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Steps Toward Antiracist Leadership

A line of protesters faces a line of cops. We need antiracist leadership now.

Just a week ago we earned our leadership roles by analyzing data, making smart decisions, and leading our teams.  Our efforts were rewarded with influence and authority.

Then, the national conversation and our culture shifted.  Now, we must earn our right to lead again under an expanded and more inclusive set of rules.

The old model left millions dispossessed by structural racism, inequality, and inhumanity. We inherited that system and our success often depended upon and perpetuated it.  Yes, those systems efficiently delivered what we designed them to: goods, services, and profits.  But, our design left out critical values that we no longer have the luxury of excluding.  Our models have been revealed as illegitimate because they are unsustainable for our fellow citizens, our Earth, and our own integrity.

To earn leadership now, we must unlearn much of what we thought was true.  We must hold open our minds to the discomfort of not knowing. This is not the time for mindless action. To unlearn the old ways, we must sit quietly with people we don’t understand, those who are feeling pain, who are seething with anger, and who feel too unsafe to reveal their deep sadness. We need to invest our time and attention to find a deeper, wider, and truer understanding of their experience and our shared humanity.

Now is the time for leaders to step into the uncomfortable, the messy, the human. We must step into this moment to ask, to listen, and to design new models together. Together, we will find a more powerful, nuanced understanding of our common rights and responsibilities.

This is our work as leaders today.  Those leaders who rest in the comfort of their titles without doing this work will be left behind.

So there may be a thousand things to do- just keeping a family healthy or business afloat during a pandemic is a lot. But stop the doing for a moment. Listen.

You can start listening even if you are isolated in overwhelming responsibility or comfortable privilege. I have started by seeking out  the antiracist, poor, and disempowered voices I don’t normally hear. Here are a few starting places I have have found:

Listen to the anger, listen to the pain, listen to the sadness.  Let yourself be cracked open. Your ways of looking at the world will be broken by the experience.  Any new model you use to make sense of all the voices and data you gather needs to take all those challenging, historically underrepresented human variables into account.

The pledge of allegiance we used to say to our flag each school morning ended with our shared American goals of “liberty and justice for all.” I still believe in those values. As we lead ourselves, our families, and our teams, let’s make sure our actions actually move us closer to our ideals.

Stephen Sloan

Photo by Koshu Kunii on Unsplash

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How We Can Start Leading Our Leaders

Business and elected leaders are not trusted by most Americans to act in the public interest, our interest.

Pew Research, July 2019

As workers and citizens, we are partially responsible for allowing leaders to ignore their responsibilities to us.  As Americans, we are called to define the scope of our leaders’  responsibility, the criteria they need to meet in order to be allowed to lead us, and the values they must demonstrate to earn our loyalty.

This is especially important to remember this Memorial Day week. We mustn’t wait for November.  Many decisions critical to our economy, civil rights, healthcare, and democracy must be made in the coming months.

A budget is a  moral document

We must start evaluating and asking more of the leaders in our own lives, businesses, and in the nation today.

We don’t need anyone’s permission to start this work. Alexander Hamilton didn’t wait for permission. In Federalist Paper 85 he wrote,

“Thus have I, fellow citizens, executed the tasks I had assigned myself” as he offered his arguments in favor of the Constitution.

Hamilton also said that our leaders “must be controlled by the reason of the people.” (Federalist Paper 50) The reason of the people can reshape leadership by clearly and constructively evaluating our leaders’ efforts and results.

Is your leader:

  • Strong and fair?
  • Caring and empowering of others?
  • Informed, wise, and balanced in their decision-making?

At the Humane Leadership Institute, we’ve created a tool to help you evaluate your leader’s performance and how well your leader embodies your values.  Find the Evaluating Your Leader Wisdom Jig on our website.

First, get curious about your needs and your leaders’ needs:

  • How could your leader better meet your needs?
  • What personal or professional needs is your leader trying to meet for themselves?
  • Do those aligned with your shared values?
  • What might you do to find overlap and build alignment around shared needs and values?
  • What can you ask your leader to do to meet your needs and values?

Once you are clear about your leader’s performance and lived values, you can begin designing improvements to your leader’s behavior.  This is the tricky part: requesting changes. The goal is to have a discussion about how to better meet the needs of everyone involved. This can happen naturally in the course of conversation, in your own performance review meeting, on internal chat boards or social media, in an intervention, or even as an ultimatum.

If you’ve designed changes and are waiting for the right moment to share them, you  have already empowered yourself in the tradition of Alexander Hamilton. Self leadership at this level is available to every one of us. As you work through this process, your empowerment and self leadership skills will grow.  Your leader will either grow to better meet your needs or you will find yourself a better leader.

Of course, you needn’t do anything at all. But quietly following leaders who do not meet our own standards has brought us to this moment– a moment that has cost us many lives, jobs, hopes, and opportunities.

My hope this Memorial Day is that you and many others around you will take up this work of evaluating our leaders.  By clarifying and speaking our needs and values, we will lead ourselves into a new era of more responsive, responsible leadership.  That would be a fitting tribute to all those who sacrificed to defend our shared ideals of liberty and justice for all.

Featured photo by Susan Holt Simpson on Unsplash

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Reopening: Am I Free?

Now we’re reopening in town and around the world. We’re beginning to feel free again.

But I wonder, “Am I really free?

Do I want to return to “normal?”

What choices do I have? 

What choices have I had all along, but wasn’t aware of or actively choosing?

Have I been lazy in my observations, using worn out mental models, or stuck in my habits of thought and action?

Our answers to these questions will determine our futures – for ourselves, our teams, our families, and our communities. Our answers reveal our courage to live our values of reason, fairness, caring, and wisdom.

