Communicate With Intentionality. Lead With A S.P.A.R.K.

A lot of folks I work with ask me what they can do differently to communicate with more consciousness and intentionality–especially across difference (race, gender, ethnicity, generation, sexuality, body-type, etc.).


A lot of leaders also ask how they can shift the culture and support their team members to speak with less judgement and act with more intentionality and thoughtfulness before making assumptions about other people’s experiences.


I often say, model what you hope to see. Show them what it looks like to engage with that level of thoughtfulness. Share your process.


Be the change.


In a recent blog, I explored the notion of Intention Deficit Disorder. I shared that there are specific intentional strategies we can utilize to interrupt particular patterns of discourse, and they require a different level of mindfulness and preparation. We address this in our upcoming SPARK Leadership Coaching program.


Today, I walk you through an intentional reflective process using the S.P.A.R.K. acronym as a tool for communicating with more intentionality:


S: Show up fully

We all have biases–unconscious and conscious. When you are willing to show up fully, and explore your biases, you are more likely to be intentional with your words and actions, and therefore really understand those who have differing values from you.

P: Pause

To avoid Intention Deficit Disorder, tune in and notice what’s coming up for you, body language of yourself and the other person, if you are truly listening or just feeling triggering and needing to respond?

Setting intention around communication is so critical, especially under the stress and strain from our current socio-political landscape. Neuroscience research suggests that being in a state of distress can lead to unclear thinking and unkind behaviors, so this pause is essential.

A: Ask

Rather than assuming someone else’s truth, ask a question. There are many different ways people communicate.

Being mindful and open to really listening (after asking) can generate better questions and drive better communication.

R: Respect Multiple Perspectives

Seek out different points of view. Be willing to truly listen to other perspectives.

Stay curious and committed to remaining present and engaged–especially when someone has a different way of approaching the task at hand.

K: Kindly expect Messiness

When triggered and experiencing tension and physiological distress, be kind to yourself in the moment, don’t feel pressured to respond right away. One deep breath is often enough space to de-escalate mounting tension.

Remember, when you clean out a messy closet, the mess has to come out of the closet in order to get cleaned out and sorted. Working with pain, discomfort, and even trauma gets messy. That’s okay. Be intentional, compassionate, vulnerable, and loving. Sometimes it is okay not to know the right answer. Just stay willing to be a part of the process, and the solution will eventually arise.

Think about what connections you can make to your experience now….

  1. What are your thoughts/reactions to the acronym? Which domain do you want to be more intentional around?
  1. Do you find it easy or difficult to pause and reflect before responding right away?
  1. When you are in a place where there is diversity of perspective, culture, and race…what are your go-to moves in those moments in which you pause before reacting? (especially when you have a hunch about people’s associations or comfort levels with certain differences)


Do you have any default phrases or statements when you actually don’t know where people stand? If not, then I have some more tips and tools to share!


If my blogs resonate, you may be interested in learning more about our 8-week online leadership course. Cohort 3 starts on January 8th! 


What are your reactions to these blogs about intentionality?


I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.

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.

The Paradox of Adaptive Leadership

The Paradox of Adaptive Leadership:

Are You Clinging to Perfection or Embracing the SPARK?

In a world of over-saturation, created by the ability to have access information immediately through the internet, what sets a business apart is its soul, articulated through its leadership. Yet, few people have the skill-set to embrace and acknowledge challenges, vulnerably and transparently communicating emotions while integrating action that aligns with values.

An executive I was coaching was stunned when I shared that two things can be true at the same time— you can be an expert and a learner, you can have a relationship and still manage employees.

After I shared that, she looked at me with wide eyes and said, “but I’ve never experienced or seen a leader who does that well. How do I know where to start?”

Culturally, we are ingrained with the narrative that vulnerability is a weakness.

Instead, we are driven to perfectionism, and we aim to appear as free as possible from all flaws and defects. Many of us are taught this from childhood. It becomes a mental construct that shapes our narratives about ourselves and others.

A new leadership is emerging now, leading with authenticity, emotional intelligence, and cultural consciousness.

