Leadership Boost: EI + Unconscious Bias

I’ll never forget the day I learned about the impact unconscious bias has on behavior. It was 2012, and I was beginning my second year in a leadership position. My eyes were wide. On that day I also reflected on how systems of oppression are in the air that we breathe. It pained and confused me to learn about things I was never taught in school. The event was hosted by the National Equity Project, an organization I’ll always be grateful for.

On that day, in that conference room in Oakland, a lightbulb went off.
On that day, my perspective on leadership and cultural consciousness shifted forever.
On that day, I made a commitment to learn (and unlearn) as much as I possibly could—so I could be the best version of myself as a leader.

Thanks to my brilliant leadership coach at the time Mark Salinas (who I had the privilege of working with for years thereafter) I became conscious of the myriad invisible tensions and opportunities that were the embedded in fabric of my context. I saw layers and micro-layers of white privilege and cultural hegemony everywhere. Blindspots were illuminated everyday. And I learned a ton leading during my time at ECP.

And I’ll always have more to learn.

Since then, though, my commitment to learn & lead differently took off. I haven’t stopped learning and unlearning. I’ve read up on neuroscience and adaptive leadership, I’ve surrounded myself with people who push my thinking and hold up the mirror with love.

In 2016 I threw up an idea on Kickstarter for a product that would be a tool for counteracting unconscious bias (SPARK Community), and to my surprise we met our goal and were able to fund our first prototype.

A year later I created a leadership framework to help other leaders uncover their blindspots and lead with integrity. To say it’s an honor to host SPARK Leadership courses, to coach, and to lead this work everyday is an understatement.

When I look back and reflect on how far I’ve come since that day in 2012, I feel great pride, because I put in countless hours of hard work, energy, and I persevered when things got hard. I did all that because I have been committed to being the best leader I can possibly be.

As I’ve shared more of my story and lessons-learned in the SPARK Family, folks have asked for more resources and research on unconscious bias and emotional intelligence…SO I put something together that I’m excited to share.

I have limited seats available, so if you’d like a leadership-boost and want take your EI to the next level, check out my upcoming 3 week mini-course below.

Here’s a link to the page.

Got questions? I’d be happy to chat more. Comment below or send me an email at spark@rachelvrosen.com.

Rachel Rosen, the founder of S.P.A.R.K. Community and S.P.A.R.K. Leadership, is on a mission to start a global conversation about inclusion, empathy, and racial equity. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. experiences are grounded in theory and practice–all in service of making the world a better place. With love. For justice. 

Language Matters

Why We Must Resist & Reject Discriminatory Statements

 

When I heard John Kelly’s recent statements on the radio, my heart started racing with rage. Hearing someone–in a position of authority in the White House–call an entire community “lazy” made my blood boil.

 

Immediately I thought:

 

  • How dare he talk about the undocumented community like that?
  • How could he be so incredibly disconnected from reality?

 

 

Our words are vehicles for our values, and his words say a LOT about his values.

 

We can’t afford to be careless with our words OR our values for so many reasons.

 

One of which is because the children are listening. All of them. They are sponges. What they absorb eventually seeps out into their actions and words. 

 

And they’re learning lessons like this in school, hearing A stereotype is a generalization about a person or group of persons.”  + “When we judge people and groups based on our prejudices and stereotypes and treat them differently, we are engaging in discrimination.”

 

…so we can’t be silent.

 

This is close to my heart because I taught many undocumented students and know DACA recipients.

 

I’ve heard stories of college students who arrived to the United States at a very young age, who were 4.0 students (and valedictorians of their high school class)–some of the most dedicated, driven, and responsible people I know–who now commute one hour to college, who struggle to access financial aid, who can’t leave the country to visit loved ones, who have no healthcare, have never been to the dentist, have no drivers license…the list goes on.

 

I know parents who have emergency backpacks by the door and pre-written goodbye letters, students with emergency contacts on them at all times. I’ve heard stories of confusion about the DACA paperwork, which includes questions about the time and place their parents crossed the border. From what I’ve heard, the fear of getting their parents in trouble is pervasive, persistent, and painful.

 

I can’t begin to understand or empathize with that type of pain and anxiety. I can only listen and show up. I’ve attended events in solidarity to better learn how I can support.

 

My new friend, Antonio, (below) couldn’t be farther from “lazy” — he’s one of the most resilient people I know. He drove 4 hours to attend a DACA event to share his inspiring story, to be in community, and to have hope. Just hope. That tomorrow could be better. That someday his dream of becoming a teacher could come true.

The depth in his eyes captured so much: perseverance, pain, confusion, love, anger, sadness. Hope.

 

So I hold his story and the powerful conversation we had close to my heart.

 

His story adds more fuel to my fire (my moral imperative)–to resist unjust practices and statements.

 

I feel so strongly about this because this is life or death for many students these days. 

 

Bullying and hate-crime-related incidents at schools are on the rise in an unprecedented way. 

 

It’s being referred to as The Trump Effect by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

 

They note:

“In the immediate aftermath of the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) noticed a dramatic jump in hate violence and incidents of harassment and intimidation around the country. At the same time, a wave of incidents of bullying and other kinds of harassment washed over the nation’s K-12 schools. The SPLC decided to make an effort to document all of this in real time.

Incidents were reported in nearly every state. The largest portion (323 incidents) occurred on university campuses or in K-12 schools. The incidents were dominated by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim incidents (together, 329), but included ones that were anti-black (187), anti-Semitic (100), anti-LGBT (95), anti-woman (40) and white nationalist (32). A small sliver of them (23) were anti-Trump, but the vast majority appeared to be celebrating his election victory.”

In another article by SPLC, they note: “Ninety percent of educators report that school climate has been negatively affected, and most of them believe it will have a long-lasting impact. A full 80 percent describe heightened anxiety and concern on the part of students worried about the impact of the election on themselves and their families.

Here are more facts on cyberbullying + a rise in youth suicide rates in case you’re interested.

 

Needless to say, we have a LOT of work to do to fight this administration, to resist this divisive discourse and ALL the unjust laws and practices in our current government.

 

A lot of work to do.

