The Four Traits of Inclusive Leaders: Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable with Jennifer and JBC’s Elfi Martinez

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This special episode features an interview with Jennifer and Elfi Martinez, Senior Director at JBC, ahead of the release of the 2nd edition of Jennifer's best-selling book How to be an Inclusive Leader. Jennifer and Elfi discuss the key attributes of being an inclusive leader and how those attributes vary from the traditional model of leadership. To learn more and order the 2nd edition, visit

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:

JENNIFER BROWN: Imagine leaders who are comfortable showing up vulnerably, meaning I don't know the answer, or this is what I feel versus this is what I think. I feel confused, I feel angry, I feel regret or sadness, or I feel guilt. Even just speaking those things is pretty unorthodox in workplace systems. Doing so opens a door to so much more truth-telling in organizations. And I think it's so incumbent on leaders to go first. I always point out, you cannot ask everybody else to do the work and then opt out of it yourself.

DOUG FORESTA: Addressing systemic inequities has become a defining challenge of our times. Leaders' understanding of their role and responsibility to others and to society is being questioned. On October 4th, Jennifer Brown will release the second edition of her bestselling book, How to Be an Inclusive Leader. She will share insights from over 20 years of experience, working with organizations to create workplaces where everyone thrives and belongs. Her widely-acclaimed Inclusive Leader Continuum provides a framework to lead individuals through the personal learning journey they undertake to become inclusive leaders. News stories, strategies, and discussion guides equip leaders at any level to take action and step into their role in affecting change. Whether you're already a fan of the book, a reader who considers themselves an advocate for equity and inclusion, or just starting to understand how uneven the playing field is, this book is must-read and essential tool for leading into the future. Visit to pre-order your own copy, or access special bulk rates.

The Will to Change is hosted by Jennifer Brown. Jennifer is an award-winning entrepreneur dynamic speaker, bestselling author and leadership expert, on how organizations must evolve their cultures towards a new, more inclusive workplace reality. She's a passionate inclusion and equity advocate, committed to helping leaders foster healthier and therefore more productive workplaces, ultimately driving innovation and business results. Informed by nearly two decades of consulting to Fortune 500 companies, she and her team advise top companies on building cultures of belonging in times of great upheaval and uncertainty. And now onto the episode.

Hello, and welcome back to The Will to Change. This is Doug Foresta. And in this special episode, you'll hear a conversation between Jennifer and Elfi Martinez, senior director at JBC Consulting, as they talk about inclusive leadership, and particularly the traits of inclusive leadership. You'll learn about four different elements of inclusive leadership, and as Elfi says, you'll hear that these elements can seem a little counterintuitive to the traditional model of leadership that we may have thought about in the past. So a very rich conversation, hope you enjoy it. And now onto the episode.

ELFI MARTINEZ: So hello everyone, we are joined by Jennifer Brown, the founder and head of Jennifer Brown Consulting. I am a senior director, my name is Elfi Martinez. I'm a senior director, been working together with Jennifer for many years, many wonderful opportunities to talk about and to live out our diversity, equity and inclusion values. And today we're talk about inclusive leadership, especially the traits of inclusive leadership, what does it look like in our everyday behavior, which is incredibly important. We're going to talk about distinctly some of the key attributes of being an inclusive leader, including humility, empathy, vulnerability, and resilience.

So we'll be talking about those four different pieces alone and commingled together. And so I'll open it up with our fearless leader herself. Jennifer, in your new book, you talk about the need for leaders to really develop humility. And this can seem a little counterintuitive to folks, in terms of the traditional model of leadership that they've grown up with. So in the past, we've expected leaders to have all the answers, to lead with authority, to be the expert, to be all-knowing, the great and powerful Oz, has been what we've expected from leaders in the past. So why are we saying nowadays that humility has just become so important for a leader to be effective?

