“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Teaching middle school and high school students was my first professional pathway to leadership. I remember having to carefully navigate how to become a more equitable teacher by the radical self-care practices I developed (or did not) in my classroom, for my students. Once I learned how to be a great servant, I began to understand what it meant to be a better leader. A leader is a servant of the people who leads, listens, and learns with innovation. Leadership is also an intentional choice that has the ability to impact lasting changes within organizations and communities.
Equitable leadership practices are still very much a new concept. Traditionally, leaders have been trained to become experts in hierarchy and delegation to maximize profit, with little regard to a culture of care. However, at the very core of equitable leadership is relationship-building and trust that are guided by an ethic of care and understanding. An ethic of care is essentially a roadmap for using emotional intelligence and love to lead with both equity and compassion for yourself and others.
If we think of ourselves as relational and community-centered, we must consider the various differences that make us who we are. We cannot discuss leadership without considering diverse representation among leaders. Developing opportunities to lead with equity through radical self-care requires diverse leadership representation with regard to race, class, gender, ability and sexuality. Once a diverse team is created, sustaining that team will require a strategic balance of critical listening for the goal of radical team-building.
At the heart of equitable leadership practices is a radical self-care framework in the workplace that optimizes emotionally intelligent relationships, leading to higher performance outcomes. Spiritual writer and self-help leader, Lalah Deliah, explains the importance of relationship-building in her book, Vibrate Higher Daily: Live Your Power (2019). Delia notes that, “conversations in the right relationships are full of balance, encouragement and inspiration” (p. 144). I want you to think about the most recent conversation you had at work, either as a team leader or as a team member. If the conversation was rooted in equity and self-care, then all parties involved would feel encouraged to continue working on their respective projects in a way that honors their diverse working styles and needs. Additionally, dialogue would be balanced, to encourage relationship building as opposed to relationship management. Leaders who follow more of a traditional, top-down approach, focus more on managing relationships, which often leads to micromanagement. On the other hand, leaders who practice an ethic of care, work on building relationships over time, which leads to higher performance outcomes across the board.
To illustrate effective ways to lead with equity through radical self-care, I have outlined five strategies below:
1. Have courageous conversations on a consistent basis
Courageous conversation is a protocol developed by scholar Glen Singleton with the goal of deepening interracial conversations, specifically in professional settings. When teams encounter complex issues such as racial microaggressions, having a courageous conversation with collective norms and clear objectives can truly shift a problem-centered dilemma into a solution-centered dilemma. Such a shift creates opportunities for brave spaces. In brace spaces, participants are encouraged to share from their lived experiences in order to move towards an aspect of liberation in that particular environment. As a result, brave spaces are geared towards team collaboration through personal testimonies as a way to leverage our differences and similarities in pursuit of a common goal or outcome.
2. Ongoing self-care surveys
A continuous cycle of self-care surveys are a different approach to equity. A self-care survey specifically asks employees to address the company environment as it relates to belonging and inclusivity. Sample questions include:
1) Do you feel psychologically safe on your team/within the organization?
2) How are you balancing your personal and professional lives at this time?
3) What are your preferences for internal support to achieve your goals?
Implementing self-care surveys quarterly will provide leaders with keen social-emotional data to lead with an ethic of care instead of an ethic of fear.
3. Admit when you are wrong and provide solutions for moving forward
Leaders are not always right, and it is imperative that leaders are able to admit this, especially in front of their teams. When leaders admit their flaws, team members will feel more comfortable being their authentic selves, leading to stronger collaborative outcomes. Each of us have conscious and unconscious biases that may cloud our ability to collaborate with others whose mindsets may be completely different from our own. When leaders openly admit when they are wrong, team members will be encouraged to do the same.
4. Instead of micromanaging, manage your ongoing level of care for your team
Micromanaging your team is a sign of a lack of trust for them to actually do their work. Instead of micromanaging, you should manage your level of care for your team. A care management approach includes asking critical questions that offer support and guidance for your team’s success on a consistent basis. As a leader, facilitate conversations that center belonging and cross-collaboration for deeper understanding.
5. Implement monthly radical-self care lunch talks
Consistent opportunities for connection is crucial for team growth and leadership development. Implement monthly radical self-care lunch talks to create moments for deeper interpersonal connections centered in a social, low-stakes environment. Use these monthly events to explore social DEIB themes such as stereotypes, generational diversity, and LGBTQ+ perspectives. Bonus points if you facilitate these conversations using the brave space approach.
In solution-centered relationships, we are more equipped to practice equitable leadership design. Solution-centered relationships require a gentle approach to actively listening to one another through targeted questions, which is guided by honesty and relational trust. With that perspective in mind, it is important to lead with equity by centering all voices to create a culture of inclusivity, leading to transformative personal and professional outcomes.