By: Elisabet Medina
Everything that we do matters. The decisions we make are just as important as how we make them.
Decolonizing Leadership is about the “how” things are done as much as it is about the outcomes and who is at the table.
Authentic Community Process:
When developing a new program or expanding a different service to a new neighborhood, it is critical to engage in an authentic community process. This type of process seeks input directly from people being impacted by the issue that we are seeking to address and places their expertise at equal weight with the expertise of others involved. It comes from the belief that people are experts of their own lives. We see this in survivor lead movements and community organizing efforts. Even in the tech industry with the concept of human centered design. Yet this must be done authentically, no one likes to participate in a process where the decision makers already know what they want to do and are solely seeking confirmation instead of authentic input; it’s important to be clear of how input will be used. Better yet have the community process designed and led by people of color from the community! Share space, power and process.
Being prepared for Detours: As a result of an authentic community process there must be space to slow down in order to work collaboratively. Often in social justice work or social services we are working rapidly but not deeply and often leave out partners that later we realize are critical to having the buy in needed for success. Inclusiveness requires time! It’s ok if a project or program did not go as planned, lets stop and ask what did we learn from it?
Avoiding Paternalism: Often times in social services there is a White Savior Complex that goes back to the roots of this country that looked at communities of color often and deemed that their way of life as detrimental to their own children. Over and over again in this country social services under the guise of “helping” has wreaked havoc on communities. While social work as a whole has recognized these harms and has made strides towards cultural awareness and responsiveness there are still relics of believing that people of color need to work harder in order to be deserving of help.
Or sentiments like, “these parents are not trying hard enough”. While there may be some truth to specific situations more often than not, I question if in fact we are holding parents of color up to a white standard around how they raise their kids especially when it comes to discipline. Avoiding paternalism and resist the temptation of thinking we (helpers) know better. Share power and recognize the power differential that exists between a service provider and the clients, participants that come through the door. Let us seek to empower, hold power with not over people that come through our doors. Empowerment comes back to self-determination people have a right to live their lives, to make decisions and choices based on their lived experience. We must respect when people make decisions even if its not what we would have chosen for them. It is not our choice, it is not our lives and the more we can partner with the people we serve; the better we serve overall. This is how we decolonize, this is how healing begins.
I love triathlons. I’m not sure why. Swimming is fun, biking is fun, running is okay. I don’t know that putting all three together sounds particularly fun. I think it's the challenge, the difficulty, the “come to the end of yourself and find out what you’re truly made of.” Of course, the point isn’t really to completely spend yourself. The idea is to get through the race successfully and not need the volunteer designated to catch you at the end actually have to be your human mattress as you collapse on the ground.
In a few days, I’ll tackle the pinnacle of triathlon: The Ironman. 2.4 mile swim. 112 mile bike. 26.2 marathon run. It’s my first Ironman and the anxiety is real. After 6 years of racing and countless hours of training, aside from an injury or mechanical breakdown there’s only one thing that can keep me from the finish: fuel.
Fuel plans are important. I have to consume a certain amount of calories, carbs, electrolytes, and fluids every hour. To hit my goals, I’ll eat every 15 minutes to ensure that my body is constantly taking in the nutrients it needs to continue moving. Staying ahead of my body’s nutritional needs is essential — if I start to feel dehydrated, hungry, or dizzy, it's already too late.
The problem is that I don’t like eating every 15 minutes. It's the same food over and over, for one, and it's boring. Sometimes you’re in a really good zone and you don’t want to break your rhythm to eat or drink. Sometimes it seems like it's more effort than it's worth. But usually, the reason I decide to skip is because I simply don’t feel hungry or thirsty. Missing just one every-15-minute refueling won’t end a race. Its recoverable. Miss an hour’s worth? It can mean disaster.