These leaders embrace the paradox of leadership, holding space for both:

  • Humility and conviction,
  • Passion with stress-free authority,
  • Active engagement while being present to the process and allowing it to evolve organically,
  • Curiosity with certainty in their ability to do the job,
  • Self-awareness and unattachment
  • Optimism and hope for the future with a realistic and informed perspective  
  • Resistance (to any oppressive, hurtful, harmful practices) and persistence in making a difference
  • bravery and sensitivity
  • consciousness and vulnerability, ready to face the unknown head-on
  • groundedness in both their own and their teams strengths with openness to learning about necessary areas of growth.

Leading this way is complex and nuanced, as you can imagine. This is exactly what adaptive, inclusive leadership is all about.

To answer my clients question of where to begin, we start with self-reflection in both our head and heart.

Shifting to this is not necessarily intuitive, easy when unsupported, or fostered by the dominant culture. However, not only is it possible, it is very rewarding and impactful for our communities.  

That’s why I have designed and created S.P.A.R.K. Leadership programs.   

This journey involves interrupting patterns and confronting incongruences, which shakes us from our comfort zone.

Take a moment to reflect upon and answer these questions:

  • Do you know how to navigate complex, nuanced dynamics when they emerge under distress?
  • Are you actively building, strengthening, and sustaining positive relationships with all stakeholders of different  backgrounds and cultures than yourself?
  • Do you currently have the knowledge, skills, and habits to be engaged in this new leadership model?
  • Do you take time daily (or even weekly or monthly) to reflect on your core values, vision, and priorities to have maximal and strategic impact?
  • Are you familiar with the latest neuroscience trends and adaptive leadership research and approaches in order to lead with more impact?
  • Are you crystal clear about what each of the five attributes of S.P.A.R.K. look like on a consistent basis?

If you answered no to any of those questions, consider joining our leadership retreat (we have one on September 16, 2017!), check out our upcoming 8 week online course for leaders OR click here to schedule a “clarity call” where we can discuss your personal needs on the journey, and identify what you need clarity around in order to become the adaptive, inclusive leader you want to be.

I’ll close by saying this:

Inclusion starts with I, and also contains the word US within it. Your team needs you to provide the quality of leadership that allows everyone to thrive, and it all starts with taking the first step, and embracing the paradox.


Rachel Rosen is a seasoned facilitator, leadership coach, Racial Justice and LGBTQ advocate, and the Founder of S.P.A.R.K. For Humanity, the interactive, inclusive, community-building card game. All 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. Rachel facilitates workshops and offers adaptive leadership coaching opportunities that support individuals and teams to unleash their potential to ignite inclusive cultures, collaborate, and lead with intentionality–all in service of building a better future for the next generation.

Top 10 Tips For Taking Conversations to a Deeper Realm

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Top 10 Tips For Taking Conversations to a Deeper Realm

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Just a few nights ago at a SPARK event, someone said “this is magical.”

He then asked me, “How do you do it? How do you create such an inviting, warm environment that allows for strangers to connect and have meaningful conversations?”

My response went something like this:

There’s no magic wand. To be honest, I have learned a ton about what NOT to do, so I know what seems to work. Every one of my go-to moves exists because of those lessons-learned.

So, today, I offer some reflections and tips to help you when creating conditions for meaningful conversations at YOUR next gathering. The reason I offer this now is because I wish someone would have broke it down like this for me five years ago.

These lessons are things that I’ll always continue to work on, and they’re good reminders when I get stuck. They have been formed after many years of guidance from mentors, facilitating engagements on complex topics, and culling through resources, frameworks, and tools in order to create my roadmap.

Thanks to the many ah-ha’s after hosting SPARK Events…I’m excited to offer this list for your consideration:

Top 10 Lessons-Learned On Taking Conversations to A Deeper Realm

  1. Be authentic
  2. Have FUN
  3. Prepare with care
  4. Frame the experience
  5. Know when to step up and step back
  6. Embrace differences, seeing others as equals
  7. Listen with curiosity
  8. Remember that conversation is how we construct meaning together
  9. Expect it to be messy at times
  10. Set an intention before the experience

Here are some reflections for your consideration:

  1. Be authentic

I struggle with the phrase “fake it till you make it”…because it didn’t do me any good. In fact, sometimes “faking it” impacted my relationships and community in detrimental ways.

Maybe that’s because I have a terrible poker face. I mean terrible.

