CTI's Journey Towards Redesigning for Equity: The Co-Active Leadership Program
- POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 06, 2023
Co-Active, in many ways, is about relationship and responsibility. It is about recovering to our innate wisdom, which helps us remember who we are, and ultimately, gives us a pathway towards something more creative and whole for our lives. The journey with equity, inclusion, diversity, and wholeness at CTI has been a process of remembering ourselves and our responsibility as an organization.
How We're Learning To Listen
Long before George Floyd’s murder in 2020, our community had been signaling to us
that we needed to pay better attention to equity and inclusion in our course rooms.
For many years, this feedback fell on ears that weren’t listening closely. Efforts
to do something were brought forth by small groups of concerned faculty and course
participants who love and value what Co-Active offers the world and who were fighting
for that love. Initiatives that started were often siloed into spaces that would not
allow the conversation to be pervasive in our work, but rather remained an idea existing right beside it. Our world was
saying to us, “Listen up! You need to let yourself be shaped and created by this thing
that’s happening that’s very important, and people are getting hurt and are angry!”
People within our own system were hurt and dismayed by our ignorance. We were so busy
creating our world and expanding an industry for 30 years, that we forgot to let the world create us. George Floyd’s murder pointed out to us not only how much we hadn’t been listening,
but also how our lack of attention pulled us into complicity with his death and with
the invisibility of dominant culture. It forced us to be humble enough to take a beat
and really listen. It reminded us that responsibility is a two-part dynamic where
we are changing and being changed by what we are in relationship with. We were out
of balance in that dynamic.
We were so busy creating our world and expanding an industry for 30 years, that we forgot to let the world create us.
As an organization, we became committed to doing this work for real. A two-hour workshop on terminology wasn’t going to cut it, because we weren’t here for a box checking exercise, or to simply do the right thing so that no one would think we were bad people. CTI went through a grappling process — remembering ourselves and finding our way into responsibility wasn’t always pretty or easy (it still isn’t).
What We're Working To Bring Into Our World
What emerged from a months-long process with the Executive Team was a vision and a leadership stake for our world that includes more “freedom and fullness” (as described by Kate Kendell, former executive director of the National Center for Lesbian rights, USA) for more people. This was always the original intent of the founders of Co-Active and Co-Active work: to create more freedom and fullness of connection to life for people. This particular conversation was asking us to look deeper at what was creating exclusion from this vision. The organization created a series of brand promises around equity and leadership with three major points that we are working to live into in all our work:
- Identity shapes leadership behavior.
- Leaders account for power dynamics.
- Leaders know how to navigate and include difference.
We asked ourselves: How do you DO this? How does this come to life in our material and our program? How do we train front of room leaders to meet more complexity with participants?
Starting To Take Responsibility
In the summer of 2021, we gathered a group of committed Co-Active Leadership Program Faculty and Coach Training faculty who occupy different identities and we asked for help in reviewing all our programs. CTI hired the Dignitas Agency to serve and guide the process. We demoed intros and program exercises online. We had discussions around feedback we were receiving from our community in real time. We played out resistance we’d encountered to certain exercises, concepts, and experiences. We learned from Dignitas about the blind spots embedded in our work that might create an impact of leaning out, rather than leaning in. We tried on new ways of saying things and as we learned more, we began including more perspectives. We role-played participants who had experiences of harm in our programs and we gave their concerns voice as we grappled in the process.
We role-played participants who had experiences of harm in our programs and we gave their concerns voice as we grappled in the process.
We tried to remember ourselves and take more responsibility while accounting for more complexity. Our relationships to ourselves and our worlds grew. We were stretched and pushed to our edges. We got into relationship with each other in moments that were tender, in moments that were tense, and in moments that were full of grief. We experienced a lot of our own systemic examining and unraveling together. We were thrust into cycles of recovery. It was intimate, it was personal, it was a shared experience in relationship with each other and the world, and it was in service of the field and our work globally. It was beautifully Co-Active.
Applying Our Learning In Our Leadership Program
With 200+ page reports on the Leadership Program from Dignitas in hand about their experience in the review process, a group of Co-Active Leaders went on a design retreat to make some decisions about the material and program experience (Stay tuned for more about the Coach Training process in a later blog). We spent a week getting clear on the original intentions of the program and considered everything we were learning for the work’s intent to meet a world that accounts for more complexity and that trains leaders to include more parts of themselves in their leadership.
