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Mod. 13 - Decentralized Orgs in Non-White/Western Contexts

Write a reflection blog in response to the following prompt:

  • After reviewing the resources shared in the Week 13 Kick-Off Announcement, what questions does this inquiry raise for you?


To get a glimpse of non-white/Western contexts and how they view leadership and/or decentralization, is to realize how white and Western the dominant understanding of leadership and decentralization is. The isolated singular hero who makes tough decisions and fights the good fight for the good of investors. One need only to consider the practices of almost any non-white culture and community to see an understanding of shared leadership, mutual benefit and growth, and the embodiment of the expression “it takes a village.” I find myself caught being unintentionally provocative in discussions around white vs. non-white conversations because of the very elements framed by Darren Isom, Cora Daniels & Britt Savage in their article “What Everyone Can Learn From Leaders of Color”. I greatly appreciate their synthesis of conversations with numerous leaders of color because it echoes many of the sentiments I’ve had growing up. It may appear odd that a person who appears as a cis-gendered white man would echo the sentiments of leaders of color through a lens of identification and similar experience, but that is what my experience has been. Growing up homeschooled with an immigrant Jewish father, an Armenian mother raised by Deaf parents, who raised me as a Fundamentalist Christian with 9 brothers and sisters, I don’t necessarily fit the bill of the typical American white kid.

My understanding of my identity was echoed in the article by Raymond Foxworth, vice president of grantmaking, development, and communications for First Nations Development Institute and a member of the Navajo tribe. “If people survive state-sponsored genocide, as Native people have, innovation is at the heart of their existence. Those are the leadership lessons I bring with me.” Having lost countless family members in both the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust, I’ve always been proud of my heritage and the incredible accomplishments and contributions of the descendants of Armenians and Jewish survivors in America whose work is evidence of the principles Raymond Foxworth describes about innovation and leadership. Their experience of loss, strife, and survival builds to a strong foundation that fosters the development of self awareness, being comfortable being uncomfortable, empathy, observation and active listening, collaborative leadership, an asset based lens, and radical imagination as highlighted by the article's three authors and is echoed by Sean Sherman in his talk about the diversity of Native American cultures.

The table featured in the article which I’ve included below sums up very well how identity can impact one’s leadership skills and traits. Viewed concurrently through a slightly different framing, the article also notes how the experience of being an “outsider” reinforces these skills as well. One experience of growing up in an ethnically diverse, multicultural home that has been echoed by many “mixed” peoples is the sense of never fully belonging and needing to make one’s own space of belonging. I was never Jewish enough for the Jewish kids, Armenian enough for the Armenian kids, or white enough for the white kids. Add in the intersectional element of my closeted homosexuality and you can imagine a childhood fraught with feelings of being “othered.”

I hate to say “I felt seen” but Urvash Vaid’s quote “The power of being an outsider is you are constantly building your own alternative. My models for leadership were not conventional sources because [those in power] didn’t sound the way I wanted to sound and say what I wanted to hear” resonated so deeply with me. To this day, it is very difficult for me to find straight white men, or even very many gay white men, that I look up to as a model. I’ve been inspired by people like Serena Williams, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, my sister, and many other women way more than I have ever been inspired by men. The stoic nature of many men from whom I was supposed to learn from and adopt, never appealed to me. Instead, it struck me as a thin veil for deeper insecurity and an unwillingness to invest in others or show who they really are. To see so many men in our current climate now struggling to embrace those qualities has only validated my rejection of stoicism early on in my childhood.

The questions that come up for me from these pieces are actually focused on the larger cultural reasons for why non-white values are not accepted more readily. The values of the individuals running companies are imbued in the company’s they manage and filter through the staff with crippling fear of losing their jobs. Why is this command and control framework still so dominant? I guess my questions are really around why it’s so hard for so many white people, predominantly men, to accept other ways of being. To unlearn domination, stoicism, control, and standoffishness. Outside of money, what does it offer or provide? To reference the two questions MJ shared during our final class session last night, does it add value? Are you serving the community or just serving yourself?

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