 

So, rather than get angry and frustrated, throwing my hands up, and giving up–everyday I make a choice. I think of Antonio’s radiant resilience, and I choose radical hope. I channel his perseverance and strength, and I show up in solidarity.

 

Because I know I’m not alone, and strength comes with unity.

 

Because thousands and thousands of people are by my side. 

 

Because countless organizations like Jolt Texas, attorneys like Alfonso Maldonado Silva, and countless organizations like United We Dream, and community members on the grounds working tirelessly, advocating for the rights of undocumented citizens every day.

 

It truly takes a village to change the conversation.

 

We ALL can–and must–stand up and speak out against injustice for the next generation.

 

It starts with one step. One conversation. One choice.

 

To listen. To show up. To ask. To see.

 

To say “that’s not how we talk about groups of people, and here’s why…” or “hurt people hurt people” over and over again to our children.

 

To put a sign on your window saying “no human is illegal + we support DACA” to signal to our undocumented community members that they are safe and welcome in our space.

 

To choose courage over the comfort.

 

To resist silence.

 

It starts with one choice.

 

So what is one choice you will make today?

I’d love to hear about it.

Please comment below and/or share with friends. 

 

Also, if you have other resources to share or ideas for organizing, please contact at spark@rachelvrosen.com.

 

Rachel Rosen, the founder of S.P.A.R.K. Community and S.P.A.R.K. Leadership, is on a mission to start a global conversation about inclusion, empathy, and racial equity. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. experiences are grounded in theory and practice–all in service of making the world a better place. With love. For justice. 

 

PS-If you resonated with this blog, these may be of interest to you too:

The Key to Successful Communication

Why Internalizing What We Hear Is Important

 

Between 70 and 80% of our day is engaging in some form of communication with about 55% of that time dedicated to listening. Even so, most people can only actually remember between 17-25% of what they hear. 93% of all communication is nonverbal. (recent report)

 

I’ve come to realize that there are three levels of listening: listening, hearing, and then there’s internalizing.

 

Hearing:

We chunk information as quickly as possible

  1. What is this information?
  2. Is it worth my attention?

Listening:

We make connections and make-meaning

  1. What does this information really mean?
  2. We listen before reacting/defending (Put Out The Fire: Stop think respond)

Internalizing:

We take the time to really reflect and process:

  1. What else is going on that maybe isn’t being said?
  2. Do I connect with and resonate with this?
  3. If not, what information is needed in the moment?
  4. Empathize – Can I imagine what it’s like to be them in this moment?

 

As a coach, I see internalizing is missing in a lot of conversations, and it is holding us back as leaders with diverse teams who need to process nuanced information.

 

Roger O. Crockett wrote for the Harvard Business Review that “Some call this sort of multicultural interaction “listening with empathy.” Janet Reid, a multicultural expert and managing partner of Global Novations, which does corporate diversity consulting, describes it as listening to connect with a person’s feelings and thoughts. “To do so, you not only have to train your ear,” she says, “you have to build your multicultural muscle. You have to slow down your knee-jerk reaction to talk over people and listen in the cadence and rhythm [of their culture].”

 

If the person we’re listening to is frustrated, I have to remember that underneath all frustration is something deeper. It’s my responsibility to listen carefully and try to understand what is driving the frustration.

 

Internalizing means being transparent in our processing. It’s okay to say, “I’m still processing and trying to figure out how I can help.” or “I’m working on being a better listener and I don’t want to make assumptions. What do you feel you need right now?”

 

2 things that we always can do to be better listeners:

  1. Hold up the mirror: reflect on your own reactions, tone, body-language, and try our best to empathize
  2. Speak with intention: say some version of “I hear you. How can I support you?”

 

Because, to be listed to–fully, to be heard, to have space held for us–is a powerful thing.

 

We support leaders not only to be better listeners, but also to be conscious, courageous communicators in our  SPARK Leadership courses.

 

Now, it’s your turn to reflect on your listening…

 

One question to reflect on on your own:

–> When was the last time you felt FULLY heard, seen, & understood? How does that make you feel? 

 

One question for you to respond to below:

–> What’s something you can do today to be the listener you hope for? 

 

If this topic interests you, you may also resonate with three of my other blogs:

 

Rachel Rosen, the founder of S.P.A.R.K. Community and S.P.A.R.K. Leadership, is on a mission to start a global conversation about inclusion, empathy, and racial equity. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. experiences are grounded in theory and practice–all in service of making the world a better place. With love. For justice. Want to know your SPARK Leadership strengths and growth areas? Check out our self-assessment here

 

PS- For the next few weeks I have carved out space to support more leaders. If you’d like to talk more about working on effective communication strategies and/or what SPARK Leadership looks like, it would be my honor to support you. Feel free to book your 20 minute complimentary strategy session here.  

Are You A Catalyzer or Controller?

What Basketball Coaches Can Teach Us About Inspiring Communication

 

The language we use matters. So does the delivery of it.

 

As a basketball fan, I’ve come to realize there is a spectrum of two types of coaches: Catalytic champions and Controlling directors.

 

Controllers <——————————————————————————————> Catalyzers

 

Controllers need order. They focus on what’s not working. Power, attention, and ego drive their moves.

 

Catalyzers acknowledge progress. They praise the team, encourage reflection, and champion other people’s ideas.

 

I remember watching a middle school basketball game and observing the stark contrast of coaching styles. One coach was screaming, pacing, red in the face, and even got a technical foul for yelling at the referee. The team mirrored back the energy of their coach; several players fouled out, the team ran fewer plays, with more players putting themselves (and their layup, their jump shot, etc.) first before the success of the team. At one point the coach yelled, “Take down the shooter!” There was no respect, sportsmanship or civility.

 

The other coach, however, was calmly encouraging and smiling, while sitting on the bench. His team gave each other more high-fives, smiled more, and executed more plays.

 

These were middle school students.

 

His quiet, yet profoundly impactful presence reminded me of a Richard Smith (of Wild Ink) quote, “Whispers are often thunderous.”

 

I recall a very specific incident when I was teaching. I found myself at a stand-off with a 14 year old student one day.