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you, Elfi, and so delighted to be having this conversation with you. And I'm going to ask you the same question, so get ready. Well, humility, like you said, it's so counterintuitive, I think, to how we've been raised, if you will, professionally, how we've been groomed to behave and incentivized to behave. Humility, to me, defined is the willingness to admit not knowing the answers, the willingness to be on a journey as a learner, perhaps in a very early stage of learning, and taking our ego and putting it to the side, and saying, "This is a topic, when it comes to DEI, that that is constantly changing, and therefore we are always in the learning mode." There's not a moment that we're not. So we're not fooling anyone when we try to show up and have all the answers because I think that we get the points we get is for doing our work, and for saying, "Here's everything I don't know, here's what I'm endeavoring to learn or understand, here's what has humbled me."

And I think when I think of humility, I also think of privilege, Elfi, because when you are reminded of, or discover an aspect, an aspect of many privileges, say you just discover one, say something is pointed out to you. To me, anyway, the response that I have in my body is humility. It's sort of a, "Wow, I did not create that, perhaps I benefit from it. I've been gifted this, it's something that has enabled me." And to me, it actually humbles me because it reminds me of where I am in the system and why. And I think that's so important for us to remember, always check ourselves. Before we pat ourselves on the back, we need to really understand what some of those tailwinds are that have benefited us and speeded us along in our journey. I tell the story in the book about Wade Davis, who's a former NFL football player, and who works a lot with rooms that look a certain way as you would expect, given that he works with a lot of sports teams, and mainly men in those rooms, et cetera.

And he'll ask the question, "Can we agree for today to be uninterested in being right?" And I love that question because we have to change our mindset and shift that automatic binary. Well, first of all, the agree/disagree binary, but also the right/wrong binary, and the knowing binary and not knowing binary. We know some things, we don't know others, and that's okay. And we've got to be able to show up amongst our peers, particularly those of us that I think have big egos with our peers because that's kind of the behavior that is rewarded, and we have to start to write a different script. And it can be super uncomfortable to do everything that I've just said, but it is precisely what is needed. So Elfi, what would you add?

ELFI MARTINEZ: Overall, such great points. And I think kind of building on what you said, what I would add, and again, and I think that really an important part of this work and being able to get more effective at it is this idea of letting go of the need to be right. Which again, there's a traditional leadership model, "I'm always right, I'm the expert, I have all the answers all the time." And the reality is, is diversity, equity, inclusion is not that. This is not an equation to be solved. You're not going to solve human nature or to any kind of magic formula. If only it were that easy. These are in fact dilemmas to be managed. And if we can let all of the idea of having the right or the wrong answer, and instead focus more on, "Hey, what is the question that I need to ask in order to develop, maintain and grow a relationship?" we can get a lot further in our conversation.

So I think for me, yeah, that part of humility is so essential. And I think it's often a source of great relief for leaders, when it comes to these new ask that we have with folks, that are the exact opposite of what we've been telling them to do their whole lives, we need to create a lot of grace and space for people to be able to do that work. And if they happen to misstep or they happen to fumble along, to help them get back up rather than kick them when they are down. So I think a big part of this is going to be us creating the space for people to have these conversations. And the reality is, is that one of the things I think that really helps when it comes to acknowledging or when it comes to being humble and being curious is to really appreciate the difference between acknowledgement and agreement. We have lost the ability to have dialogue across differences in many cases, because we believe that if we acknowledge somebody else's point of view, that automatically means that we agree with that.

And that's not true, there's a lot of room in the middle between acknowledgement and agreement. That's really where I think humility comes in, is letting go of the idea that I have all the answers, and being curious and asking questions. You're really wanting to know where the other person is coming from because that's where those connections across differences, those bridges across differences come from, is when we can talk to each other, when we acknowledge each other, not necessarily agree, but take in each other and respect each other's points of view. So those would be some of my initial thoughts on how humility is such an important trait for this work.

