The Urgency to Disrupt Leadership Development.

What is happening in the United States is tragic.

The fatal killing of Ahmaud Arbery and a month later… George Floyd.

What is more tragic is it is NOT new news. As a wise soul pointed out to me, “we don’t have patterns…patterns, especially historical ones, have us.” We can ascribe meaning to a pattern based on our individual reactions, historical context and degree of shared identity. And yet, patterns have their own iconic meaning we must first seek to understand. In the United States, we are held in a collective pattern of human tragedy that disproportionately impacts under represented minorities (specifically, Black and African-Americans) based on a legacy of subjugation. The pattern is noted in current and historical acts of violence by authorities, health-care and lay-offs during COVID. It is rare to get out of patterns without acknowledging the pain and grief of their existence, the core truths (beliefs) and systems of reinforcement. No matter our role, position or place in the world – we have an opportunity to hold a microscope to these patterns and our relationship to them.

As I hold up this microscope I ask: how is development part of structural inequality and oppression? How is it that diversity dilemmas in leadership roles persist despite a burning agenda and resources? What are the normal processes and structures that are giving us inches when we need miles? How many times does an org. survey or a consultant have to point out the obvious? Unconscious system patterns in organizational life are predictable – people fall into roles and ways of being (as pointed out by Oshry) and repeat behavior/results for decades.

How do our structures create these patterns? One structure is what I call the Dilemma of Disparate Narratives (Or an Org. Splitting). We have separate conversations (narratives) in organizational life on what “development” means and how development is seen and rewarded. For example, the diversity and leadership development teams are the classic mirror of separate narratives with the org development practitioners as integrative glue. To address the pattern of disparate narratives cross-functional partnerships emerge. A meaningful start that sometimes also includes retreating back to what is known, familiar and comfortable.

There is a much larger opportunity to close the gap of this dilemma; by creating a shared narrative of inclusive development. Inclusion and the attention toward social justice is not just something you do. Much like the rest of leadership development – inclusion also represents who you ARE. We don’t need leaders who “get it” and then talk about how they “get it” to other leaders. We need the leaders who ARE it, who show the inclusive developmental narrative through the course of how they fundamentally operate, how they construct their teams and display it as part of their leadership style.

Leadership development practitioners and coaches have to be up-skilled and versed in diversity and inclusion to ensure it isn’t just part of the curriculum as a module rather as an on-going assumption woven in coaching questions, conversations and debriefed “a ha” moments. Developmental practitioners have to be prepared to discuss collective tragedies and how they are part of a collective opportunity for leadership growth and understanding. Inclusion needs to be a competence corner-stone for leadership practitioner and coaches. Leadership methodologies and assessments have to share in the same narrative whether that is in a 360, a personality assessment, framework or stage based approach. It is not enough to say this is the leadership framework (decision matrix, empathy approach, conflict management, negotiation, strategy, developmental lens)….oh and here are the 5 tips on how to be inclusive. The 5 tips have to be part of the language of the narrative approach and frameworks presented not an aside. Perhaps radical to say “have to” and without disrupting our approach to leadership development we will have, what we have had.

Who are we are as coaches/practitioners developing leaders to “see”….?