 

“Stop talking. Sit down and listen up!” I yelled at the class

“Dang, why are you yelling, Ms. Rosen?” the student asked.

“Because y’all are so loud. I need your attention so we can finish the lesson”

“Why do you look so irritated though? Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed…” she said as other kids snickered.

“We don’t respect you when you yell at us all angry and stuff. You should go watch how Ms. Dixon teaches”

 

I was trying to control my classroom. I was frustrated and triggered and found myself wondering:

  • Why was I yelling?
  • Did I not sleep enough?
  • Was i projecting my issues onto my kids?
  • Why was I doing all the things I knew not to do?

 

When I held up the mirror and reflected on the situation, I didn’t like the controller I had become. I had always wanted to be an inspiring, loving teacher. I never wanted to be perceived as angry. I had to humble myself and go see how Ms. Dixon handled her classroom management.

 

In my experience, at some point, we teachers/leaders/coaches inevitably project our stuff onto teams they support.

 

We’re imperfect human beings with complex and multifaceted pains, experiences, and struggles. At some point our pain is going to seep out into our communities. How we navigate and work to minimize those moments matters.

 

Ms. Dixon (as well as numerous, brilliant basketball coaches) taught me that being a calm, catalyzing champion for your team’s success means that you win every game–no matter the score. I made a commitment that day to be a leader who supports, uplifts, and who is a guide on the side for my champions. I hope to always allow my team to discover their unique strengths…without projecting my issues.

 

The spark acronym helps us remember how to consistently be a catalytic champion:

 

S– Show up authentically. Share your intentions, values, and hopes in a real way.  Remember to show up as you.

P– Pause and breathe. Distance yourself from your ego and ask “how do I want to be experienced right now?”

a– Ask questions and stay curious. With yourself first, and then others. (ie: why am I triggered right now?”)

R-  Respect diversity. Let the differences on the team harmonize like a good song.

K– Kindly expect tension. Messiness is a part of the game. Control and order don’t drive transformation.

 

The world needs more catalyzers.

 

Through intentional habits, decisions, and moves we can move closer to being the leaders we desire to be.

 

Leave a comment below with the answer to these questions and what they bring up for you as inspiration or motivation to make a change in your own leadership style.

  • Can you think of a time in your life when you taught/led/coached/parented from a place of control / frustration? How did it make you feel?
  • Now, can you think of a time when someone helped you learn and grow with grace?

 

Rachel Rosen, the founder of S.P.A.R.K. Community and S.P.A.R.K. Leadership, is on a mission to start a global conversation about inclusion, empathy, and racial equity. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. experiences are grounded in theory and practice–all in service of making the world a better place. With love. For justice. Want to know your SPARK Leadership strengths and growth areas? Check out our self-assessment here

PS- For the next few weeks I have carved out space to support more leaders. If you’d like to talk more about what SPARK being a Catalytic Leader  looks like, it would be my honor to support you. Feel free to book your 20 minute complimentary strategy session here.  

Five Details Dynamic Speakers Should Never Miss

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

– John Wooden

When I first started teaching, I would try to get my students’ attention by yelling, “listen up” or “alright everybody” and repeatedly be frustrated when they wouldn’t stop everything immediately.

Someone gave me a chime to ring and shared some nonverbal ways of getting students’ attention without having to bust my vocal chords. Interestingly, the dynamic of the class improved immediately.

Even years later, though I am no longer teaching, I think back to my first years teaching a lot. In some ways, we adults aren’t all that much different than children when it comes to our learning and engagement needs. If we’re working in groups and are asked to do an exercise that requires communicating, most of us follow the prompts and engage. Like students, we struggle to give our undivided attention when the facilitator/speaker tries to regain the groups focus to move on.

I believe that we’re all doing our best with the skills and tools that we have, and sometimes the little details (that we don’t know about) make the world of a difference.

I’ve been to several events in the past few months and noticed five patterns that have led to missed opportunities, so I’m offering some food for thought for your consideration…

A. Ambiance matters.

    1. Think about the tone you want to set.
    2. What’s the first thing you want people to see/feel/experience when they enter your space?
    3. Play music that matches the vibe you intend to foster, and think about the colors/images support that.
    4. Make space for different body-types to feel comfortable if possible. (ie. have different sized chairs, pillows on the ground, and even invite people to stand if they’d like) That creates more of a liberatory environment.

B. Think beyond rows.

This allows for us to think more creatively, feel less constrained, and connect with each other differently. Here are some ways to mix up room set-up:

    1. Circles
    2. Semi-circles
    3. Diagonal / angle

C. Framing & closing matters.

How we set up the experience impacts everything. As an event leader, it is important to frame the event. At the beginning, share why you’re putting on this event and the expected/desired outcomes. To close the event, remind participants of the outcomes and allow space for participants to both reflect and connect to one another.

During the opening, it helps to tell people how you intend to get their attention after exercises and breaks so they know what to expect and why. (For example: We’ll be engaging and connecting a lot today, and since we have limited time, when you hear/see this…that’s our signal to bring our attention back to the center of the room)

I highly encourage the leaders I work with to use feedback forms to understand how participants experienced the event. This can be as fancy as a pre-filled out form with intentional questions or as simple as handing folks an index card or blank piece of paper with one question/prompt: How did you experience today’s event?

D. Think beyond your voice. 

Instead of saying “hey” 10 times really loud to get our attention, (which, interestingly I hear/see a LOT) try one of these:

  • Raise your hand and invite them to do the same when they see yours go up (it’s a nonverbal cue)
  • Ring a chime or bell
  • Put a timer on the wall so they know how much time is left (or if you absolutely have to, let them know you’ll count-down from 10 to 0 so they know when to to center their attention back on the community)
  • Take a cue from YMCA camps, “If you can hear me clap once” (clap) “If you can hear me, clap twice.” (clap twice).

E. 20 minute rule.

Science suggests that 18 minutes is really our maximum for maintaining undivided attention, so I aspire to use the 20 minute rule in all that I do.

Minimize talking to 20 minutes or less. Set a timer and after 20 minutes, invite people to say something out-loud to their neighbor. This can be just 30-60 seconds, yet it energizes the room, connects participants, and allows for increased cognitive understanding.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there for now, as I believe strengthening those five areas will lead to subtle but powerful game-changers for your next event.