JENNIFER BROWN: That gold, acknowledge versus agree. I mean, that has a whole different energy. And the listening and the curiosity behind acknowledgement. I see you, I hear you, I validate your experience. I'm not telling you that you aren't having that experience, and I'm believing you about your experience. Imagine not being believed about things that happen to you on a day-to-day basis. I mean, imagine what that feels like. So thank you, Elfi, that was beautiful. And I would add, humility around getting feedback when we don't meet expectations, do not meet our own expectations or others. The humility piece too, then we'll talk about resilience as the fourth attribute a little bit later in our conversation, but humility is I think the energy versus the, "I am triggered and I'm going to get defensive," "I'm going to take my marbles and go home," as I often envision it. I'm embarrassed, I feel called accountable by not getting it right. All that stuff, I think being humble to that also, and saying, "I'm not going to let my ego get involved," because when your ego gets involved, it wants to protect you.

I want to protect myself. I want to go away, I don't want to have this conversation, I don't want to be uncomfortable again. But humility, I think, allows us to just stay in it, and receive the lessons and the learnings that are being given. And that has a huge energetic, helpful shift, I think, in us, that I know it helps me to think about it from that point of view. These are not conversations to be won, they are dilemmas to be explored. And why I love that you called it dilemmas, it's beautiful. So Elfi, I have a question for you. Second stage of the Inclusive Leader Continuum, which we teach all the time, we talk about the need for empathy. Why is it so important to the inclusive leadership journey? How do you define it? How do you think it's developed in people? Because sometimes I wonder, empathy seems like such an obvious thing that we should have for each other, but sometimes it feels like, in the business world, it's not something we can count on, which is frustrating for me because I would imagine once you're shown the lived experience of others that might be different than yours, that that empathy would be this automatic reaction, but not necessarily. And so that's why we have to make the business case in different ways. With data or research, or information, for people that process information differently. But empathy really is at the core. However we get to it, we have to awaken it, I think, because this can't just be a head exercise. It has to be a heart exercise, and empathy lives in the heart, and in the ability to not literally feel what's going on for someone else, but imagine it. Visualize it, take it inside us so that we never forget that that's what's going on for others. So let me give that over to you.

ELFI MARTINEZ: Yeah, these are great points. And I think this particular skill probably is the most crucial of all of them in terms of someone really being a highly effective inclusive leader, because empathy is really where it's at. If we kind of strip away all of the bells and whistles, inclusive leadership just means, can I connect with someone who's different from me? Can I connect with someone who's different from me? And that really requires me to be able to walk a mile on their shoes, to listen to them. Seeking to understand, rather than to respond, which is what we do most of the time.

And just an understanding, again, that empathy and sympathy are not the same thing. And I think that's an important distinction there that we really need to point out. A lot of times people get those words conflated, where they'll hear a story and they'll say, "Oh, that's really terrible, and that's really sad." But without addressing any of the underlying issues that are causing that marginalized person to feel like an outsider, to feel lesser than. And that is not empathy, that is sympathy. Sympathy is very superficial, and you can't do much with it. If I just tell you, "Oh, that's sad that that happened to you," or, "It's too bad that you have to experience that," and then I walk away, it in no way rectifies or helps create a better environment for that person that feels like they are being marginalized. Empathy is much more around dialogue. It's much more around conversation. It's much more of, can I walk a mile in this person's shoes? Can I understand where they're coming from and what they're trying to express? Again, this idea, can I acknowledge them and take them in fully without feeling the need to tell them that they're wrong, or to put it into a debate?

Because the reality is, and going back to a point you made earlier, there's a difference between conversation and combat. If I am coming at you with why you're wrong and why I'm right, we have that binary there, that's not a conversation. That's combat. If I feel attacked, I'm going to defend. That is just human nature.

So one of the things that's really helpful about these traits that we're talking about is that it helps us move from combat to conversation, by actually talking to, instead of talking at people. And those distinctions, I think, are really important in doing this work. How can I talk to someone to really understand where they're coming from so that I can acknowledge their point of view, and understand the world that they inhabit and the eyes that they look through?

And that is the heartbeat of the work. It's hard to do because, especially when we look at broader society, we can see we're doing a really bad job at this as a society right now. The ability to talk to each other is a lost art. And so we have to bring it back into our every day because without empathy, without the ability to connect to folks, we are still going to be exclusive leaders despite our best efforts.

So I would probably say that's my biggest thing around this, is we want to go beyond fight or flight behaviors. And the way to do that is through conversation, through dialogue, through curiosity, humility, through truly trying to understand where the other person is coming from.

