J.E.D.I. Leadership: 5 Core Competencies for the Journey of Cultural Humility to Cultural Reverence

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s horrific death and the global Black Lives Matter protests that ensued, the creation of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) positions within workplaces has become the new norm. We may see hiring ads seeking J.E.D.I. leadership or hear of more Diversity and Equity initiatives in our workplaces.


According to an analysis of LinkedIn professionals, Chief Diversity Officer positions grew 16.2% over the last year. Chances are, we’ll see more and more movement toward these J.E.D.I. leadership roles as current events underscore their importance.


Unfortunately, this reactionary creation of J.E.D.I. initiatives can overlook the fact that dismantling deeply entrenched beliefs and practices that support and sustain denial of implicit bias and discrimination cannot be the responsibility of a single person or a single team within an organization. It takes an entire organization to support this critical change in human and organizational development. It cannot be simply an initiative or an “issue” to resolve by hiring someone with J.E.D.I. leadership skills.


The Challenge of J.E.D.I. Leadership and Initiatives

The great challenge of J.E.D.I. initiatives is validated in a report published on May 19, 2020 by McKinsey & Company, a noted international organizational consulting and research firm. The report shares this critical insight from an analysis of diversity and inclusion in the workplaces of over 1,000 large corporations in thirteen different countries:


Even relatively diverse companies face significant challenges in creating work environments characterized by inclusive leadership and accountability among managers, equality and fairness of opportunity, openness, and freedom from bias and discrimination.


Taking on the challenge of structuring organizational J.E.D.I. leadership can be even more complex and overwhelming when the position is mandated by a governing body that didn’t include all or any staff in the decision-making process. It’s also challenging when a fixed timeline for reaching specific goals is set in stone. Adding to the challenge is a lack of systems thinking, the absence of an adequate orientation, or substantial periods of adjustment. Most importantly, the challenge is compounded by a lack of support for developing strategies to appropriately and effectively respond to resistance to change while navigating organizational culture “norms” that are in direct opposition to successful J.E.D.I. outcomes.


In her online article titled, “Competency, D.E.I., and Leadership — Part One: Nothing Changes When Nothing Changes (Inspired by the Radical Notions of Grasping at Our Roots),” Connie Nichiu, a former D.E.I. administrator, writes:


Expecting a single person to be successful in such a daunting task is setting them up for failure. Rather than navigating differences as an expert, liberatory leaders facilitate balance, connection, and possibilities — the art of making it easier for people to be together, work together, dream together. This frames leadership as a way of facilitating how people experience ease without the harmful friction generated by power hoarding and scarcity.


The need for balance, connection, and possibilities, versus expert navigation of differences is a contemporary approach to J.E.D.I. initiatives. This approach’s efficacy and long-term success require a more holistic and multi-dimensional understanding of human and organizational change.


Historically, workplace diversity training workshops were never designed to solve racism and all forms of bias. These primarily cognitive learning sessions served as human resource interventions to help stave off interpersonal conflicts that can emerge in work environments with some form of diversity.


Kira Lussier, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Toronto, brilliantly sums up what is needed today in this quote from her digital article called, “What the History of Diversity Training Reveals About Its Future“:


That’s not to say individual change doesn’t matter, or that training can’t help white people address their own unconscious racial biases. But training isn’t going to fix pay inequities or police brutality. Racist structures weren’t built in a day, and they won’t disappear with a few unconscious bias training seminars. To be more than window dressing, training must be integrated into other organizational policies that strike at the heart of structural inequality, such as targeted recruitment and mentoring programs.


Contemporary J.E.D.I. initiatives must address interpersonal conflicts among diverse colleagues and effectively influence and change up organizational policies and practices that passively maintain bias and dominance dynamics. This depth of interpersonal and organizational change demands a long-term commitment to total organizational learning. Every staff member must agree with the new paradigm of diverse inclusivity and unity consciousness and focus on emotional, social, moral, and spiritual intelligence.


5 Core Competencies that Jedi Leadership Must Develop


Through our work with Cultural Humility to Cultural Reverence, the Share Collaborative team recognizes the need for leadership development support specifically for those who are brave enough to step into the important and complex challenge for influencing J.E.D.I. organizational change. We have identified the following five core competencies that J.E.D.I. leadership must develop and sustain to be successful:


1. Self-Mastery

Self-mastery is the ability to learn what supports and blocks our ability to be the best version of ourselves. Effective J.E.D.I. leaders accept and understand that trauma from oppressive racism and other forms of bias and the institutionalized dominance mentality has affected everyone. Knowing that this unhealed trauma will show up as oppressive tendencies in how their leadership is expressed, they commit to addressing the blocks to their emotional and social intelligence.


2. Vulnerability

Vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and best-selling author, teaches that the inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limits the fullness of those meaningful experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.


Successful J.E.D.I. leaders move beyond only intellectualizing the learning process, understanding how systems of oppression have resulted in valuing of cognition and thinking above feelings and emotions. They honor feelings and emotions as essential building blocks for belonging, safety, and empathy.


3. Shared Leadership

Shared leadership is the practice of creating opportunities for others to participate meaningfully in the J.E.D.I. initiative. It’s developed by being transparent, encouraging autonomy, being open to and integrating others’ ideas.


4. Creative Flexibility

Creative Flexibility is a practice for navigating resistance to change. Effective J.E.D.I. leadership will creatively seek ways to invite and include every member of an organization to contribute to and participate in the change process. The challenge is to hold the vision for change while allowing for the process. Creative Flexibility is developed through the wisdom of uncertainty and the practice of cultural humility.


5. Life-long Learning

Life-long learning is the commitment and discipline to remain curious and open to discovering more about diversity, equity, and inclusion as it relates to social justice. Effective leaders model this behavior often and are never afraid not to know. They accept that cultures and identities are ever-evolving, as are the humans who embrace and own them.


To provide support for honing the five competencies, we at Share have developed The Leaders Learning Journey (L.L.J.). Our approach combines personal and J.E.D.I. leadership coaching with core competency learning for at least six months. This type and level of support produce the following outcomes for the leaders and their organizations:


  • Greater awareness of and confidence for responding to how personal implicit and explicit bias negatively influences leadership decision-making.
  • Acquisition of new and improved communication skills and tools to effectively manage challenging J.E.D.I. and related conversations and situations.
  • Increased personal and professional use of emotional, social, and spiritual intelligence and greater knowledge for leveraging them while building collaborative teams and shared leadership.
  • Expanded capacity to successfully “hold space” and encourage a collaborative model of creative and flexible problem solving as the organizational culture shifts and internal change gets anchored into place.
  • The creation of new and supportive frameworks and practices for the actualization of an equitable, diverse, and inclusive organizational culture.


The Leaders Learning Journey is designed to encourage, validate, and guide J.E.D.I. leaders, especially those newly hired or appointed to their position. We have found that this leader learning process results in establishing a shared vision, shared leadership, and a more functional and healthier J.E.D.I. initiative.

In our current climate of unprecedented change within all organizations, there is a deep need to integrate this leadership development and support. Investment in The Leader Learning Journey will contribute significantly to the ongoing evolution of organizational diversity, equity, and inclusion and enable cultural humility and reverence to manifest and thrive and achieve social justice for all.


Further Resources to Support the Journey of J.E.D.I. Leadership



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