With 200+ page reports on the Leadership Program from Dignitas in hand about their experience in the review process, a group of Co-Active Leaders went on a design retreat to make some decisions about the material and program experience.
What became clear was that we needed to include and work with how systems and structures impact individuals, and how, if we don’t include a systemic/structural lens, we risk marginalizing everyone in the room by not accounting for the aspects of the world that really shape who we are as leaders.
Our work, and frankly much of the leadership development field, has mostly been focused on the inter and intra-personal realms. When we include the impact and awareness of how the structural and systemic realities show up in a leader’s development, we deepen our ability to stand in the Co-Active Leadership Model, our Co-Active Leadership Map, and ultimately, the depth we can go to in relationship. It is here, in this depth of relationship that we find more material to create something new from. None of us have to look far to see that the world is desperate for whatever wants to emerge as that something.
It’s now 2023, and the Leadership Program experience still follows the same structure. The program is still ten months long, is marked by 4 in-person retreats, is highly experiential, and is designed to leave people with ongoing transformation that continues emerging well beyond the program’s end.
What’s changed about the program is the context and some of that contextual shifting has informed changes to content. We expanded on the requirements of leadership to include CTI’s 3 equity brand promises explicitly. Within these beliefs, our Leadership Program conversation and continued leader development requires a different depth and capacity with the 3 Leader Relationships: to ourselves, to each other, and to the bigger world. We cannot find wholeness in these 3 relationships any longer without accounting for how identity, power dynamics, and difference are at play. Being in relationship places us in an infinity loop of creating and being created BY what shows up there. This is where transformation and change occurs. It lives in the space of the hyphen in Co-Active.
We, Too, Are A System
Like any other organizational body, CTI itself is a system. And like every system, it is made up of people in varying degrees of relationship, responsibility, and roles to play. Bringing any system along on any kind of change process comes with its own challenges. One of the most amazing things about CTI is the love and belief in the power of Co-Active that everyone who works for this organization holds. That love threads through each person. Almost everyone who works here and who delivers our programs has themselves been transformed by Co-Active work. This creates a strength of heart and willingness that often isn’t present in moments of big change in other systems.
With the program re-designed to account for the new brand promises around equity, the system got into relationship with the faculty to train everyone in this new context. What was realized, was that holding equity is a heart orientation. It is a place to come from within ourselves. There is no amount of training that anyone can deliver in a brief few hours that will make every heart get it and walk in the world holding it. What we can do, is point hearts in a direction. If leaders close gaps, it is up to each of us to close our own in the context of equity.
There will not be perfection in our programs around how to do equity work. Real change requires time and many cycles of recovery and being in relationship. What will be present is the complexity of our human experiences alongside an attempt to practice being in relationship with all of it. In our programs we will model stepping into messes and what it looks like to clean up and recover. We will see each human in the wisdom of their lived experience first, instead of categorizing ourselves by two sides of an argument. We will believe people’s lived experiences and account for the fact that we all have choices, we just have different sets of them because of the way systems shape us. We may not get it right every time, but we will stand up, recover, get in relationship and try again. And our capacity will grow because of it.
There will not be perfection in our programs around how to do equity work. Real change requires time and many cycles of recovery and being in relationship.
At the time of this writing, the first in-person Leadership Program launched since 2020, with 20 participants from 11 countries in attendance in Sitges, Spain. Equity, Inclusion, Diversity, and Wholeness is a global conversation for global rooms. Systemic oppression, power dynamics, and difference exist in every country, in every context in the world. Whether the oppression is based on language, class, race, gender or something else, it exists. We can only include it when we point to it, make it visible, and then make choices around how we want to be in relationship to it as we create our worlds and let it create us.
The process of remembering and recovering ourselves is lifelong. The Leadership Program is designed to grow leaders by bringing them closer to knowing about their own identities, essences, and purpose. It is from here that we are able to get into cleaner relationships with each other, and in turn, create the world(s) we want and pay closer attention to the one that is creating us.
Gail Barker, who is a faculty member at CTI and on the faculty development team says, “When we talk about similarities, we create connection; when we recognize and talk about difference, then we create the space for belonging.” Belonging comes from including the paradoxical tensions that exist in the wholeness of our individual and shared experience. The updated context of this program aims for more of that. This program is shaping leaders to use their power and privilege to create a more life affirming world. We all have a part to play, we just have to remember, recover and continue to step into the infinity loop between responsibility and relationship. That’s Co-Active.