Healing from DEI Leadership Traumas

Over the past few months, my colleagues Brian Arao, Dawn Lee, and I have been coaching senior leaders around DEI leadership through our Evolve program. We are noticing a trend emerging: diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) leadership traumas. These DEI leadership traumas are deeply disturbing events related to DEI leadership that continue to live on for the individuals beyond the actual events. They can lead to fear, self-doubt, second-guessing, missteps, overthinking, silence, and inaction. Helping these leaders heal from these equity leadership traumas can help them release fear, gain courage, and take action.

DEI Leadership Traumas

DEI leadership traumas can take many forms. It might include a mistake where a leader’s intent did not align with the impact of their decision. It might include disingenuous criticism from nefarious actors looking for notoriety leading to public condemnation and even threats of violence. As a result of these DEI leadership traumas, the leader can second guess themselves, hesitate to act, or avoid leading around issues of equity out of fear of doing harm, experiencing oppression, facing criticism, being canceled, or experiencing violence against themselves or their families.

Healing from DEI Leadership Traumas

Processing with a trusted partner, like a coach if you are able, can help understand the incident, put it in perspective, learn from it, and even heal from it. Although putting the incident behind you might seem tempting, that’s not how healing works. We have to be able to work through the incident and process so that it is an integrated part of our wholeness. Here are three key steps in healing that we have been working with through Evolve.

  1. Recognize. Name the trauma, acknowledge its ongoing impact on you, and identify the thoughts and feelings it brings up in you. This naming, exploring, and recognizing can help you engage with mindfulness and awareness.
  2. Reconcile. Just because it was an awful experience doesn’t mean there isn’t important learning to take away. Processing and meaning-making can help us harvest the learning we want to carry forward from the experience. Once we have learned and can apply that learning, it can be easier to release the rest of the experience that no longer serves us or gets in our way. We might even be able to befriend the experience. This is the difference between putting the experience behind you and working through it.
  3. Revisit. You can re-engage with the experience with perspective, learning, processing, tools, and distance. How would you navigate the same experience now with your new capacities? We can be e reparative and restorative with the same experience by engaging as a case study, re-rewriting a response, or even imagining how we would be in the moment now. Realizing that you can apply what you’ve learned and engage differently, can help you keep perspective and integrate the experience so that it is a part of your past and not dictating your present.

Being good company on the journey for these DEI leaders as they recognize, reconcile, and revisit has been transformative for them and us. We’re putting a more explicit focus on this in our Evolve program, which continues to, well, evolve.

Learn More About Evolve

The next cohort of Evolve will launch on May 13. We are opening Evolve up to senior leaders from beyond higher education, including government, non-profit, and corporate sectors. So, if you know of senior leaders who are deeply committed to DEI and are eager to release fear, gain courage, and take action – let’s connect! On the Evolve site you can learn more, sign-up for the free Discover Evolve session on April 9, or schedule a free 15 minute 1:1 conversation about Evolve with Brian, Dawn, or Keith.

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Leaders and organizations turn to Keith as an authentic educator, trusted leader, and unconventional scholar helping them advance leadership, learning, and equity.

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