In leadership, we talk a lot about leading those around us. It's important, obviously, otherwise we wouldn’t show up to work. Talking about caring about our employees, accomplishing the mission of the organization, working hard to achieve goals, servant leadership, all important. Rarely though do we talk about leading ourselves. And that's a shame because the most important person you will lead is you.
This isn’t really a novel idea — if you have nothing left in you to give, you can’t give out. So if you aren’t leading yourself, you won’t be able serve and lead those around you, work hard to achieve goals, etc. You can’t give your family and friends your best. You can’t pour out from an empty glass. We all know this, and yet burnout, emptiness, seems to sneak up on us. There are a hundred things I could write about this, but here’s what I’ve got today: Sometimes we burn out because we wait to refuel until we are hungry and thirsty. If we refuel before then, we equate taking care of ourselves with indulgence or laziness — we feel guilty because we don’t really “need” it. Then when we get depleted, we desperately try to replenish our fuel stores — not realizing we’re not only trying to make up for the past but attempting to bank enough to get us through another Ironman.
Don’t feel guilty for refueling every 15 minutes, even if you aren’t hungry or thirsty. Obviously there is a need for balance here, but my point is this: It is not indulgence to practice smart self leadership. Its investment. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that to wait until you’re tired to take care of yourself is hurtful to the people you lead and love (your staff, your work, your family, your friends). Spend yourself. Love others. Serve your organization. Give the world 100% of you. Just remember that to do so, you have to have 100% to give.
The only way I can give 100% of myself to someone is to make sure that I’m always full and fueled up. And sometimes that means they get 0% from me even when I’m feeling really good with a solid 80% I could give. And it makes me feel so guilty for “indulging” (aka investing) in myself, that I often give in and keep on running on that 80% rather than refuel when I don’t feel like I really need it. But if I can’t refuel, that 80% drops to 70%, then 60%, and then 50%… skip one 15 minutes refuel: recoverable. I can lead and love fully at 80%. Skip too many refuels: I’m on the side of the road completely burnt out. And if burning out and quitting is the most hurtful thing I could do – don’t I owe it to those in my life to make sure I do everything I can to not even stick one little toe over the line?
I don’t know what refueling looks like for you. For me, it's limiting the number of meetings I have per day, taking time to journal, prioritizing time with friends, taking way too much time watercoloring every day. Could I accomplish more every day if I didn’t do those things? Of course. But if I eat when I’m not hungry and drink when I’m not thirsty, when I switch my thinking from indulgence to investment — it means I can give people what they really want and stay the course for a very long time. And I refuse to feel guilty for wanting that!
Repost from: https://deepenfarandolae.wordpress.com/
Grace is a 30 year old health care supervisor and pastor living in Minneapolis, MN. She wrote this piece a year ago and is happy to report that she finished the Ironman AND stayed on top of her fuel plan. She’s still trying to have the same success in life!
Executive director, principal, manager, often we associate leadership with titles. I often do not see people that look like me in leadership positions. It is rare even in helping professions to see the identities of the people served reflected in the leadership of an organization. Yet, leadership is more than titles. Leadership is the ability to influence regardless of the power dynamic.
I do not necessarily have to have a title in order to be a leader. Women of color can be leaders simply by being ourselves. We can lead by living into the purpose for which we brought forth to this world. The world needs us-our voices, talent, art. We are medicine. We are magic. And when we shrink and fade into the background we deprive the world of that.
Leadership is about caring beyond what affects me directly. It is about intersectionality between race, gender, class, religion, sexual orientation and other identities. We may have privilege in some arenas and be at a disadvantage in others. In spaces where I can leverage privilege to the benefit of others, it is an opportunity to lead towards social justice.
Leadership is also having the vulnerability not to have all the answers. It’s challenging to look a client, a student, a colleague in the eye and not be able to reassure them that everything will be ok but what I can offer is being present with them in struggle. Leadership is empathy in an unempathetic world; compassion in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. Leadership is marching knowing that others paved the way for you and that others will follow in your footsteps.