Would love to keep this conversation going…

What does this spark for YOU? In the comments below, share a recent experience (positive or negative) of how a dynamic speaker impacted your experience an event.

 

Rachel Rosen is on a mission to start a global conversation about inclusion, empathy, and racial equity. She helps courageous leaders uncover their blindspots and take their diverse team to the next level with intentionality and integrity. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. experiences are grounded in theory and practiceCheck out your SPARK score here.

Put Out The Fire

3 Steps To Intentional, Effective Communication

 

The community meeting was getting heated. Tempers were rising, accusations were cast, insults issued, and disruptions were spiraling the meeting into chaos. The leader, trying to take control of the situation, demanded everyone to take their seat and listen (or not only would the meeting would end immediately, there would be no further meetings). Silence returned, but defenses were raised and communication had broken down. Those in attendance did not feel heard or respected and progress was detoured.

 

Sound familiar?

 

While this is a generalized version of a community meeting that happened recently, it could have happened anywhere. You may even have your own version of it. Perhaps it’s even happened on a smaller scale within teams you’ve worked with.

 

Well my brilliant partner, Lia Joy Shepherd, shared with me the other day a strategy she uses in her work with youth, and I instantly recognized the brilliance of it. Thankfully, she’s given me permission to share it with you.

 

 

Stop, think, and respond.

 

“That’s what I’ve been doing and telling the kids to do before reacting/interrupting. It really works. Especially when I’m triggered. Rather than react and say ‘sit down,’ ‘listen up,’ or ‘stop doing___,’ I just stop, think about what is really going on, and respond–rather than defend or react right away”

 

The fire department used to (and may still) teach the saying, “Stop, drop, and roll” in case you found yourself on fire. In the heat of a moment, tempers and words can often feel like flames, right?

 

Stop, think, and respond helps to de-escalate the emotions.  

 

As I thought even more about this simple, three step process, its brilliance began to shine.

 

This tool is useful for leaders, certainly, but this is a game changer for anyone willing to employ it. Here’s why:

 

  1. Stop. This first step illuminates the power of the PAUSE. We’re all moving so fast, absorbing so much information, and hearing so many messages, it’s imperative that we pause and breathe. Pause and check in with ourselves. Pause and pay attention to the nonverbal cues. The pause also shifts our brain from the limbic to the frontal cortex so we can process more effectively. It takes us out of the immediate action of fight, flight, freeze, or submit mode.

 

  1. Think. It is easy to bypass this step. I know I have. Often we don’t feel we have time to think. There are always a million things to do at any given moment, so to pause and THINK? That felt like a luxury. Yet, we need to digest what really happening before we can mindfully and intentionally take action. You know what it feels like when you’re out of the heat of the moment and all the “shoulda, coulda and if only” thoughts start spinning through the highlight reels in our mind.

 

It’s amazing what happens when we take the pause, and choose not to jump in, make assumptions, or be defensive.

 

If we all asked ourselves these two questions, I think our relationships would change in transformative ways:

  • What are my intentions in this moment?
  • How do I want the person in front of me to experience me, given what we both need?

 

And, as synchronicity would have it, I love that I found this post on LinkedIn right as I started writing this blog too! Good reminders, and I love acronyms. Thank you Some’ McCowan. 

  1.   Respond. The difference between reacting and responding is a subtle but major deal. If I’m listening to the other person to truly understand where they’re coming from and then I respond with my thoughts/questions, that’s very different than reacting to the emotional affect or tenor of the conversation.

 

Here are a few sentence starters that I always have in my back pocket:

  • What I heard you say was… (when I want to clarify to makes sure I’m understanding correctly)
  • Thank you for sharing. That makes me think of… (when I want to make a connection)
  • I hear you. Are you open to hearing another perspective? (when I want to offer some feedback)
  • Say more… (always a go-to. If I’m triggered this allows me to calm down. If I’m genuinely curious and want to hear more. If I’m confused and trying to make sense of what I’m hearing, this always helps.

 

Will you give this a try? First, take immediate action. Somewhere you can see it throughout the day, write “Stop, think, respond.”

 

If a situation occurs today, try this method. If you don’t get to try it, write it again each day until you do.

 

Then leave a comment about your experience. Tell a friend about it and ask them to take the challenge with you. I can’t wait to hear all about it.

 

Also, our upcoming 10 Week Online Leadership Program goes in-depth around communicating with cultural consciousness and emotional intelligence. If it’s something you’re interested in, check it out here.

 

Until next time,

Rachel

Rachel Rosen, the founder of S.P.A.R.K. Community and S.P.A.R.K. Leadership, is on a mission to start a global conversation about inclusion, empathy, and racial equity. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. experiences are grounded in theory and practice–all in service of making the world a better place. With love. For justice. 

 

 Transforming Feedback

with intentional leadership 

When I stepped into a leadership role seven years ago, I strived to be a “great” leader. I understood that relationships were at the core of a well working organization.  I had read and studied leadership and organizational development from the greats such as Jim Collins, Steven Covey, and  Steve Zuieback (to name a few).

Though I continually worked on being the best coach and manager I could be, I found myself struggling with the “feedback conversation”. My personal experiences with receiving feedback lacked integrity and thus, did not lead to good models for me to follow.

When I first began, I wanted to be everyone’s friend and make their life easier, since I thought I knew what it was like to be in their shoes. I wanted be a leader they liked and respected. Feedback is ultimately about the person giving it. In my case, I now see it was more about wanting to valuable and helpful than driving the objectives of our mission.

To make the feedback process more complex and nuanced, when a person who is of a different race/gender/generation/sexuality receives feedback, their brain is triggered into high alert (fight/flight). The latest research by Inge, Cheesebrough, West and Rock demonstrates this.

Truly transformative, confident leaders understand that feedback is a small part of a communication and requires several steps before it can effectively happen. Leaders operating with the following five steps to craft effective feedback:

  1. Data: What was observed (seen, heard) about the experience?
  2. Feelings: How did the experience feel?
  3. Interpretations: What assertions have been made? What beliefs are being operated upon? What interpretations are influencing the situation (both yours and the other persons)?
  4. Desires: As a leader, what do you want for yourself, the situation, and the other(s) involved?
  5. Willingness: This is a request for the desired behaviors and changes.

