13: What is Liberatory Leadership?

Sep 25, 2019

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Today, Andréa discusses Liberatory Leadership: as an idea, put into practice, and her brand new course by the same name.

Mentioned resources:


You’re listening to A Call to Serve. This is a podcast calling entrepreneurs, coaches, educators, healers, creatives, and other people with a vision for change in their communities to show up with integrity, use their power and practice radical service so that they can make their unique impact in the world in the most sustainable ways. My name is Andréa Ranae. I’m a facilitator, teacher and coach, focusing my work on holding space for liberatory leadership. And I am so excited that you’re here! Let’s get into this episode.

So this is one of my favorite topics to talk about right now. It’s what I spend my days focusing on and supporting people with. So I’m just, I’m excited to, to get this episode out there and really have this as a foundational episode that I can send people back to in future episodes, just to get a clearer idea of what I mean when I say “liberatory leadership”. So I’m excited! I’m excited to get into this. So I wanted to start off with where we currently stand in terms of how we think about leadership and what ideas come up for us when when we’re considering leading or, or people in positions of power and all of that. If I were to ask you – which I am – “What does a leader look like?” What comes to mind? For a lot of us, what comes to mind is a middle-aged white man in a position of power within a corporation or organization. Most likely the CEO or executive director or whatever. And I think that our ideas of what it means to be a leader, there’s so much that has come before my time talking about servant leadership and adaptive leadership and so many different types of ways of thinking, of theories and methodologies around what leadership is. But what I see across the board is issues with authority and power. And a fear of, if I lead or if I own this power that I have, or if I take on the authority that I have within this context, I’ll do harm. I’ll perpetuate the things I don’t want to perpetuate. I’ll do the things that I’ve experienced from people that are in leadership positions. I’ll do the things that have hurt me in the past when I’ve engaged with someone who’s in a position of power, and I don’t want to do that. And that’s something that I have really paid attention to.

I think about, in college I was in an A Capella group. And we STRUG-GLED when it came to leadership, power, authority. When I joined in the beginning, there were all of these great ideas for what we wanted to do as a group and create and songs that we wanted to sing and concerts we want it to have. AND at the same time, there was this culture within the group that there isn’t any one person who’s the leader of the group. So there’s no hierarchy or authority. Nobody has a hold over the group. We’re just all coming together to sing and create together. But during rehearsals it got really tough because nobody was willing to lead because nobody wanted to step out and say, “Okay, we’re going to do this!” or, “I really want to do this, what do y’all think?” Nobody wanted to do that because nobody wanted to be met with the criticism of: “Are you trying to be the leader of the group? There’s no leader of this group. Like, we’re all doing this together.” But we never got anything done, y’all! We never got anything done, which is part of why I left the group, because we never got anything done. The things that we did get done, in my opinion, were mediocre, and if I’m going to participate in something, especially that’s surrounding music and singing, I love singing and I come from a background where excellence was required of me. And so if I’m going to be in an a capella group, I don’t need us to be the champions of the a capella competitions. I don’t need that. But I do need a certain level of like, okay, we’re here to sing and create together. Let’s do the best that we can. Let’s really create something amazing, create something magnificent. And we were not able to do that because there was always drama, and there was always an avoidance of, everybody’s frustrated because we all want to be doing something different, but no one’s willing to take the steps to make that happen. And when you do, you get criticized for it. And the context of this a capella group is that I went to a school that is very social justice focused, very aware in terms of gender and race and sexuality. And everybody has all the right language and it was a culture just in the school in general that tended to be toxic in a lot of ways because there was a lot of: you need to be this way and if you’re not this way, then you’re not radical. You’re perpetuating white supremacy, toxic masculinity, capitalism, whatever. There was very little regard for relationship. And so, within that context, this a capella group, it was just a struggle, y’all. But I don’t think that what I experienced and what we were all experiencing in the a capella group is something that is unique to the school that I went to for college. I think it was kind of amplified that I knew dynamics because of the bubble that we were in, where the school was marketing itself as this social justice haven. And so it was amplified, the experiences that we were having. But I see this all over the place. I see this every day in my work as I work with people around their leadership, around what they’re wanting to create in the world and divisions that they have. There is a fear of power because we know and we’ve experienced what power in the hands of someone who has no regard for other human beings or for sovereignty, what that can do. And so those of us that do have that regard for humanity and sovereignty are afraid of using power. Power is a paradox in a lot of ways, because so many of us want power. We want to be able to create change, to make a difference, to create a different world and we don’t want the responsibility of power.

