This June, I returned to Leadership Tomorrow Seattle, where I graduated from their leadership program in 2016. In a surreal turn of events, I was invited to give a speech to the graduating class of 2023!
Thank you to Ben Reuler for this photo of me delivering my speech at Leadership Tomorrow’s 2023 graduation!
To mark the seven years since my graduation, I shared seven key lessons that I’ve learned from my time at LT and the seven years since.
Relationships matter. Community matters. When I graduated in 2016, I said that your network is your net worth, when I was graduation speaker that year (the first speech I’d ever made in my life!) I was wrong. Your COMMUNITY is your net worth. Networks focus on deliverables and tasks and opportunities, while communities focus on relationships with people. Every relationship that you form and nurture has a significant impact on you and can be the difference between success and loneliness. I’ve learned to never underestimate the power of investing in community.
Inclusion is the #1 Leadership trait today, tomorrow and forever. Leadership Tomorrow taught me how to build deeper roots and include those who have been wilfully marginalized. I’ve learned that this skill alone will take you unimaginably far in your leadership journey. To create justice and space and opportunity for all (especially those who have been overlooked, underestimated and ignored) is the greatest leadership opportunity of our lifetimes. It is leadership in action to be able to include all.
To walk fast, go alone, to walk far, go together, as an African proverb teaches us. What I found at LT was a community of people who believed in me and saw a vision for me I’d never seen modeled for myself. Then, they rose up and championed me every step of the way so I didn’t have to walk this path alone. I started my company in 2017 with LITERALLY no experience in running a leadership consulting practice, nor pitching to clients. I had been in Seattle for just over 3 years. My classmates and the Leadership Tomorrow community recommended me for opportunities, made connections and cheered me on. As those of us who are entrepreneurs know, it’s the biggest gift.
Kindness matters more than titles. My class consisted of many people who could stop a room by job title alone. I came to Leadership Tomorrow with no title, I’d left my last job the year prior and was basically self-publishing a book about gender inequality in the workplace. Yet, I was never made to feel less than. No one questioned my ability to lead, no one side-stepped me to talk to my famous-by-titles peers. That was a huge aha moment for me. I realized that what makes people leaders is not their titles, but how much kindness and respect they have for others. If we’re creating leaders for tomorrow, then how we show up as leaders today has everything to do with propelling others to become the best version of themselves.
Another photo courtesy of Ben Reuler of members of the LT class of 2016 who came to graduation to cheer me on!
Being able to have the big, uncomfortable, vulnerable conversations today has a huge impact on tomorrow. More since 2016, even more since 2020. I was able to find my voice and speak up, even when my voice wavered at first, to work to decolonize and build antiracist behaviors in myself, and then use my voice to speak up for others. In the years since, I’ve found the greatest strength and professional and personal success in being able to navigate tough, tough topics on race, gender, oppression, systemic and institutional barriers to opportunities and more.
Find out the stories behind the scenes and always be curious to dig deeper. At LT, we had Possibility Days focused on educating us on equity and justice (and the lack thereof) across a variety of subjects: how our neighborhoods were set up, health, economic disparities, etc. When I was choosing to move to a new home during LT, having a neighborhood Possibility Day centered around the history of Seattle’s Central District (a red-lined, historically Black neighborhood now facing rapid gentrification), made me really thoughtful about making sure the CD wouldn’t lose its essence grounded in communities of color when I moved there. I’ve lived in the CD for the past 7 years, and I’m a proud and vocal neighbor and supporter of CD’s Black-owned business and community endeavors.
When you get a choice to remain neutral or take action in situations of injustice, choose action. Here’s the thing: many people I meet are already leaders by title. You already have a seat at the table. Many of you are a few steps away from, if not already, leading the way in government, businesses, nonprofits, or a combination of these. So my message isn’t to boost you in your personal leadership trajectory – that’s inevitable, and I can’t wait to cheer you on. I urge all of us to continually ask: who isn’t getting a seat at the table? Whose voices aren’t getting heard? Who isn’t being represented in leadership? And how can I change that? Not just acknowledge it, but take swift action, no matter how hard, to correct it? In the last few years, I’ve often reached for this quote by Desmond Tutu:
"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."
So, I humbly request you…do NOT remain neutral. Claim your seat at the table, and then make sure there’s room for others, especially for those who look nothing like you. Who don’t have your life experiences. Who don’t have your privilege. Because it takes ALL of us, and all our voices to make change.