JENNIFER BROWN: Beautiful. Yeah, I love it. Conversation with alongside. I think that you all know that we talk about the covering research a lot at JBC, and it really resonates with me, and I always bring it up in my keynotes, but we cover it because we think we're going to be stigmatized, we think we're going to be stereotyped, micro aggressed, the bias is going to impact us. And so we play small and we sanitize ourselves. And I think then we miss the opportunity to generate empathy and understanding, because I think people are, I believe, I'm a glass half full person, I believe people are capable of a lot. But we need to know a lived experience. And sometimes it smacks us in the face and it's just an aha moment. It's a hard realization. But to me, if we can encourage the uncovering so that we bring more of ourselves to every interaction to change that system, and to make an impact on others, and to generate that empathy, our stories are powerful tools to do that.

And I think we as leaders, if we aren't the one that is storytelling, we can story tell around how empathy was generated in us. What was that story, from a leadership perspective? What story can I recount or weave in and incorporate in my leadership about birth of empathy in me? What was the thing? So when leaders, Elfi, we sometimes have leaders I know that say, "Well, I don't know anything about diversity," or, "I don't know where to start," or, "This is such an awkward conversation." And you and I both have so many ideas about where they can start. And so if we can tune into that and remember that feeling, really hold onto that feeling, and say, "Wow, that really made an impression on me. That really hit me. And it really changed everything I've looked at since. I look through at a different lens." So I don't believe that there's probably any of us that are incapable of empathy, but I think storytelling around it is such a beautiful opportunity for us and a way to get started that feels, I hope, very authentic.

ELFI MARTINEZ: Okay. So let's talk a little bit more about vulnerability, which I think probably is the one that scares leaders the most. This idea that you want me to suddenly be vulnerable, because traditionally that's not what we've asked leaders to do. We've honored and we value things like certainty, and decisiveness, and confidence, a lot more than vulnerability. So why do you think vulnerability is so key today? Why should people change the way we've historically done things?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. Well, it is super uncomfortable for sure. And it's tricky back to our conversation, Elfi, about how leaders story tell. Imagine leaders who are comfortable showing up vulnerably, meaning I don't know the answer, or this is what I feel, versus this is what I think. I feel confused, I feel angry. I feel regret or sadness, or I feel guilt. Even just speaking those things is pretty unorthodox in workplace systems, but doing so opens a door to so much more truth telling in organizations.

And I think it's so incumbent on leaders to go first. I always point out, you cannot ask everybody else to do the work, and then opt out of it yourself because you don't know anything about diversity, or whatever. You're waiting for some other team to tell you what to do and where to show up and what box to check. This is a practice that we get to participate in changing the way that we show up, in changing what we talk about, in what's okay to name in organizations. And all eyes are on, usually leaders, at all levels certainly, but managers, and people leaders, and executives, to take those cues about what is, quote unquote, normalized. And you all know who listen to me a lot, I like usualized a little better.

But what is usualized in a workplace culture as performed and done by the leaders in that culture, and it speaks volumes. So when a leader chooses to uncover, lower their iceberg water line, share a vulnerable story, maybe they have a kid with a disability, maybe they experience racism in their family because they're in a multicultural household, maybe they are neurodiverse, it's something that they never talk about, maybe the way they grew up was decidedly not privileged in any way, or particularly difficult.

I believe everybody has a diversity story. And I think to broaden the number of diversity dimensions for us, to widen that palette of what this really means, what does exclusion mean? What does privilege mean? We are many things. And so I think that there are opportunities to really connect to people through this kind of storytelling and engender followership. Engender partnership. Create psychological safety so that people will walk through the door that you're opening, and will trust you. And by the way, this is bottom line because cultures that do this, I think they create the belonging. They create the pull and the connection, and they magnetize the talent to the culture because people feel, I can relax here. I can be all of myself. I can bring the pieces here vulnerably, and it won't cause me to be derailed. It will actually be an enhancement, an enabler, an asset that I bring to the table as we reinvent the workplace that we know today, which so needs to be reinvented.