That said, I believe that people can smell inauthenticity and insincerity from miles away. They’re onto us when we’re faking it. So, why not be authentic and real about where we’re at?

People not only appreciate authenticity, but they respect it. Sometimes that involves vulnerability, but that leap of faith is worth it.

Even when I’m in a room full of strangers presenting on a topic that isn’t my favorite–I always ask myself–where can I create space for me to be fully MYSELF? When do I feel most confident and comfortable?

Only when I share parts of ME do they get to see my passions and joys, which brings me to my next point.

But before we go there, here’s a question to consider: Where do I feel I can be my most authentic self, and what about that space is so inviting?

  1. Have FUN!

Show enthusiasm and passion if you’re feeling it.
When you love something, it shows.
When you care about something, it shows.

I used to think that I had to stick to the script and not show too much of my identity, for fear of messing up. I also used to think that I had to keep a calm, cool, and collected demeanor to appear “professional” or “knowledgeable”…but then I learned one of my biggest lessons.

Two things can be true at the same time.

I can have fun and be very knowledgeable. I can be strong and graceful. I can have both confidence and be vulnerable at the same time.

I now know that it’s better to bring my full self and be transparent with my emotions rather than be “buttoned up” and appear put together.

Also, my excitement sets the tone. If I want other people to have fun, then I need to do so as well.

A question to consider: What is one thing that brings you joy when you’re leading or hosting a gathering?

  1. Prepare with care

When I’m preparing for an upcoming gathering, I think about how I want to experience the day, and what I want the experience to be like for my guests.

I think about how I can support people into, through, and beyond the experience so they feel fully welcome and seen….and that level of support takes preparation.

I personally always want to design experiences that allow for folks to tap-into something inside of them so they can unleash their full potential. So, when I visualize experiences, I imagine people laughing, leaning-in, smiling, and sharing meaningful connections.

Then, I think about how to create space for those things (above) to happen.

One of my biggest lessons-learned here is that being prepared is very different than being attached to a plan.

A question to consider: How do I want to FEEL at the end of the gathering? How do you want your guests to walk away feeling?

  1. Frame the experience

How I set up the experience impacts everything. This brings me back to points #1 and #2. For example, if I want people to feel comfortable, have fun, and feel loving energy…then I need to show up confidently in those ways.

When I attend events and gatherings, I like to hear from the host. I particularly appreciate hearing why they chose to put on the event.

A question to consider: Think of an event that was framed really well and allowed you to feel like you could show up as your full self…what did they say? What was it about their opening that impacted you the most?

  1. Know when to step up and step back

What it means to Step Back…
I mentioned in my first post on Tuesday that I used to be a perfectionist and control gave me comfort. In hindsight though, I realize that by controlling too much, I didn’t allow for people’s natural leadership. In relinquishing control and stepping back, I was able to see their strengths, assets, gifts, and talents. Naturally people stepped up.

Sometimes we become the person we despise the most. Think about a time when you felt micromanaged or a time you went to a gathering when the host needed to control everything. What do you wish they would have done differently?

What it means to Step Up:
Stepping up at the beginning of the gathering is really important (hence #4). Also, I’ve learned to chime in at various points in conversations at pivotal moments, especially for these reasons:1) When I notice that some folks are dominating the discussion, or if people haven’t spoken

2) When I see and know people’s strengths and skills, it helps to acknowledge them and invite them to step up

3) Close the event with as much care as you opened it.

A question to consider: When was the last time you wanted to speak up but you stepped back to let others share instead? What happened as a result?

  1. We embrace our differences, seeing each other as equals     

Making space for multiple perspectives to be shared is part of the process.

Positions of power and authority don’t help meaningful conversations bear fruit.
Especially if I’m hosting a gathering with folks of different racial backgrounds, it’s important that I acknowledge difference when it feels appropriate, and check my assumptions.

When multiple perspectives are shared and there’s space to ask questions about other people’s experiences, I always learn something new.

Here’s the thing: we need each other to be better community members.

“You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note.” -Doug Floyd

The first step to singing in harmony is in truly listening to one another, which takes me to my next point.

A question to consider: What are your go-to questions or moves you have to ensure that you’re not making an assumption about another person’s identity?