When man is governed by reason he is free, for he “does the will of no one but himself, and does those things only which he knows are of greatest importance in life.”

— Spinoza, Ethics from chapter 12 of the book, Humane Leadership

We could have chosen to drive less, fly less, spend less time in the office, cook with our kids more, be with our dogs more, or bask in the sun and in the joys of the day longer. We have chosen to eat wild animals, use plastics that never decompose, rush back to work when we didn’t feel well, and cram together in subways, elevators, and convention halls.

The stream of our lives was flowing along and it all seemed almost inevitable – habitual, normal, expected. But we have come upon a large stone in our path and the flow of our lives has changed.


Our choice and our freedom is in how we are going to relate to the disruption.  Will we:

  • Struggle against change by trying to swim upstream to where we came from?
  • Curl up in a ball, tumble downstream, and hope for peace someday soon?
  • Pause, look around, and learn about the nature of ourselves, our situation, and our options?

How can we remain conscious in our moments of choice?  I do not find it easy, do you? This has been a problem since the couple in the garden saw a snake in a fruit tree.

Maybe freedom of choice looks like this:


At any moment, now, we have a choice, an opportunity to lead ourselves humanely.  Our decision will either slide us towards an empowered, virtuous cycle or will slide us down into a destructive cycle of unconscious habits and desires.

Becoming aware of our own power and freedom is at the heart of humane leadership.  This may be freedom to choose a new path or freedom from putting up with something when we’ve had enough.

Between stimulus and response there is space.

In that space is our power to choose our response.

In our response lies our growth and our freedom.


— Victor Frankel

To help you practice seeing and choosing in that free space, we built a wisdom jig thinking tool.  Find it on our website here.

I hope working with this wisdom jig helps you discover opportunities to experiment with your mental models and habits of thought and action.

May you enjoy your freedom in the days ahead,

Stephen Sloan
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Update April 30, 2020

Actions Taken

  • Family
    • Begin opening up to known, careful social bubbles, but continue social distancing.
    • Watch local cases daily for any resurgence.
    • When we start seeing resurgence, tighten our bubbles again until the surge passes.
  • Local
    • Focusing projects to support economic recovery in Ashland. Current list:
      • Incubator and fund to develop and attract startups in software, green technology, and light manufacturing.
      • Encouraging and facilitating business relocation to Ashland – especially software and light manufacturing.
      • Explore implementing the Main street pedestrian-friendly redesign proposal.
      • Cooperative local delivery service for restaurants and retailers.  Explore how to share costs and staff allowing local retailers to offer far better service than online retailers?
      • Study current business mix, status, neighborhood centers ,and design potential future mix if we lose X% of current businesses.
      • Community Chest/One Call for All – single donation foundation for all community organizations.
  • National

These actions were based on my


  • Public health locally is great. We have almost no cases in Jackson County.
  • Nationally, we have states opening up where infection and death rates are still high.
  • Economic disruption is likely to be long and damaging to Ashland’s current businesses.
  • Federal programs are unlikely to save many local businesses.
  • The state, county and city governments are unlikely to have the funds or bandwidth to create solutions.
  • Long-term recovery will look different than what we had in February and it will fall to the community leaders to design and build what’ll be next.


Locally, we have had no new cases in days.

According to someone on staff last night, only one patient left at Asante Ashland, the dedicated Covid-19 facility.  That patient is in recovery after 3 weeks on a ventilator.

Study suggests 3 scenarios, worst case is 18-24 months of ongoing, rolling lockdowns to  balance infections and hospital capacity.  Best case is a slow burn of cases without lockdowns until 6-70% of the population has had the virus.

Jackson County is well below R0 of 1 based on hospital admissions, but we don’t have enough data to get a clear number.

Social bubbles may be our reality for the coming year or two.

Generally, Americans need to refine their risk assessment skills.

First, the goal is to flatten the curve so hospitals can cope, not take it to zero so no one is exposed to the virus.  In fact, we may need to find ways to expose segments of the society so we can reach 60-70% exposure and manage case loads by herd immunity rather than social distancing.

The media and government are rightfully focusing us on Covid-19 risk management, but we must remember that all of the other risks still exist.  All death risks and likelihoods for Americans.  Covid is worse than a normal flu, but far lower than heart disease and cancers.  We need to get serious about diet and exercise… lock people out of their cars so they cannot use drive through fast food lanes?

Reinfection or reactivation? This is a key question that is still open.  Are we ever temporarily immune to the virus or does it simply linger and reemerge in patients?

Community conversations – local businesses are hopeful, but cannot  hold out very long, especially if tourists do not return soon.

City of Ashland actions to cut costs, etc. – enough change fast enough?

Greek tourism guidelines, might be useful for thinking about Ashland.

CBOexpects 14% unemployment in Q2 – and a $3.7 Trillion deficit for 2020

Reluctance to return to large venues – 60% of public venue arts and sports attendees will not return until there’s a vaccine


This process, OODA, is explained in this post on Leading in a Crisis.

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Humane Leadership Update April 23, 2020

This is the first of an intended series of weekly updates of my own efforts to figure out what to do in these extraordinary times.

I start with the actions I decided to take and explain the orientations and observations that led to my choosing those actions.

My goal is to show the method at work while supporting your work by sharing what I have found and am thinking.


These Actions are based on my,



  • Avoid personal financial challenges
  • Earn influence by
    • Connecting with people in the community
    • Discovering their needs and offering to help
    • Being visible by aligning with citizens, City, Chamber of Commerce, businesses, landlords.



Ashland and Southern Oregon

This Orientation is based on my,


Public Health

Economic health

About The Methodology

Leading in a crisis post explores this methodology (OODA loops) in detail

Other Support