So this is really a very, I think, a stay against a lot of the retention problems that companies are having because this is the kind of leadership, Gen Z in particular, but younger talent in general, wants to see and hear. They don't just want to hear the business case. They don't just want to hear the talking points. They want to feel like, what does this mean to you? And if they don't see that, they're going to start to think, "Maybe this place really doesn't mean it. Maybe this place is not the place for me." And that's when your performance starts to go down. When you begin to question, you have one foot out the door, you get the call, and you're out the door, and that's not what we want. So I think this is directly tied to that Elfi. I wondered if you would agree.

ELFI MARTINEZ: Oh goodness, yes. I think you're exactly on the right track. A lot of times when we talk about the inclusive leadership journey, I would often challenge executives that we work with to say, "Hey, you know what? At the end of the day, our goal is to get you to be active. The third stage of inclusive leadership." Because when you're active and it shows up in your behaviors, that's what people see, that's what they trust, that's what they feel. If all you're doing is saying the words, but it never pops up in your actions, it creates feelings of distrust, and people feeling like they're unsafe. So they want to know, and it's the first question people have whenever they're having a conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion is, why do you care? Where is your skin in the game? How has it shown up in your life? A lot of times, people do get nervous around, "Well, I don't have a good story," or, "I don't know what to talk about," and part of that is because they go to the historic definition of what diversity is. It's race, gender, sexual orientation, the stuff that popped up on an EEOC report in the 1960s. There are a lot of people that, fast-forward to 2022, and they still think that's all we mean when we say diversity in the year 2022. It's like, yeah, race, gender, sexual orientation matter. Obviously they still matter. We haven't resolved any of those issues in our society, and diversity is everything else. It's all the ingredients that make us us. And that's really where the beauty of vulnerability, I think, comes from, is when you can't access that place in you, regarding, "Why do I care about this?" And you can express it in a clear, compelling way. It just creates a connection. And that's because of the power of story.

A lot of people think, "Oh, you know, the way people make decisions is they research, they think, and then they do," and that's not how people work in the real world. In the real world, people feel something, and then they do. They react to feelings a lot more than they react to facts, and that's why stories are so powerful. I mentioned before, the millennials and gen Z-ers who are going to be 75% of the workforce by 2025. This is, for them, a key want and need from their leaders. They're not interested in the finished product that is all shiny and perfect. They want to know about the struggle along the way, right? Where did you stumble and fall? Where were things hard for you? Where do you still feel, sometimes, like you're struggling or you're confused?

Because when you're able to share that, people can then join you on your journey. They can see themselves in you. And vulnerability is not a weakness. It is a superpower. It is the way that you connect across differences. You know, I talked about this before, Jennifer. In a previous life, I was a TV writer, and one of the first things we learned in that work is that the character at the beginning of the movie, the main character, has got to be very different by the end, right? They have got to go through an emotional journey. They have to grow, they have to struggle, they have to develop, and that's why we go. That's why we spend $20, and fight through parking, and go into a movie theater. It's for that experience of seeing somebody struggle, right? Seeing somebody move up against obstacles, because we can relate to that. We can feel that.

And that's what I think leaders need to really appreciate about today's younger workers, is that's what they want to see and they want to understand. Do you have a personal stake in this work? If so, what is it? Tell me about it, because I really want to know. And I can think of a couple specific examples, Jennifer, of C-level folks who we were talking to, who had that anxiety, and then when we talked about this expanded definition of diversity, I remember one C-suite person said, "Oh, you know what? My son has autism, and he's about to graduate high school, and I'm terrified about how the working world is going to treat him." So he developed his story around that fear, and that anxiety that he has, and it just changed entirely how he was perceived by people around him, who had found him kind of cold and aloof in previous interactions. But when he talked about this, it was from the heart and it was important, so they joined him on that conversation.