Utilizing these steps maintains our quest for learning and growing, bringing humility (and hopefully empathy) to our leadership. It allows us to model for our community. It shows a genuine desire to support our team members to learn, grow, and develop so they can be their best, most productive self with maximal impact.

My application of those five steps looks like this:

  • Ask for permission to share your observations before sharing. Before beginning communication, ask the person if you can share your observations. This assumes some ego-distance.
  • Be human. Show up as your authentic self so they feel at ease.
  • Affirm what they are doing well. For example, “First I want to start by appreciating…”
  • Share some specific observations. For example, “I noticed a pattern…”
  • Get personal. Share your experience with vulnerability. For example, “I’ve experienced this myself. Would you be interested in hearing what worked for me (and what didn’t)?”
  • Offer the feedback with integrity and compassion.  For example, “For you, I’d offer that____is the most important next step. If you do nothing else, shifting this one small thing to start (something to experience a win)”
  • Pause for reactions/reflections/thoughts
  • Loop back. Set a time/date when you’ll revisit

Bottom line: it’s imperative that we’re intentional as leaders in HOW we ask for and offer feedback.

To really make your communication a home-run, remember these additional skills:

  • Be specific. Use direct language and get to the point.
  • Be a leader. Even if you are friendly with them or their friend, it’s helpful to say “I’m going to put my manager hat on now so we can have a transparent, productive conversation”
  • Be succinct and speak in a calm pace. Create space for processing  
  • Be focused. Remember, about 93% of what we communicate is nonverbal

 

If you’re interested in learning more about our approach, and the promising practices, stances, and adaptive leadership habits that we work on intentionally to communicate and lead with integrity, check out our upcoming 10 week leadership program!

 

Application doors are open, and the program starts on January 22nd.

If you would like to apply and/or schedule a 20 minute Strategy Conversation to see if you’d be a good fit, click here.

 

 

Now, it’s your turn to share.

Comment below and let me know your answer to any of these questions:

  • What do you think about feedback?
  • When does it get challenging to “hold up the mirror” for you?
  • Have other resources to share?

I’d love to hear from you!

Rachel Rosen is a seasoned Facilitator, Executive Coach, Consultant, Racial Justice and LGBTQ activist, and the Founder of S.P.A.R.K. Leadership and S.P.A.R.K. Community. Rachel is on a mission to start a global conversation about inclusion, empathy, and racial equity. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. offers experiences that support leaders and teams to unleash their potential to facilitate powerful experiences, collaborate, and build trust–all in service of building a better tomorrow. 

Biggest Pain-Points for Leaders Today + How to address them

Working with leaders of multicultural, multigenerational teams, the top 5 challenges I hear regularly are:

  • “I don’t have the bandwidth”
  • “I can’t keep up with all the changes”
  • “I want our community to be strong and positive, but something is off.”
  • “I can’t do it all”
  • “I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing” (particularly when it comes to talking about diversity/inclusion/racial equity)

I can certainly relate! The demands, needs, and requests that we, leaders, face can lead us to a state of overwhelm–which impacts our ability to think clearly, communicate confidently, and to be comfortable with change.

 

After 6 years of coaching leaders and supporting hundreds of folks to address their biggest challenges, I’ve discovered a pattern.

 

I call this pattern the 5 Power-C’s. These five things can negatively impact, disrupt, and disturb our state of flow if we’re not careful.

 

The Power C’s: change, conflict, communication, clarity, and community dynamics

 

Sometimes we are challenged by one of the above. Other times they all five hit us like a tsunami.

 

A client told me recently that she felt like she could barely keep her head above water. She had been hit by the tsunami of all five. Her desk and inbox was overflowing and she didn’t have the headspace to think clearly. She cares deeply about racial equity and inclusion and was particularly concerned about what to say after one of her employees said something culturally insensitive in a meeting. She noticed that she was avoiding following up with the employee. She also felt like the moral was low on her team and she couldn’t put a pin on WHY.

I asked her what her hunch was about why it may feel that way.

“Well, maybe it’s because there have been so many changes or maybe because we haven’t celebrated each other or connected in authentic ways. The pace has been so fast, we’ve forgotten to be HUMAN with each other.”

While constant change was contributing to overwhelm and low morale, the only thing that’s absolutely predictable is that change will happen.

 

The good news: once we see a pattern in how we are addressing change, we can identify better solutions for approaching change.

 

With intentional leadership, we align our vision, values, systems, and actions for maximal impact. In my 10 week coaching program, we address each of these Power-C’s in detail.

Change

 

The first step, is to normalize that change is inevitable and an integral PART of the work. When we recalibrate our expectations for embracing inevitable (even unexpected) changes and shifts in dynamics, we’re less reactive and more responsive. Being an intentional leader means anticipating the need to adapt and being flexible with our community.

 

When we reframe our beliefs/thoughts we see change as something that can be on our side. We see it as an ally, and we can even remove “change” from the tsunami list. In my 10 week coaching program we engage around William Bridges’ research on the phases of change and transitions, which is an invaluable tool and resource.

 

Conflict

 

Conflict is also inevitable with group dynamics. In fact William Tuckman’s research on team dynamic suggests that “storming” is a natural part of new community processes. Again, if we recalibrate our expectation and see conflict as a sign and signal of progress, we have more headspace to engage meaningfully.

 

Easier said than done, I know. Growing up in Texas, I was conditioned to avoid conflict, be polite, brush things under the rug, and put on a happy face. I call myself a “recovering people-pleaser” for a reason. Brains science suggests that we’re wired to avoid discomfort and most conflict causes discomfort, so it’s not intuitive to lean-in.

 

However, when we expect conflict to be a part of the process, then we realize we really just need to strengthen our communication skills as leaders striving to be emotionally and socially intelligent. David Rock’s research on neuroleadership is invaluable.