So, I wanted to tell that story just to add some context to some of the things that I have noticed, as we think about, and in the conversations I’ve had around, leadership. And one of the things I also wanted to share as well as, um, we often think of leadership as associated with a position of power within an organization, a family, a structure, a system and platform. And position does not make a leader. Just because someone has a platform, just because someone has a certain position, does not mean that they are a leader, does not mean that they have decided to lead, does not mean that they have the say on what leadership is. So when I think about liberatory leadership, there’s a few different things that come to mind just in general. What I think of is a bringing together of self, community and work where there’s an awareness of self, a relating and relationship with the community or communities that you’re a part of. And, maybe at the center of that, an in between. And one of the things that connects the self and the community is the work. Your work. Whatever, however you define that. The next thing that I think of is that liberatory leadership dismantles oppressive systems and cultivates systems that regard our humanity and our sovereignty. So, not only does it dismantle the systems and ways of being, the cultures that are not in our best interest as human beings, it also works to create something different in the place of that. I think this is really important for me because I feel like sometimes I get a little frustrated, because there’s so much focus on talking about dismantling, on talking about anti-racism or anti-oppression or what it is that we’re against, what it is that we don’t want anymore. Fabulous. I’m so glad. So that’s so good. And what are we putting in place of that? If we take something away, something else fills its place. And what are we filling it with? What are we creating? What are we cultivating? What else is there?

I wrote something down – let me see if I can find it – that I felt. Anti-racism is a stance of opposition. It’s not a vision for what we want instead. Anti-racism alone is insufficient if we’re wanting to create a different world. So when I think about liberatory leadership, I think of it as something that’s creative, that’s imaginative, that’s looking at what can we create here? What existence, what reality can we build that we’ve never seen before or has never been seen in history? I think it’s also adaptive in that it adapts and molds itself to the conditions, the context that we live within. It’s also responsive in that it – both adaptive and responsive – because liberatory leadership must tend to the current struggles of the context that we’re practicing it within. Today we have very specific struggles, very specific challenges that are on our plate as humanity right now, and maybe 50 years from now, a hundred years from now, the struggles will be different. And I think liberatory leadership requires that we pay attention to that. I also hold liberatory leadership as emergent. We’re building new worlds and creating new ways of being. I think I also hold it as integrative, in that it takes into account the whole. It takes into account the whole human being, the whole planet, complexity and simplicity and all of the dualities that exist in our existence, takes all of it into account. And then lastly, I hold it as relational and humanizing. Part of my vision, overall – not just for the work that I’m doing, but just in general and in the world that I see possible, and one of the ways that we can potentially get there – is that relating humanizes. That when we relate to ourselves, when we relate to each other fully regarding ourselves, fully regarding them, but not giving up on the things that we want, not giving up on how we feel or the differences that are present, that when we relate, that’s a humanizing act. And I think that so many of the issues right now that we are struggling with come down to dehumanizing ways of being, thinking, believing, and relating, through interpersonal relationships through how we relate to ourselves through system, through culture. So I think that right now at least there is a huge need for this relational and humanizing piece within the way that we show up and lead. And then the last thing that I wanted to share, just as I think about liberatory leadership in general, is that it’s not an identity. It’s not a checklist. It’s a decision and a practice. There’s no standard for what liberatory leadership needs to look like. And what it looks like is super beautifully unique to you. Now, I have a lot of ideas about what liberatory leadership includes, what practices and ways of being that entails. And it’s something that I’m always talking about.