I remember another executive who talked about growing up with a single mom, and how that influenced him. It was such a powerful story that that was like 15 years ago, and I still remember it distinctly. I still get a little choked up about it, because it was such a powerful story, and it humanized that person as someone that people can see themselves in. That reflection is what's so key to this work, is people being able to see themselves in each other. But you can't do that if you're not vulnerable, if you're not open, if you're not willing to share the pieces of you that make you you, that make you unique and make you different. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is not about making everybody the same. It's about appreciating and valuing the differences that we have.

JENNIFER BROWN: Beautiful. Love it, Elfi. You're reminding me of there's two stories in the book, one about Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO, who made some missteps on stage around pay equity, and had a really hard lesson, and would address it, right? Vulnerability can be also addressing the harm caused in what you've learned, and making the journey visible, like you were just talking about. "Here's been my own realization, my aha moment, and then what I did about it." I think it's so important to close the loop too, to say, "Here's how I am putting what I learned in play," right? That's the accountability piece, and that is the piece that shows the power between a story, a learning, and then an action, and then impact.

ELFI MARTINEZ: Absolutely.

JENNIFER BROWN: And then the other story we tell is Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, coming out officially a couple of years ago, even. Gay his whole adult life. I don't know how long into his early years, but was kind of closeted, kind of covering. Like, people knew, but they didn't, and he never talked about it. But just the power of talking about that, and how he has grown as a leader, and what's important to him, and how uncomfortable it was to kind of realize that him actually not talking about it was causing harm, right? It was sending a signal. So he talked about a long shadow that leaders cast, so when they do... When we do make this work visible, it's so transformative for other people. We have no idea. And you can never know. You may not know the lasting impact of these choices on people around you, but we can't just do it for that. We need to do it because we know for the next generations, that we are... Whoever's in that room, that's listening, that needs to hear that, that's the important thing.

I had an executive share with a bunch of executives, that he doesn't have a college degree. And he said, "Oh my goodness. I'm so ashamed of it. None of you know, but my own kids don't even know." And he's this C-suite exec at a Fortune 50 company, and I thought to myself, at a time when we are really challenging the biases that we hold about education, and degrees, and gaps in resumes, we are just realizing so many problems with the processes that we followed in the past. I thought to myself, what a powerful story it would be to share that vulnerably, and to say like, "Look at what I was able to achieve," you know? And this is something that I'm unpacking at age whatever, in my 50s or 60s even, right? Carrying that for so long, and yet not unleashing, I think, the power and the potential of something like that to enable others to say, "Whoa, I don't have a traditional education, and I can be anything I want to be in this particular system." I think it's such a missed opportunity.

So my coaching to him, of course, was, "Please, story tell about this. Think about what it means. Think about the consequence of this, and actually the bigger trend that is afoot, that you are literally adding this beautiful personal story to this bigger thing that's going on," which is we have to sort of rip this thing up by the roots of bias and say, "What kind of people are we missing out on by having the processes and requirements that we do when we need all the talent we can get?" We need that creative thinking. We need that diversity of thought and experience in order to create the most innovative products and services, so to me, I saw it perfectly as where it would fit and how it would be in service of something much larger, a journey much larger, that all of us need to go on.

But sometimes, our vulnerability can get stuck in that scary place, and also in the place of, "Well, I don't know what it would serve to talk about this." I think that's the piece you got to get to others, and in ourselves too, and say, "Hold on. You have no idea what your story will unleash, will release, will see in someone else." You don't know, and this is where you have to kind of leap and the net will appear, you know? The role of faith in doing this work, sometimes in a vacuum. Particularly when you're a leader, it can feel very much in a vacuum. It can feel very alone, and it can also feel very risky. And yet, it is exactly the journey that you need to be on, so that you can pivot into what is expected, but will for sure be expected as we move into the future. Yeah.

Oh, I want to ask the last question, Elfi. I know you have comments, and maybe this is related. But in the fourth stage of the continuum, we talk about resilience. So the fourth stage for all of you, to remind you, is advocate, right? So when you're in advocate level, phase four, you've got to be tough. You've got to be consistent. You're strong. You're noisy. You're relentless. You're PIA. Like, you're shaking the cage of the system, so to speak, and saying, "Hold on, wait. No, we can't do this. We need to back up. We need to pay attention. This is not healthy. This is not fair. It's not equitable."