  1. We listen with curiosity about each other

Listening with curiosity is no small feat.

Listening with not just my ears–but also my eyes, my heart, my open-mind–that requires a different skill. I mentioned this in my post on Wednesday when discussing courage, but being present and truly listening–that is a gift.

A question to consider: Can you think of a time when you heard something you didn’t agree with, but instead of judging you chose to pause and be curious–rather than certain–about someone else’s experience?

8. Remember that conversation is how we construct meaning together   

I offer this reminder toward the end of my list, because once #1-7 are in place, this fits right in.

For centuries people have connected and solved problems by sharing experiences and telling stories. We don’t need an App or screen or even a tool. Often times, all we need is ourselves, our openness, and our curiosity.

A question to consider: When was the last time you hosted a conversation that was especially meaningful and fulfilling? What was it about that conversation? What was in place that made it so great?

9. Expect it to be messy at times
Whatever messy means to you, expect a little bit at some point, and you’ll likely feel more prepared if and when the energy in the room shifts.

Anticipate tension. Here’s the letter I shared the other day in case it’s helpful to remember.

If you don’t like “messiness” or tension, sometimes it helps to list out all the “worst case scenarios” just to get them out of your head.

Then consider this: Is there anything on the list you haven’t experienced before? Anything you don’t know how to handle? Likely the answer is no.

You have what it takes to get through even the WORST CASE SCENARIO. That’s remarkable actually.  At that point, feel free to rip up your list or throw it away.

Let your anxieties go, and remind yourself that messiness and struggle help communities grow.

10. Set an intention before the experience

“All meaningful change starts on the inside” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A big assumption I used to make was that everything would be fine just because the right people were in the room.

As a host of an experience, I have found that setting an intention–for how I want to be experienced–helps me.

Then, throughout the day, when I allow myself to slow down, think, and reflect back on that intention…I notice a big difference.

Here’s a sentence to try completing: For my upcoming gathering, I intend to be_____and I want people to experience me as_______.


If you’re interested in being a part of an exclusive fireside chat with Lia and I tomorrow morning, we’ll be sharing our conversation with you about closing out 2016 strong and reflecting on intentions for 2017.

Keep a look-out in your inboxes in the next 24 hours! In addition to announcing who the winners are (of the awesome raffle prizes) tomorrow…we’ll be sharing a special video from our hearts to you!!

Sending many many sparks of love and light your way as you close out 2016 strong and begin 2017 with your own intentions. <3

Now, I’d love to hear from YOU!

  • What stood out or resonated today?
  • What’s one thing you want to try out this next month?
  • What else would you like to hear more about?

As I close I want to appreciate and recognize the sources that played a big role in helping me create this list. My mentors at the National Equity Project have played a tremendous role in my leadership development. Another resource that has been very formative for me is called the Art of conversation, Adopted from Arrien, A. (2001) “The Way of the Teacher: Principles of Deep Engagement” in L. Lantieri, Linda. Schools with spirit : nurturing the inner lives of children and teachers. Beacon Press, Boston. 


Desperate Times Call For Different Leadership

Desperate Times Call For Different Leadership.

5 Adaptive Leadership Stances that will Change the Conversation & Ignite Transformation on your Team


For many, the state of the world is frightening right now.

Divisive discourse is ubiquitous, and many communities are experiencing a rise in tension and conflict.  

Some people feel paralyzed and afraid to speak up about race, class, politics, and ethics- and, others speak up so loudly their community members’ voices can’t be heard.

The truth is, many leaders are navigating unchartered territory, which can be challenging, especially when leading multigenerational and multicultural teams.

Why? Blind-spots and biases are real. We all have them, and when we’re under pressure or stress they tend to amplify.

Our biases impact our communication and how we show up for our people.

During times of transition and increased conflict, communities and leaders need more tools, resources, and strategies for engaging in respectful dialogue around complex topics.

Since I geek-out on neuroscience, organizational theories, and leadership development research, I want to share something William Bridges, PhD., (the author of Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change) points out that has informed a great deal of my work:

“Change is something that happens to people, even if they don’t agree with it. Transition, on the other hand, is internal: it’s what happens in people’s minds as they go through change. Change can happen very quickly, while transition usually occurs more slowly.” –William Bridges

During times of transition, we don’t need to a quick fix. We need experiences that acknowledge and allow space for our emotion.

