Humility in Leadership Lifts Up Everyone

Photo via    Pixabay.

Photo via Pixabay.

Before I get to this issue of Lessons from the Lab -- A lot of us have on our minds those children being ripped from their parents' arms, by our government, on our borders. 

And I want to say two things about that. 

One is that whatever you are doing in your work for social change, I want to thank you. I want to thank you for doing whatever you are doing, to build a world where we care about children, and the world they grow up in.

Your work matters. And in the midst of these crimes and atrocities, I remember Fred Rogers' advice: To look for the helpers. 

And you are one of those helpers. Thank you for everything you do.

The second thing I want to say is that there are many organizations doing crucial work to address this crisis on our borders. Act Blue has a page where you can donate to 12 of these groups, with just a few clicks. Please consider doing that, here.

And now here is this week's Lessons from the Lab:

Episode 6 of the Dialogue Lab podcast features a conversation on how nurses can transform healthcare by adopting a coaching, anti-racist, and social justice mindset.

Click here to listen, or keep reading for 3 social impact lessons from this conversation with Nikki Akparewa, the founder of Transform Nursing.

About Nikki Akparewa

Nikki is a nurse, a nurse educator, and a coach, and the founder of Transform Nursing. She has been bringing a coaching and social justice framework to nursing, to improve the health of patients as well as nurses, and to support nurses as leaders, so they can become a force for systems and policy change.

3 Lessons from the Lab

One of the things I took away from my conversation with Nikki was a reminder that great social impact leadership is about doing what lifts up everyone. And that takes both courage and humility.

>> LESSON 1: Believe in your people. <<

One of the things I appreciate most about Nikki is her enthusiasm and respect for nurses.

Because while she is clear that she has her concerns about nursing as it is currently practiced; she also champions nurses for their skill, the role they play in society, and for their potential as powerful voices for health policy change.

It’s something that feels familiar to me as a coach. I know my clients are amazing, and I never stop believing in them, even -- especially, actually -- when they struggle.

And my clients find that powerful. But I'm not doing anything magical. If I’m honest, it’s just because most of us are not used to being seen that way.

And this is so crucial in social impact leadership. Because in our work, we are often struggling against all kinds of odds. And as leaders, if all we see when we look around is the struggle, then that’s what we’ll reflect back to our colleagues and our communities.

So, especially in times as hard as the one we’re in, we’ve got to choose to believe in our people. To see that we are all more than the struggle we are in.

We’ve got to choose to encourage our people, especially when the going gets tough. And to mirror back to them our collective greatness.

>> LESSON 2: Embrace a process of learning from others <<

Most of us have it hard-wired into us that leaders are supposed to have all the answers. And if we don’t, we at least better look like we have the answers.

And there are two big places where that starts to break down.

One is that social impact is not simple. It’s complex and unpredictable.

Imagine you run a social impact factory. If things were simple, it’d be like flipping a switch, and boom, your (social impact) light comes on.

But in our factory, there are many switches, being operated by many people, who do not all agree on what the factory is for. We don’t even own this factory. It has, like, millions of owners.

And the switches themselves keep changing and relocating. And when we flip a switch, we don’t always know whether, where, or how the lights will turn on, and what they will illuminate when they do.

And when our work involves so many moving parts, we need strong, collaborative relationships with our colleagues, so they can help us better understand the lay of the land and the impact of our actions.

And what I’ve found is that when a client defines their leadership around having the answers, they are less open to learning from others, and are therefore a lot less likely to be getting that kind of information from their community.

The second breakdown is that leadership is also not simple.

At its core, leadership is about relationships. With humans. And humans are also complex, and unpredictable.

Nikki spoke to this powerfully in our interview, when she spoke about how leadership is usually defined in medicine:

“This is hard work for us because people come to us for answers. They come to us because we have expertise. And we have to do the work ... to learn that, yes, competency comes in understanding the pathophysiology of someone, the biology of someone. But we cannot be competent on someone's emotions, the way that they can. We cannot be competent onwhat people want out of their lives. We cannot be competent on exactly where that person is coming from. For that, we must accept humility.”

And what I’ve found again and again is that my clients who really get that they don’t have all the answers are better at partnering with their colleagues to find what focuses and motivates them, what holds them accountable, and what keeps them moving for the long haul.

>> LESSON 3: Humility is not about playing small <<

For me, humility is about tending to my emotional self-care, so that my ego doesn’t get in the way of my ability to see the bigger picture.

- It’s not about telling myself that I don’t matter, or that my actions don’t matter.

- It’s not about being overly self-critical, nor is it sacrificing my well-being to please others.

- And it’s not hiding out where I’m most comfortable, for fear of being too visible.

Nikki addresses this beautifully here:

“I was just taken aback that nursing wasn't doing more in nursing schools and curriculum. It [race] is just not addressed.

“It’s addressed in a very surface way. We’re very comfortable using expressions such as ‘health equity,’ using expression such as ‘social justice’

“...However what I have found in general is that people just aren't really ready to use the word ‘race.’ To really say that word out loud. Or ‘racism.’ Afraid to say that word to put a name on it. Or ‘class’ and ‘classism.’

“You know we're not comfortable using those types of expressions in professional spaces…. In professional spaces where people's lives actually depend on our ability to not only have these conversations -- and stop playing small about it -- but really depend on our ability to impact people in global ways.”

So those are my takeaways from my interview with Nikki Akparewa.

If you found any of this helpful and would like to learn more about how I help my clients build dialogue, collaborate and innovate for social impact, I'd love to hear from you.