But the resilience then, that that takes, to kind of always be putting yourself out there, is exhausting for many of us, right? Because sometimes, we've been the only ones, and we've been the only one to bring those things up, and rattle the cage, and over time, this really takes its toll. So Elfi, I wondered, tell me about how you understand resilience as a part of this inclusive leader group of traits.

ELFI MARTINEZ: Mm-hmm. Yeah, you know, that's a great question, because resilience is ultimately going to be crucial to doing the work well. And I think a big part of ultimately navigating that successfully is to understand and expect that there is going to be resistance, right? And that's the reality of change. People say all the time how much they want to change, but they rarely ever mean it, right? Because change requires me to do something differently, to kind of sail out into the unknown, and people don't like that in many occasions. So when you are going to be kind of stepping into your own inclusive leadership, you have to anticipate a certain amount of pushback, a certain amount of resistance, a certain amount of skepticism, right? Around who you are and what you're trying to accomplish.

And we know, and we've seen the labels that are used to really kind of derail someone's journey before it even starts, right? "Oh, you're being PC," or, "You're being woke," right? Or, "You're being some other thing," that is not genuine, but is just a way to curry favor. And I think this is where that we kind of combine those two elements of you being vulnerable and you being resilient. They go hand-in-hand, because when you are vulnerable, and you're sharing pieces of yourself, yeah, there might be people that are skeptical. There might be people that question, but there are also going to be people that clearly see you and experience you for the first time in your fullness. So you're going to get a lot of people rallying to your banner, because they see you now, and they understand more about who you are and what you actually care about. So that, I think, is part of the resilience.

I think one of the things you and I really try to caution leaders about is that this journey is not going to be all stormy seas, and is not going to be all sunshine and lollipops, right? There are going to be times where fantastic things are happening and you're super excited, and there are going to be times where you feel a little exposed. You might feel like, "Oh, goodness. I don't know if I know how to navigate this. Did I make a mistake?" And of course, the core question of that is just being able to move forward with intention. What am I trying to do? What am I trying to accomplish? What am I trying to communicate so that people can see me more clearly and see what we're trying to do more clearly? Because you're right, the shadows that leaders cast are so long compared to everybody else in the organization. And when people are looking up, when we think about a culture, all a culture is in real life is an accumulation of behaviors, and the behaviors that get rewarded and recognized get repeated, and the behaviors that don't, don't. And so at any point we can change what our culture looks like by changing the behaviors that we model and the behaviors that we reward and we recognize.

So that can be very empowering or very scary. But one thing I often challenge leaders to look at is look at the behaviors in your organization. If there are problematic patterns, there are things that are going on that you're not okay with, I need you to understand that those behaviors have been normalized in the organization. And so we want them to be different, then we have to behave differently. Show people, like you said, we're modeling the behaviors we want to see. What's the old saying? Be the change you want to see in the world. It's incredibly important for leaders to do that, because right now one of the key obstacles, I think to diversity, equity and inclusion is fatigue, and people are tired for different reasons. And part of their, I think the disconnect is some people are tired because they think awareness is enough.

There's this idea that, well, if I say it's important, then that's good enough. I'm telling you, Jennifer, I agree with you. I believe in everything that you're saying. Doesn't that mean I'm done now? Can I go back to doing my job? And that's not the reality. The days when awareness was good enough are long gone. Now the challenge is to get active, because when you get active, people can see that, they can respond to that. You have to convert your intentions into actions or people lose faith in you. And they say, oh, that was performative. You really didn't mean it. That shows something on a piece of paper because it has to show up in your behaviors, and therein lies the challenge. So absolutely, when it comes to being resilient, when it comes to being vulnerable, when it comes to being humble and empathetic, those are all, I think kind of intersectional skills that build on each other. And you'll find the more you practice them, the clearer the path is going to be.

