moved. We mourn with those who mourn.
Every day the news brings us more reasons for heavy heartedness. And yet, some days I feel it more deeply than others. Today, my heart grew heavy reading about the bombing at the airport in Istanbul. Somehow it hits me harder when I know actual people who live in or near a place of tragedy, or know people who know and love people there, as is the case with Turkey. As a practicing Christian, I’m called to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. That implies relationship and ways to feel their joy and pain. And, I think we can develop a discipline of mourning, even when I don’t have proximity, even when I don’t have personal relationships. So, I’m working to cultivate a discipline of heaviness, the kind of love that extends itself to mourn even for people I don’t know personally.
I almost wept as I listened to the story of Dylan Siegel. At age six, he learned that his friend Jonah Pournazarian had a rare, incurable, and fatal illness. He rejected mom’s ideas about a bake sale and decided to write a book, So Chocolate Bar, (his word for awesome) and raise a million dollars to support medical research. And he did it! Now at age nine, his efforts are funding research that just wouldn’t have happened otherwise. The disease affects so few people that there was no incentive for drug companies or researchers to pay attention. This little guy thought that was unfair and decided to do something about it. How would you change the world if the life of someone you loved depended on it? How far would you reach if the possibility of failing never crossed your mind?
Lesson 4: Lead boldly, collaboratively, authentically
Finally, working in this kind of collaborative partnership is unfamiliar for many planners and also for many community residents. It requires everyone to do their best to embrace the discomfort and awkwardness that comes with learning and develop both attitudes and habits that support collaboration. IISC has found that several key values and attributes are important for collaborative change agents to be well-positioned to support this way of working. The attributes include demonstrating a collaborative mindset, strategic thinking and a receptive and flexible skillset for facilitating collaboration. Core values include mutuality and service, authenticity, and love – a deep regard for the well-being of others. Read More