Breaking Barriers: How Personal Experiences Shape Inclusive Leadership

Breaking Barriers: How Personal Experiences Shape Inclusive Leadership
By: Kodi Eid

It wasn’t a soft landing that brought leadership coaching into my life. In 2008, I had a professional setback that resulted from an incident of workplace discrimination. The experience left me reeling and forced me to get honest. I had to ask myself whether my professional trajectory to date had really been aligned with my values.

I started going to therapy three times a week and began to unpack what I had internalized over the years, which had culminated in this negative experience. I realized that while none of what I had experienced was my fault, I had not been showing up to work or to my life, as my true self.

It’s challenging and painful to deconstruct the life you have built, but just like we cover at The Humphrey Group as a key factor underpinning leadership, to live a truly happy or fulfilled life, you have to have a foundation of authenticity.


Embracing Coaching as a New Path

Unpacking this experience allowed me to begin thinking about creating a more authentic path forward, which is when my therapist suggested I hire a coach to help move some of the energy that was ready to progress. I knew I wanted to help others who may have similar experiences and in 2013 I got certified as a coach.

I began working with organizations that were serious about combatting discrimination and building more equitable pathways forward. In doing this work, I am often struck by how much the work is, much like I experienced, something that must be done at the individual level.


The Individual and Systemic Levels of DEI Work

We often think about DEI initiatives, especially at the kind of large organizations I worked with, as being rooted in systemic changes. And of course this is true. Workplace policies and regulations, programming and all kinds of other large initiatives are necessary. But there is so much that has to be examined on a personal level to really make these changes impactful.

At times I would see this surface with my one-on-one coaching clients in this sphere. Clients would often have excellent intentions but were unaware of the biases that they held. Or they would support certain equitable measures but then demonstrate resistance as soon as a change or suggestion felt threatening.

For example, in response to supporting the LGBTQ2+ community, someone might ask a question about where the limit to making accommodations lies. In situations like this, it is necessary to go deep and figure out why this resistance or fear is surfacing.


Embracing Authenticity to Support DEI Initiatives

When someone is feeling this kind of resistance, I typically respond with a question. I meet my clients with empathy and open space to explore, but I’m not afraid to challenge their thinking. Often there is a limiting belief that requires a reframe.

No matter what you are saying or doing, you’re communicating something, and it’s critical to drill down to that human level to figure out what it is. We cannot separate the human from the leader.

When we challenge our own biases, we embrace authenticity, which allows to act as leaders who can naturally support diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives on a systemic level. Each leader's transformation has the potential to ripple outward.


The Journey Toward Authentic Leadership

Systemic changes are crucial for equitable workplaces, but they must be supported by individual leaders committed to personal growth and authenticity. This ensures initiatives are not only implemented but are lived and valued within the organization.

This journey of acting as a true leader is ongoing and demands courage, honesty, and a commitment to continuous self-reflection. By embracing our roles as both individuals and leaders, we can transform not just our workplaces but also the larger world around us, one authentic interaction at a time.


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