Plugging-in to  devices only distances diverse groups from one another.

So, we need more opportunities to deeply and meaningfully connect with one another.

The essential question I aim to answer in my work is this:

How do we prepare visionary leaders of diverse (multicultural, multigenerational) teams to be adaptive, proactive, and intentional in their approach–during times of uncertainty, transition, and tension?

The truth is, my whole life I’ve been searching for the answer to a more simpler version of that question: Is it possible to be a part of a community where everyone feels a sense of belonging *and*  freedom?

I am not naive, but I am a relentless optimist, so I believe it IS possible, with extraordinary leadership.

I happen to have seen first-hand what’s possible in my coaching practice.

I have supported leaders and communities to come together across racial, gender, and sexual identities, as well as cultural differences.

I have witnessed inside-out transformation.

I care so much about this topic that I even created a community-building card game, SPARK For Humanity, to offer a solution for diverse teams to share stories on meaningful topics in a fun way.

I’ve seen complete strangers connect and inspire one another over the course of 30 minutes.

Over the past ten months I have had transformative experiences that allow me hold on to my relentless optimism with a tight grip and a sturdy backbone informed by praxis (theory and practice).

And here’s the truth: leadership is everything.  

In order to truly make and sustain transformative impacts on diverse teams, a drastically different type of leadership and community experience is required.

These three assumptions drive my work:

  • Leaders of diverse teams must communicate, build relationships, & create systems with intentionality
  • Emotional & social intelligence is required for leaders to navigate big changes and transitions with grace and integrity
  • Transformational leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

My approach emphasizes the importance self-reflection, self-awareness, and cultural consciousness.

It’s imperative that leaders act with integrity, prioritize actions with intentionality, and communicate with awareness (especially of blind-spots and biases) if they want to support their teams into, through, and beyond the emotions that come with big transitions.




Here are The 5 Adaptive Leadership Stances that will

Change the Conversation & Ignite Transformation.

S.P.A.R.K. Leaders:

Show up authentically and with love.

When we lead with our values and share our honest perspective with transparency, integrity, and vulnerability, we feel a sense of both liberation and belonging—two human experiences all people need. Also, when we see our team members as though they could be family, we are able to assume positive intent authentically.

Pause. Listen with fearlessness and intentionality.

Our identities impact how we experience the world and how others experience us, so it’s important that we slow down, listen with fearlessness, and reflect on our intentions before experiences. When we listen to others with empathy and intentionality, we become more compassionate and understanding of others.

Ask. Don’t assume. Show courageous curiosity rather than certainty.

Neuroscience suggests that we are wired to be oriented towards our tribe, YET we’re also wired to be curious about those who live different lives than us. With the division in the world, we must practice showing curiosity before making assumptions about other people’s’ experiences.

Respect multiple perspectives and see one another as equals

Multiple perspectives allow for richer, more textured experiences. Seeking out and designing spaces that include ALL voices (race, gender, sexual orientation, generation, ethnicity, etc.) is a critical attribute of S.P.A.R.K. Leadership.  

Kindly expect tension. Create space for vulnerability.

Change and transitions involve emotions, and emotions are not expressed or experienced in the same way for everyone. We must create and hold space differently, if we really want to foster spaces for our team members to be fully present.

Being a visionary, adaptive leader during these times is not for the faint of heart.

There’s no silver-bullet for lasting transformation.

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, and confidence.
  • Increasing comfort navigating the transitions, tensions, and complexities of their organization.

And, tremendous results and experiences are on the other side of each development opportunity.

So, what’s your learning edge? How would you describe your Leadership S.P.A.R.K.?

I’d love to hear from you. Comment below and share what resonates the most.

Curious to learn more?


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 leadership, coaching, 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.

S.P.A.R.K. offers experiences (both a product, SPARK! For Humanitythe game where everyone belongs–and a service). Interested in purchasing your own deck or learning more about it? Awesome!

PS: If you’re in the field of education, check out The National Equity Project (the amazing NonProfit Rachel works with too) for leadership development learning opportunities and feel free to join our upcoming Webinar, Intro to Equity: Starting the Equity Conversation.