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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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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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Autodidacts are the Future


Years ago, I offered tutoring and private courses for gifted students via The Library Table. Now, I have founded the Humane Leadership Institute to support the ongoing development of self leadership and self education methods and tools.

An excerpt from chapter 11 of our book, Humane Leadership:

“An autodidact is somebody who teaches themselves. By creating the roadmap and creating dopamine reward loops for ourselves, we are well on our way. Learning independently can become a healthy addiction.

You may notice that the very best contributors in your organization today are probably people addicted to learning; they’re always looking further and deeper, bringing in fresh ideas from outside, always experimenting. They’re trying things in new ways, and when something works, they share their findings.

Autodidacts are the people we all want on our teams.

Leaders can build a learning culture by empowering these autodidacts by having them share what they’ve learned in your online collaboration environment or in meetings. They can be your star authors and librarians who are collecting and creating next level training materials.

With all its successes and challenges, Amazon is still one of the best learning cultures I know of. In their 13 management principles, “Learn and Be Curious” comes just after “Be Right, A Lot.” Amazon responds seriously to errors large – taking Amazon Web Services down for a day – and small – temporary latency (slowness) impacting customers. The engineer most closely associated with the error must complete a detailed (sometimes weeks long) post-mortem report including analysis of customer impact, root causes, blast radius, event duration, health and diagnostic metrics, and how to avoid repeating the error in the future. These Correction of Error reports are widely distributed within the company and must be publicly defended in weekly operational leadership meetings before they are distributed across relevant teams in the company.

“There is no compression algorithm for experience.”

— Werner Vogels, CTO, Amazon

Amazon squeezes every error to extract and institutionalize all the learning possible.

To lead by example you may need to upgrade your own curiosity and study habits to become the Autodidact in Chief or Chief Curiosity Officer for your team.

Imagine the end of your career with the team that you’ve worked with for so long because they’ve been so engaged, so loyal, and having so much fun together. You look back and you see this cascade of people who have learned together and taught each other and expanded their ability to contribute not only at the office, but in the world, in a thousand different ways. To me, that sounds like a life well lived, a community and a career well built.”

You may find these offerings interesting:



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Leading in a Crisis: A Humane Approach

Leadership in a crisis

Just last week you were trying to lead your team forward. Now, we’re in an historic moment of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA).

How you lead yourself, your team, your company and your family through these coming weeks will define how all of your life’s stories will unfold.

I want to share what clients have found useful over these past few days.  Just to be clear, in my experience this is a messy, iterative process that takes time to perfect. But, just working through the process the first time is likely to add clarity and strength to your leadership.

I try to avoid military analogies in business, but sometimes they are really helpful.  To guide fighter pilots in making urgent decisions in very difficult moments, US Air Force Colonel John Boyd invented the OODA loop model.  

The model holds that we loop through four steps:

  • Observe
  • Orient
  • Decide
  • Act

I break these steps down as follows:

Observe – Get connected & curious

  • Reality – get as close as possible to where the work and transactions are happening.
  • People – ask a variety of people questions about their situations and opinions.
  • Data – open a circle of inputs that are as unbiased, direct and timely as possible.
  • Models – find the best thinking possible.  Adapt successful models to your situation, don’t just borrow their conclusions.

Orient – Get analytical

  • Think clearly – read the smartest, clearest thinking possible. It will sharpen your own thinking skills even if it is not relevant to your area of expertise.
  • Verify data for completeness, accuracy and timeliness.  Refresh your understanding of statistics, especially confidence intervals.  
  • Test ideas for confirmation bias and logical fallacies.
  • Build networks of insight and care – find support for your thinking and spirits.
  • Map assets and liabilities, business and personal, including contractual and social obligations.
  • Prioritize values – these will support the evaluation of options.
  • Clarify circles of care
    • Arm’s reach
    • Personal
    • Community

Decide – Get rational

  • Choose to lead yourself and  others towards greater strength, clarity, wisdom and true wealth in this experience
  • Get tight – pull in all outflows of time, energy and money.
    • Look closely at all of your variable and fixed costs and list how you might cut them and what the trigger will be for cutting each.
    • Conserve cash in every possible way, it is your key to survival.  See renegotiate promises.
  • Stay home – for now, physically and metaphorically. Create your core value.
  • Renegotiate promises – notify the person of your intent to stop keeping the promise, then renegotiate a promise you can keep going forward.

Act – Get moving

  • Purposeful work every morning – know what it is the night before
  • Build structures that serve you and your crew
  • Always learning – we will all be changed by this experience, choose your path forward before it is chosen for you.
  • Refine practice – turn what you learned into a  for yourself and others

As we loop from action back to  observing the results of our actions we have completed the experiment of  one OODA loop. We observed reality, oriented to a hypothesis about it and decided on an experiment to act upon.  The results of that experiment feed into our next loop. With luck and some skill, we will loop closer and closer to creating a new reality that works for us and those in our circles of care.

In times of real crisis, we will loop through OODA with the following intentions for ourselves, our teams an organizations.  As leaders, we are like emergency room doctors seeking to ensure the patient survives, heals and eventually thrives again.  To that end, we must focus on each step in turn:

  • Stabilize – ensure vital processes of life and value creation continue.
  • Heal – the damage done in the crisis and in our first responses.
  • Invigorate – integrate and breath life into the new normal that emerges after the crisis and healing.

Skipping steps in this process will only add risk to your situation.  Really focus on observing and orienting around what will be required for survival, make decisions and act in as many loops as are required to ensure survival  before you move on to the healing process.  You will learn valuable things about your business, your self and your team by investing in this process.  As you go, integrate your new wisdom into your daily leadership practices.

I hope you find this helpful.  We are here to help anytime, please reach out for a quick advisory orientation discussion anytime.  Book a time on my calendar here.

In these critical days, we will hosting free Humane Leadership Open Forums frequently online, see the events calendar here (retired).  In these structured roundtables we will address your questions or issues in a confidential, humane group effort to find what’s true and to support to each other in our leadership journeys.  Of course, we also have a book that offers a wide variety of tools to support your humane leadership even in difficult moments.