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BE You: Build Trust by Getting Curious

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Build Trust by Getting Curious

Every so often we'll sit down to work on conference proposals for workshops or speaking engagements that challenge us to look at our message of Agency from new angles. We had a working session this week that got me thinking about my role in these events and in the message we present.


Most of what we talk about puts the burden on me to be the "Other" in that situation. Kristen has presented in venues that celebrate and give voice to identities that are often marginalized and when you look at me, you certainly don't see that. In fact we often get looks of polite confusion as to why Kristen is at an event with a tall white dude who, for all intents and purposes, looks like what most people would define as representative of as the "dominant majority". That place of privilege and relative safety in most settings is not lost on me when I intentionally show up to support in places that make me the "Other".

But to be honest, I never think of it as a burden, rather I approach it as an opportunity to get curious. Curious about not just about the differences that I have with those folks who are in the rooms with us, but curious about the things we have in common.


What brought me my thoughts in the moment this week, was one of the topics we were working with, intersectionality. Intersectionality was introduced by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to describe the double bind of simultaneous racial and gender prejudice. She and other scholars have expanded on that initial definition to include a wide range of issues (e.g., mental health disparities, educational outcomes, and workplace discrimination) and their impact on various identities. I've found the concept of intersectionality not only impactful for better understanding how different identities can compound marginalization, but also can compound privilege and power.


The thought in the moment for me here leads me back to curiosity, and the role I play in creating space to learn and better understand the identities of others.

Three thoughts come to mind about my role:

  1. I have to be willing to look at my own identities to better understand where connection and commonality can come from. Often things like age, parental status, marital status, religion, class, mental health and my own personal interests are identities that are at play in how I show up and those identities help me build connection and understanding.

  2. I have to be willing to get curious, and then listen. In order to do that though, I take time to create a space that is safe, where vulnerability is welcome. As a leader I would often use my young son to bring a little humanity to connect with my team members and is often where I would be able to find connection with team members who also had children, and for those who did not often get to see my humanity because they were not part of my direct team. The ultimate goal was to create the space for others to take small steps doing the same with their identities, all while building trust within the organization.

  3. Getting curious doesn't mean being invasive. Exploring your identities and creating space for vulnerability helps set the foundation for connection, but you still have to meet people where they are in their own journey with their identities. Meeting someone where they are necessitates not only grace in the situation, but also courage to address difficult topics and to learn and grow when mistakes are made.


And that should be a key objective for leaders at every level. Build trust through vulnerability and authenticity. Be gracious in mistakes and learn from them. And if you think you have identities that are like mine, take more time to listen and to be curious.


Every leader has the agency to get curious about their teams and the people around them. So what can you do to get started? Think through what one small step could be for you in your leadership practice. Maybe that is...

  • taking time to reflect about your identities and how they show up in your leadership practice

  • laying out clear ground rules or structure for team meetings

  • working with your organization look at policies and practices through different intersectional lenses

  • committing to more transparent communication and dialog

  • as simple as just leading by example in moments that call for personal courage


You can build trust by getting curious too. Check back again next week for more thoughts in the moment from The Agency Initiative.

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