 

Communication

 

Communication is at the core of beneficial leadership. Whether you’re communicating with one person or a group, communication matters. To communicate with intentionality requires clarity on 4 steps:

 

  1. What is your purpose / desired outcome of this conversation?
  2. How do you want to be experienced?
  3. How do you want to listen?
  4. Which of your core values connects to this conversation?
  5. How will you follow up after this conversation to make sure you’re on the same page?

 

Clarity

 

Clarity is an essential for leaders. Here are 5 things you always need clarity on:

  1. Your vision for success
  2. Your core values and how the project connects to them (they are your filter)
  3. Your priorities for the year, month, and week
  4. The systems you have in place that will allow your vision, values, and priorities to consistently be tended to.
  5. The action steps you intend to take that will allow you to best make progress on your goals and priorities

Community dynamics

 

The number one pitfall I see leaders make is misdiagnosing the problem they’re trying to solve.

I hear things like

  • “The team isn’t as productive as I know it can be”
  • “It feels like there’s something people want to say but aren’t” (aka elephant in the room)
  • “Moral is low and people are exhausted”

They see those symptoms and they diagnose the problem externally, usually because they don’t have the tools or skills to know what to do. There was a time when I didn’t understand why people weren’t engaging on the deep, meaningful level that I wanted them to. I tried everything. I brought ice-breakers in, we played games, I took them to happy hour. Still, the dynamic was off.

 

It wasn’t until I held up the mirror and looked at my planning, the agenda design, and/or the questions I was offering the team that I saw the problem wasn’t external, it was internal and started with my leadership style. All the band-aids in the world won’t help a broken bone

 

Diagnosing the stage of your team dynamic is critical. That’s where Tuckman’s work is invaluable. Here’s a brief overview of the four stages.

 

Which of the Power-C’s do you struggle with?

 

I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.

Also, if you’re interested in putting some of these into practice, I’m hosting a power-packed online workshop/webinar on December 12, from 5:30-7:00 PST, and I’d love you to join. Click here to register.

Rachel Rosen is a seasoned Facilitator, Executive Coach, Consultant, Racial Justice and LGBTQ activist, and the Founder of S.P.A.R.K. Leadership and S.P.A.R.K. Community. Rachel is on a mission to start a global conversation about inclusion, empathy, and racial equity. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. offers experiences that support leaders and teams to unleash their potential to facilitate powerful experiences, collaborate, and build trust–all in service of building a better tomorrow. 

Want to discover your Leadership SPARK Status? Take this self-assessment to learn more!

What Does An Iceberg Have To Do With Inclusion?

Will Your Inclusion Iceberg Capsize Your Success?

Discover how the S.P.A.R.K. Acronym is a helpful self-reflection tool for your organization

 

The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively. – Bob Marley

 

How many of us have heard a top Executive / Administrator say they value diversity and inclusion? I know I have.

 

Saying those words is a start, because it implies there is awareness of the value. Action, however, is what separates the strongest organizations from the rest.

 

The strongest organizations, most with diversity/inclusion as core values, have practices, policies, and structures in place that are intentionally designed to embed and uplift and hear multiple perspectives in meaningful ways.

 

These organizations understand, value, and practice equitable and fair employee promotions, transparency in information, access to leadership, support for employees’ personal lives, inclusiveness and connection between colleagues and with leadership.

 

They act with integrity and take action to affect their employees positively.

 

Shifting from words to action requires intentional introspection and courageous honesty, because every organization and every human being has invisible, often unconscious tensions that are beneath what’s presented on the surface.

 

The iceberg is a good metaphor that reminds that our world-views, values, beliefs (sometimes known as blind-spots) impact our behaviors.

 

Our words and behaviors are the tip of the iceberg.

Image credit: https://islikeaniceberg.tumblr.com/page/2

 

 

Blind-spots/implicit biases often live in the unconscious mind and are laden with cultural beliefs and values, so we need support to see them.

 

Following up with intentional structures, processes, and policies allow for organizational blind-spots and habits to shift.

 

There are countless ways and areas to measure organizational blind-spots and ensure congruence in vision, values, and action.

 

Today I’ll offer a few for your consideration:

 

Website presence:

  • Who is the face of your organization? What is the first thing people see when they visit your website? Heterogenous or homogenous groups of people? Videos that include multiple perspectives?
  • Do you have a public statement or image about diversity, inclusion, and acceptance of all that was co-constructed with diverse members of your team?
  • What images, art, and quotes are visible? Are they from folks of diverse backgrounds/identities/etc.?

 

Organizational Culture:

  • Have you identified core values that are inclusive? Are they visible, known, and referenced regularly?
  • Have you named explicit intentions or goals to lift up multiple perspectives, listen and learn from folks who do not represent the dominant culture of your organization?  
  • Do you have intentional structures in place for collaborating/cross-pollinating/connecting across different roles?
  • Do you have intentional structures and processes to lift up specific perspectives and/or have experiences spot-lighted?
  • Have you appreciated members of your team for their unique contribution and perspective that adds value to the organization?

 

Communication:

  • When you’re at a speaking engagement or hosting an event, what’s the first thing people see/hear when you introduce your team?
  • Do you regularly seek advice and/or thought-partnership from an outside perspective?  

 

This is Just the Tip of the Iceberg (sorry, pun intended–I couldn’t resist)

 

If you found yourself reflecting on the above questions and feeling like you have work to do, you’re not alone. I encourage you to take a deep breath with me and know that this process is ongoing and complex.

 

You’ve already taken the first step –  awareness.  

 

As a leader, you know that–try as you might, you can’t always be in control, but with humility and effort, you can have a tremendous influence on making workplace as inclusive, diverse, welcoming, unique, collaborative, and as productive as possible.

 

In order for deep, meaningful, and lasting change to occur, as a leader, you must become aware of what’s really at play, and then commit to addressing the root cause of WHY pitfalls may occur or continue to persist.

 

And that takes time, discipline, dedication, and support.

 

And remember, you’re on track.

 

Implicit biases are normal. We all have them. Once we’re aware and clear about our blind-spots, then we can become more conscious of how to interrupt and counteract those biases and develop new practices.

 

Respecting diversity and inclusion takes intentional and strategic moves.

