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Leadership Toward Liberation

Today, we hear from Jazz McKinney (they/them),  a brilliant, brave, and badass human, activist, truth teller, and disruptor of inequitable systems and practices.

Over the last few weeks, we've heard from leaders in our series unpacking L3 Catalyst Group's Ls: Learn, Lead, & Liberate. 

At L3 Catalyst Group, we believe that liberation is the goal. We work for liberation in our beloved community because we are interconnected. Together, we build bridges to disrupt oppression at personal, interpersonal, organizational, and systemic levels. We work to envision and make real a liberatory future of equitable outcomes not for profit.

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Heartfelt thanks to you, Jazz, for sharing your wise reflections with us.

Fellow leaders and learners, I wish you courage, rest, and beloved community along the journey.

Deanna Signature

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. -Maya Angelou


Deanna: What does leadership look, sound, and/or feel like to you?

Jazz: When I think about what Leadership means to me, I think about this quote from Maya Angelou. How do people feel after interacting with me, whether it is team members I lead at work, my friends, or even just a chance meeting with someone at a grocery store? Leadership should feel like support for what people need, not what you think they may need, but what people need. It can feel like encouragement, empowerment, and safety. It can feel like a sense of belonging, being in a room full of individuals, and movement towards a collective goal.

Deanna: How does this show up for you?

Jazz: I think of an analogy we used growing up when I think about my version of leadership. Essentially, being a leader is knowing when to bring out the WD-40 or when you need to bring out the duct tape. Because those two fix everything, either you loosen it up, or you need to tighten it up.

Historically, leadership was literally following the leader. If the leader said to do something, you would do it. Now, what they didn't talk about was that there needed to be a lot of preparation for this to happen. There needed to be trust built up. There needed to be a sense of camaraderie. There needed to be a sense of experience and knowledge. Why is this person the leader, and do I trust that they will not lead or steer me into harm's way, whether physically or psychologically? Are they going to lead me astray?

I think there is a huge difference between a leader and a boss. Being a leader of a team is leading by example and showing them that I would not ask them to do anything I would not do, and they know that I'll do it with them.

Deanna: What do you think about the moves that leaders make to not be oppressive and move towards liberatory leadership?

Jazz: The biggest way to digest liberatory leadership and think about the transition from “old school” leadership is the understanding that the structures and systems in place are meant to harm us. We have to know that the systems of oppression are working perfectly as they were never intended to include marginalized folks or, rather, the folks who have been historically silenced and oppressed.

As a leader, it's being willing to understand those systems at an intimate level and working to break them down even minutely.

I may not be breaking down the system by allowing my staff to have a mental health day with no judgment or having floating holidays, for instance; however, it is putting a chink in the system. It's the little things that add up, and then the hope is over time, of course, that chink becomes a gouge, and that gouge becomes a break and a crack. Leading towards liberation is ensuring that the more people you affect, the more that affects the systems of oppression. Liberatory leadership is that everybody is along on this journey. No matter who it is. For example, my interns are just as valued at the organization, if not more.

When you're a leader, particularly trying to lead towards liberation, you must also stand ten toes down in yourself and your belief in this liberation and this liberatory thinking.

And so challenging the norms, and I think that's important to highlight the commitment to critical transformation because part of being a leader within the system tries to be liberatory in the system. This is hard, and we have to understand it's hard and be okay with that. We have to be willing to work through that and also help lead our team through the difficulty, knowing that there are going to be times when we are exhausted. There are going to be times that we're depressed. There will be times that we don't want to do it.

But to get us to our dream and goal of liberation, we must be willing to listen and lead and learn through those hard times, understanding that there are many naysayers. You'll have those times that you wonder, “Why the hell did I do this and sign up for this?” And I think as a leader, that's when we can also rely on each other to know we aren’t alone, learning to rely on leaders inside and outside of our teams to be vulnerable in that space. Hell, being a leader is being vulnerable. I don't think you can be a good leader without being vulnerable and authentic.

Deanna: Have you ever experienced liberation in leadership? If so, what does that feel like?

Jazz: I experience mentorship as liberation. I get a little bit of learning, encouragement, and wisdom from as many mentors as possible. My version of liberation and leadership is working to be the type of leader I wish I had.

Jazz McKinney Signature

What Im Reading-1 What Jazz is reading, watching, and listening to:

  • Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto by Tricia Hersey
  • Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Third Edition by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, Et al.
  • Radical Candor: Fully Revised & Updated Edition: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott 

Questions to ConsiderQuestions for Consideration from Jazz:

  • What does history tell us? Think of our own stories and history in general where leaders played significant roles in promoting liberation.
  • How did they do? Nothing is perfect, what criticism is there on this topic and how can we best respond to the haters? LOL
  • What is the next step?
  • How do we go beyond ourselves and have collective/community/global leadership to facilitate change?

Upcoming TopicsL3 Catalyst Group Blogs Related to Learning & Leadership:

Jazz McKinney (they/them)
Post by Jazz McKinney (they/them)
November 29, 2023
Jazz (they/them) is a Black, Indigenous Two-Spirit individual who is a facilitator of social justice, public speaker, and change agent for liberation. A firm believer in the power of relationships to bring justice to inequitable organizations, Jazz leads with authenticity, listening, creativity, and truth-telling. They are an advocate of racial and disability justice, especially within the 2-SLGBTQ+ community, with a commitment to highlighting the importance of education, awareness, and engagement to create change. Jazz is currently the Executive Director of the Grand Rapids Pride Center and Co-owner/Principal Consultant of Paradigm Shifts Consulting.