I actually have a program that I’m launching right now, as I am publishing this episode, called Liberatory Leadership that supports people who want to create change in the world and do what we talk about on the show: Show up with integrity, own and use your power and practice radical service. And the program is rooted in that framework. And I want to share more about what that looks like. But first I want to share that this is not my idea. I have pulled this from what I have seen over the course of my life from the, the stories that I have been taught and that I hold within me of our ancestors, of people in history who have created change in the world who have made more liberation possible. I’ve pulled it from my interactions with people that have supported me, that have held me, that have guided and advised me, people that are dedicated to making this world a better place, that I’ve had the privilege of learning from directly or indirectly. And it’s important for me to name that because I think that – especially in the online business world – there is this a way of being around new ideas where it’s like: “This is mine. I’m gonna trademark that.” And I don’t have anything against trademarks. But I don’t hold this idea of Liberatory Leadership as mine. It feels like it’s something like, as I hold it, it feels like something that was given to me. It feels like something that’s held collectively. And now I have ideas, I have a framework that I created and I do hold that as mine, but at the same time, still not. I don’t really hold it as mine in the sense of like, this is mine! Because I was only able to create this framework through my relationships and experiences with other people. So, I wanted to name that, I have a Liberatory Leadership framework…that’s mine. The idea of liberatory leadership as a whole is not new and it’s not mine. I don’t think it belongs to anyone. It’s all of ours.

So, in the program that I have created and that I’m currently launching, we dig into, and it’s meant to support people around, those three ideas: showing up with integrity, owning and using your power and practicing radical service. When I talk about showing up with integrity, what that includes is putting your values into action, but also paying attention to what are the values that you have, the hidden values that you are holding that maybe aren’t conscious, that are learned, that you’ve picked up from the people around you, from your family or when you were growing up, that don’t really serve you and don’t serve humanity? And paying attention to that. It also includes showing up with regard for who you are, for your wants, your needs, your capacities, your limitations, your boundaries, your feelings.

And then it also includes creating and living your vision in the here and now. Because so often we have these beautiful ideas and these beautiful visions for what “could be”. And we’re like, I can’t wait until I get there. What about doing what you can to create it right now? And then when we look at owning and using your power, what that includes is claiming your lane, which I talked about a little bit, or a lot actually, in episode 12. Consistently going into spaces and ways of being that challenge you, taking risks, doing things that you haven’t done before. And then also doing the work of recognizing and sharing the blessings that you’ve inherited or created for yourself. The gifts and skills and resources and, um, access that you have, holding that and using that to further your vision to get what you want. And then lastly, within practicing radical service, which I encourage you to go listen to episode 4 where I talk about radical service – I’m not going to talk about this that much – but it includes relating consistently with the people that you want to serve. Getting to the root of what is and really understanding the context that we are existing within, especially your peeps, that they’re existing within what’s at the root of their struggles and the things that they’re experiencing. And then making your offer. So, calling in your peeps. I just did this challenge for five days last week where that’s what we dug into, is looking at what can you offer? What can you create that meets the wants or needs or struggles of the people that you’re wanting to serve in your communities? And how can you call in the people that can support you in that and call on the people that you’re wanting to serve?

So that’s what I am holding as I think about and work with liberatory leadership and practice libertory leadership. That’s what we’re working on in the Liberatory Leadership program. And as I was planning for this episode, I was thinking about Harriet Tubman, Jesus as a historical figure, and Marsha P. Johnson, and also so many of the other people who we’ve made our heroes, who we look up to, who showed up or are showing up in the name of liberation on a variety of levels. So I wanted to name these three people specifically because they’re revered in many cultures and also put on pedestals the other day I was talking with Mike Wells who actually will be on the podcast in the next episode. I was talking with him about how people like to put me on pedestals and how I’ve had to learn ways to show up with integrity in the face of that. And mostly because I don’t want to participate in that. I’m a human. You’re a human. Let’s be humans together. And when you put me on a pedestal or when you put others on a pedestal, not only are you not seeing the full and whole human in front of you, but often what’s happening is that you’re disregarding yourself, your gifts, your power, what you have to offer, the greatness that you are, or you’re using the person that you’re putting on a pedestal as a way to avoid the responsibility that you have. Or projecting the inadequacies that you think that you hold onto other people. And I wanted to name a few people that we do that with because Harriet, Jesus and Marsha each practice liberatory leadership in their own ways.