 

AND there are ways you can raise awareness of your blind-spots. The SPARK Acronym helps us with that.

 

Slow down. Know thyself

  • Biases and blindspots are more likely to be acted upon under stress, time-crunch, pressure, cognitive overload.
  • What are your triggers?

Pause and set intention

  • How do I intend to truly honor and respect diversity and inclusion?
  • Am I listening to the individuals and the signs/information from my system?

Ask yourself good questions and be courageously curious

  • What assumptions am I making?
  • Am I suspending judgement and being open-minded?
  • Am I showing curiosity rather than certainty?

Respect Diversity & Connect

  • Human contact matters–whose perspective is not at the table?
  • Whose point of view am I not paying as close of attention to?
  • Am I exposing myself to as many perspectives as possible?
  • Am I creating and seeking out different narratives (with non-stereotypic imaging)?

Kindly expect tension and ambiguity

  • Am I trying new processes and structures that open up new possibilities?
  • Am I letting go of control and designing experiences that consistently lift up other points of view?

 

Creating awareness and making a shift sometimes requires help. I offer leaders coaching and trainings to help them springboard into more diverse and inclusive leaders.

 

S.P.A.R.K. Leadership development experiences involve:

  • Acknowledging and accepting unproductive mindsets and old patterns of behavior, raising awareness of blind-spots and biases that impact one’s leadership
  • Interrupting those patterns by setting intentions and taking small steps to shift habits
  • Embracing the unique strengths and assets that each leader has, which in turn helps them lead authentically with intentionality, conviction, confidence.
  • Increasing comfort navigating the transitions, tensions, and complexities of their organization.

 

Curious to learn more?

 

Download my new  S.P.A.R.K. Leadership Self-Assessment hereapply for our upcoming leadership program here,  and/or connect for virtual coffee with me here to learn more about my coaching/workshops/etc.

I’d love to hear from you! 

  • Was there anything that resonated?
  • Anything this blog sparked for you?
  • OR, do you have favorite quotes/articles about blind-spots and biases?

 

Comment below and let me know!

 

S.P.A.R.K. was founded in 2016 by Rachel Rosen, a seasoned facilitator, racial equity leadership coach, and LGBTQ advocate. S.P.A.R.K. offerings sit at the nexus of Rachel’s personal and professional passions, and she is on a mission to bring more empathy to the world, one conversation at a time. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadershipcoaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. experiences are grounded in theory and practice. S.P.A.R.K. offers experiences that support leaders and teams to unleash their potential to facilitate powerful experiences, collaborate, and build trust.

Don’t Be Blindsided: Lead With A S.P.A.R.K.

We All Have Blind-spots. Leaders Have a Responsibility To Check Them.

 

Discover How the S.P.A.R.K. Acronym Can Help You Lead With More Consciousness & Emotional Intelligence

 

In drivers education, one of the first lessons a new driver learns is about blind spots.

 

“Check my blind spots” becomes a mantra derived from the fear of impending disaster should you fail to check. Good drivers check blind spots as an intuitive, subconscious behavior developed out of repetition.

 

Developing new habits requires a commitment on action.

 

For example, if you are not a runner, but want to successfully run a marathon, you have to train. You think big, start small, and act now. Continuous actions, built upon over time, eventually creates habits. By the time the marathon has been completed, running is habitual.

 

Similarly, for adaptive leaders, there are certain habits that must be internalized if we want to be experienced as emotionally and socially intelligent leaders with a commitment to inclusion.

 

This is designed to be a conversation starter about unconscious biases and blind-spots for leaders and/or people committed to a diverse (multicultural, multigenerational, multiracial, etc.) team.

 

Given the sociopolitical landscape, I don’t need to remind you that there are extra layers of tension in the dynamics and relationships of our teams.

 

I believe that if we want to effectively engage the talents of our diverse communities, facilitate collaborative teams, and foster an environment that fuels productive change–it’s imperative that we have habits around checking our blind-spots.

 

This starts by accepting and acknowledging that we all have blind-spots

 

Because my background and training as a leadership coach and facilitator is specifically in racial equity and inclusion, I see implicit biases as our greatest blind-spots in leadership.

 

Implicit biases are the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. (See more here) Unconscious and involuntary in nature, they often reflect cultural values from our upbringing rather than our current declared beliefs.

 

And these biases can often be expressed in ways that are at odds with our intentions or values.

 

In my work, I see the manifestation of unconscious biases in leadership practices and systems-design everyday.  

 

To be clear, unconscious biases are the opposite of conscious, explicit biases. The important thing to note about unconscious biases is that they can be experienced as harmful, hurtful, and discriminatory (to say the least) by marginalized communities.

 

My friend and colleague Zaretta Hammond (the author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain), recently reminded me of some important points, especially for Caucasions reading this: most “white” people have inherited a culture that’s individualistic (not collectivist like many Communities Of Color), which means that white people (like me) are prone to unconscious deficit ideologies that are experienced as micro-aggressions by People of Color. It’s important to name that, because misrepresenting or misidentifying implicit / unconscious biases is problematic.

 

So, for the sake of clarity, in this blog I refer to “blind-spots” interchangeably with “unconscious / implicit biases”. I am writing a much larger piece on this, but for now, consider these reflections the tip of the iceberg. 

 

I believe that, as leaders, we must work intentionally and diligently to illuminate their existence–in service of having positive, productive relationships at work and home.

 

So let’s explore this topic a little more…

 

Developed from our tribal or herd mentality, implicit biases are mental constructs to keep us “safe”. Because stress activates the “fight, flight, or freeze” mechanism in our brain, the messages we’ve been exposed to–and internalized–throughout our life expose themselves under stress. 

 

 

This topic is imperative to discuss now, because we are in a hyper-sensitive, emotionally-charged time. The presence of our president has amplified divisions in our country, and people are discussing racism, homophobia, prejudices, and bigotry in a much more open fashion than I’ve ever experienced.

 

Now, more than ever, it’s imperative that we as leaders engage in deeper self-reflection, because biases and blind-spots will surface in our communication if we’re not intentional.

 

Exploring our blind-spots is important because our team depends on us to show self-awareness, thoughtfulness, and be inclusive in our language.  

