2020 Reflections – Thinking about the other

We believe that Leadership 2020 is much more than a leadership training program. Sure, it builds the leadership capacity of individual participants just as other programs do. But more fundamentally, the program builds collective capacity to work differently with complexity and in the ‘spaces between’. 2020 aims to build stronger, more resilient, and effective teams, organizations, networks and systems. We do this, in part, by breaking through some of the limiting judgments and beliefs that we hold about ourselves and each other (e.g., MCFD vs. agencies; Indigenous vs. non-Indigenous).

We believe it will make a big difference if we can embrace the real complexity of our work, engage with our diverse communities, and enact new ways of practicing and continuously learning together. So how can we get better at working in this way? For one, we have to unpack how we see ‘the other’.

In several communiqués released in December, I talked about the implicit judgments, biases, and prejudices that can cloud our view of ‘the other’ and limit our ability to be open and curious, understand, embrace and engage.

Stick with me while I share a little story. I am currently in Oxford UK for two weeks of intensive learning for the Global MBA Program that I have been in for the past year. This is primarily an online program so my interactions with others have been through Skype, Whats App, and course discussion boards. I am now spending 12 hours a day with 17 other students from 15 different nations and I have come up-close and personal with my judgments and biases! I hate it when this happens!

For example, through the online posts and occasional team projects, I had unconsciously created whole stories about people based on age, ethnicity, experience, occupation, country of origin, etc. And sometimes these stories weren’t very flattering. But now that I have met some of the other learners, I see that their stories are not at all like the stories I wrote for them. That ‘accountant-type’ is an incredibly generous human being, who is so passionate about his calling that he tutors young people in his African nation who want to learn about numbers. And the strong, multi-credentialed woman from Asia is trying to figure out how to be the best parent she can be to her 3 year old while navigating cultural, organizational, and ethical challenges that make it really difficult.

So what does all this have to do with 2020? I offer it as an invitation to consider how you might create stories about others without really knowing them, and in so doing, make it more difficult to work together. I also offer it as an example of how important it is to work on our self-awareness and cultural agility as an ongoing leadership practice.

We are human and humans have historically benefited from creating in-groups and out-groups. However, in this time of reconciliation we have to ask ourselves, how beneficial is it to perpetuate us and them or ‘other’ thinking when we need so many perspectives to address complex issues?

For the Weekly Read, I offer a guest article from Tess Charlesworth on how we can catch our implicit biases and work through them to become more open, inclusive and culturally agile. She shares some new research on ‘cultural metacognition’ and then suggests concrete things you can do to reduce bias and judgments. 

Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
doesn’t make sense any more.