That's the beauty of it, you have to step through the dark until you get into the light. But you got to have those initial little steps of faith in that direction and you'll get where you want to go. You and I have been doing this work for a long time, and I wish I could say in the course of the 17 years I've been doing DEI that I've always said the right thing at the right time. And that is categorically not true. There have been plenty of times where I've opened mouth and inserted foot. But because I have been vulnerable, because I have been clear, because I have been asking for help, people see me for who I truly am. And when I stumble and I fall, they help me get back up. And I think that's also one of the counterintuitive things that's important about this work is people are often scared about being inclusive because they think that they're going to get canceled if they do or say the wrong thing.

And I often say it's the opposite. When people know who you are and they know what you stand for, if you happen to stumble and fall, they will all come in to help you get back up. But if nobody knows who you are, and you're distant, and you're removed, and you're cold, and you're authoritative, and you're stoic and you happen to misstep, people will let you fall because they don't know you and they're not going to help you get back up. So those are some of the things that I often think about and talk about when I think about this journey, is if we want folks to help us when we get up, they have to know who we are. We have to do the work, there's no shortcut.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, I love that, Elfi. Oh, I'm going to steal that one. Ugh. I'm always learning from the team. It's so amazing. That was beautiful. I wanted to point out one thing you said that is a new connection point for me. Sometimes what we're asking people to do is leap on faith. This is a new language. It's a new skill set. It's super uncomfortable. We don't know how it's going to turn out. We want to be perfectionist and we can't because it's not even in the cards. But I think you alluded to the community that is waiting for us, the community that is yet to be discovered by us. So when you are taking that risk of stepping outside of a group that has perhaps protected you, or that looks like you and is comfortable, or gives you a pass, whatever it is, and you step outside that group because you begin on your inclusive leader journey, you begin to become that noisy leader, that uncompromising voice, you may be really overly focused on what you might lose, the risk.

But you just pointed out, it's actually, it's the opposite. It's completely not what you think. That actually what can be gained, the bigger risk is not stepping outside, making the system better and discovering all the folks in community and colleagues that are also on that journey that would lift you up and that will lift you up. So I loved that. I often say this work, it's a team sport. I encourage people to, yes, do your own homework. Do your work. Be committed and disciplined. Do not overly lean on others to educate you. But at the same time, the work we do in relationship, trusted relationship is so deep and transformative for both sides, that that's something I wish leaders would just know as they embark on this. But instead we are met with the skepticism. Well, is there going to be enough for me? If I do this, what will be left for me?

And it's that scarcity mentality instead of the abundance that's on the other side of this that you will discover. And I know who are we to say have faith? Because we get to see this every day and we know, Elfi, we know what's possible and it's so cool. It's so enriching. That's the word. I mean, it's just, it's nurturing. It's enriching. It lifts you up. It's inspirational. People's truths and stories power us in our work. I mean, they were unforgettable. You said 15 years ago, I never forgot this. We're given gifts all the time, but we have to put ourselves in a position to receive those gifts. And so I really appreciate your point that as we change our traits as leaders and begin to emphasize new things, we should expect that new relationships will be formed, and new support systems will be created, and that our understanding of what supported us in the past might have been at a point in time.

But as we evolve, the community around us will be evolved. The conversation around us will evolve. Different people will magnetize to us and we will be changed by those people. So that's the journey we're on. And it's really, I mean, it's profound, and sacred and wonderful. And as difficult as it, I wouldn't trade it for anything. But thank you, Elfi, for joining me today.

ELFI MARTINEZ: Absolutely. It's been a pleasure. It's always great to talk shop with you. And again, I think I always learn so much from these conversations. And this idea really is true. A lot of times people are held back because all they can see is the risk. These are all the things that I stand to lose if I take this journey. Where the reality is is that the rewards are even bigger. And the reality is is you and I come from places of privilege. We could have opted to just kind of stay in our lanes and we would've been comfortable.

But if I were to go back in time and had my time machine back to when I made the choice to do this work, I would do exactly what I did because the rewards have been way, way greater by orders of magnitude versus the perceived risk I had at the beginning. The journey is worth it. You and I know it. We've been through the trenches. It's worth it on the back end. Just want to encourage other folks to take that first step. It's going to get you someplace where you want to go.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you, Elfi. Thanks for joining me.


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