Harriet was living the vision that she had for what was possible, where people who were once enslaved are now free. She put that into action in the moment. Jesus was consistently relating with the people that he was there to serve. Marsha was consistently going into spaces and and showing up and taking action in ways that felt risky. Each of them used what they had, regarded what they had in order to show up, to serve, to lead. And all of these pieces that I’ve laid out – putting your values into action, showing up with regard for who you are, creating and living your vision in the here and now, claiming your lane, consistently going into spaces that feel risky and taking risks, recognizing and sharing the blessings that you’ve inherited or that you’ve created, relating consistently to the people you want to serve, getting to the root of what is and making your offer – all of these things are pretty accessible. You have something that you want to create in the world. You have a vision or ideas or maybe all you have right now is “I don’t know what’s next, but I know what I don’t want and I’m looking at what I do and what’s possible.” That’s all so valuable. There’s a quote that I came across years ago that I’ve used on my website because I resonate with it so deeply. And it’s from Diane Nash, who is a civil rights activist who was present during a lot of the work that Martin Luther King was doing. She said, “Freedom, by definition, is people realizing that they are their own leaders.”

I think we’re way past due for an end to this practice of deferring change, responsibility, possibility, onto the people that are in positions of power. Yes, they have responsibilities. Yes, they need to be held accountable. AND we have to show up and create the world that we want right now. And that’s why I show up for the work that I’m doing. Because I believe that we have the tools that we need within us collectively to cultivate a world where we can thrive together. I don’t think that any one person has the answers to what’s next, to what we need to do to make the world a better place, to survive, to keep the planet turning and well. But I know that within each of us we have a piece of that puzzle. And I want to do everything that I can to support those of us that are looking at these questions, looking at how can I help, how can I contribute? What can I do? I want to support those of y’all that are asking those questions to do the work that you’re here to do, that you are perfectly positioned to put out into the world and to show up for. So I hope that this episode, that the stories and ideas that I’ve shared here have added a decent amount of context and insight into what I’m talking about when I say liberatory leadership. And as I mentioned earlier, I am in the midst of launching my new program: Liberatory Leadership.

And if you’re listening to this right as I have published it, and you’re interested, the link to check it out is in the description and you have until October 6th, 2019 to apply to join. I won’t be launching it again until 2020. And I would love to have you, I would love to get to connect with you in that space.

And to wrap up this episode, I believe in you. I believe in us. I believe in what’s possible for all of us. And thank you for listening. Thank you for digging in with me. If you really enjoyed this episode, or you really enjoy this podcast in general, please share it with some of your friends, share about it on social media, post about it in your Instagram stories and tag me so I can see it. Leave a rating and a review to let me know what you’re really enjoying about it. All of that would be so appreciated. Everything I create I want to get out to as many people as possible and everything you do to get the word out about it makes a huge difference. So, I’m so excited to share the next episode with you, with Mike. It’s really good, and just continues this conversation about liberatory leadership, about showing up with integrity, using your power and practicing radical service. So look out for that. Okay? Alright. I hope that whenever, wherever you’re listening to this, I hope you’re having a wonderful week. I hope that you’re taking care of yourself. I hope that you’re well and being taken care of and I hope that we get to connect soon. Which reminds me, if you want to tag me in anything on social media, you have to search: @AndreaRanaeJ on Instagram, on Facebook and elsewhere. All right. Adios.