 

Leaders can’t afford to be experienced at odds with their intentions and core values. That’s how relational trust gets ruptured. 

(image credit)

Here are some examples of how this plays-out:

 

If you say you are committed to diversity, and you want employees to feel seen, heard, and supported; however, in a moment of stress, your unconscious biases are alive and strong, your actions and words may not be experienced as inclusive.

 

Worst-case scenario: you unintentionally offend someone of a different background (race / gender / sexual identity / generation / body-type) on your team because of something you say or do. 

 

The impact of that is significant: when employees feel betrayed or unrecognized at work, their neurological reaction is the same as being chased by a lion. David Rock wrote a fascinating article about the neuroscience of feeling left out. The result is unproductive for all parties involved. 

 

Here are two more micro-examples of how my blind-spots showed up in my first year as a leader of a diverse team:

  1. In a meeting with my diverse team, I had closed off body language (arms crossed, leaned back) when a particular colleague spoke. My intention was not to portray negative energy, but my unconscious bias was in the driver’s seat.
  2. One of my African American colleagues raised his hand to speak up, and several white colleagues kept talking and either didn’t see OR ignored his nonverbal communication, and I did nothing to address the situation, because I also didn’t see his hand. My intention was to always facilitate open, liberatory experiences, but that was clearly not his experience. Thankfully my coach held up the mirror for me. 

 

I’ve also been on the receiving end of implicit biases with well-intended colleagues and peers. For example:

 

I’ve been called “kid”, “young lady”, and “sweetie” by older men in professional settings more times than I can count on my two hands in this past year alone.

 

As a queer woman leader, I’ve had someone laugh in my face after I introduced myself as queer. I’ve been asked countless times about my “husband” or “boyfriend”, prior to sharing my sexuality.

 

Again, these are experiences and conversations with people who have positive intentions and claim to value inclusion. 

 

I offer these real-life examples of blind-spots and biases playing out because I think it’s important to add texture to this conversation.

 

AND, even with training and expertise in this department, I will always be a work-in-progress, because uncovering unconscious biases as a leader is nuanced and multifaceted work.

 

I have always had a coach to offer me feedback and support, because I always want to be experienced as a leader who is reflective, self-aware, and someone who holds space for–and includes–all voices.

 

 

For me, discovering the Stereotype Threat (here’s a quick informative video) engaged me in a different level of responsibility towards being more intentionally and mindfully inclusive too.

 

Why this matters:

If we, as a leaders, value inclusion and commit to honoring diversity, it’s imperative that we do intentional self-reflection so our implicit biases don’t show up and send messages that are at odds with our intentions or core values.  

 

The last thing we want to do is unintentionally exclude individuals on our team. Many employees are conditioned/socialized to swallow their pain and keep moving forward, and therefore give a little less of themselves. You know how much one employee holding back can impact a team.

 

Just like in drivers-ed, we learn how to use mirrors to help us see in our blind spots.

 

In this case, our mirrors are our support systems.

 

It’s important that we all have people who care about and respect us enough to be our “mirror”. They can tell us the truth about the impact of our actions, communications (verbal and nonverbal), and our decision making.

 

In my leadership coaching programs, I support my clients by utilizing intentional tools and techniques, grounded in latest Emotional Intelligence frameworks/research, for intentional self-reflection–in service of igniting authentic and lasting inclusive conditions.

 

There are ways you can raise awareness of your blind-spots through intentional reflection. The S.P.A.R.K. Leadership Acronym helps us with that.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself when reflecting on your blindspots.

  1. Slow down. Know thyself
    1. Biases and blind spots are more likely to be acted upon under stress, time-crunch, pressure, cognitive overload– Have I allowed myself space to pause and breathe?
    2. Am I aware of my own triggers?
  1. Pause and set intention
    1. What do I intend to give and get from this interaction?
    2. Am I listening with empathy and trying to put myself in their shoes?
  1. Ask yourself good questions and be courageously curious.
    1. What assumptions am I making right now?
    2. Am I suspending judgment and being open-minded?
    3. Am I showing curiosity or certainty about someone else’s experience?
  1. Respect Diversity & Connection
    1. Human contact matters–who’s not at the table?
    2. Whose point of view am I not paying as close of attention to?
    3. Am I exposing myself to as many perspectives as possible?
    4. Am I creating and seeking out different narratives (with non-stereotypic imaging)?
  1. Kindly expect tension and ambiguity
    1. Am I trying new processes and structures opens up new possibilities?
    2. Am I letting go of control and designing experiences that consistently lift up other points of view?

 

Now I don’t need to remind you that there’s no silver-bullet for lasting transformation. Just like becoming a better driver and internalizing new habits, we must practice frequently if we want to improve our emotional intelligence.

 

S.P.A.R.K. Leadership development experiences involve:

  • Acknowledging and accepting unproductive mindsets and old patterns of behavior, raising awareness of blind-spots and biases that impact one’s leadership
  • Interrupting those patterns by setting intentions and taking small steps to shift habits
  • Embracing the unique strengths and assets that each leader has, which in turn helps them lead authentically with intentionality, conviction, confidence.
  • Increasing comfort navigating the transitions, tensions, and complexities of their organization.

 

Curious to learn more?

I’d love to hear from you! 

  • Was there anything that resonated?
  • Anything this blog sparked for you?
  • OR, do you have favorite quotes/articles about blind-spots and biases?

 

Comment below and let me know!

  • S.P.A.R.K. was founded in 2016 by Rachel Rosen, a seasoned facilitator, racial equity leadership coach, and LGBTQ advocate. S.P.A.R.K. offerings sit at the nexus of Rachel’s personal and professional passions, and she is on a mission to bring more empathy to the world, one conversation at a time. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadershipcoaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. experiences are grounded in theory and practice. S.P.A.R.K. offers experiences that support leaders and teams to unleash their potential to facilitate powerful experiences, collaborate, and build trust. 
    PS. Fun fact: Did you know that we physically have blind-spots in our eyes? Basically it comes down to the structural makeup of our eyeball. If you don’t know much about this, there’s a really cool science experiment here.