Blog

Welcome to Dr. Dalavai's blog! Here, he (and several guest bloggers) will be delivering up to the minute leadership development, customer service, sales and other content for global consumption. If you have a topic you'd like to hear more about, or would be interested in writing a piece to be featured on this website, please reach out to Dr. Dalavai via the "Contact" link.

Teaching During a Pandemic

Today's entry (March 9, 2021) is a "Guest Blog" feature by one of my friends, D. Darr, who is a prolific writer and educator in Irving, TX. She is fascinated by all cultures, carries with her a global mindset, and has a deep and abiding affinity for her students.  I would like to thank her for her contribution. Please enjoy! 

One year ago (yesterday), I came home to DFW from a pre-Spring Break trip to College Station to visit my friends Rodney and Mandy because Rodney was in a production of Little Shop of Horrors. It was a fabulous weekend with some of my favorite people in the world. People I now have not seen in a year, and who I’m not sure I’ll see for quite a while longer. Because COVID.

Almost one year ago, I said goodbye to my kiddos (I teach juniors and seniors at a high school in Irving, TX) for spring break. They left with my usual parting words, “Be good, play nicely, and make good choices. I love you! Bye-bye!” I added, “See you in a week!” Not knowing that I was lying, and that I wouldn’t see them again until May. Some of them, not ever again. Because COVID.

Eleven months ago, I went for a nineteen day stretch without touching another human being. My primary Love Languages are Physical Touch and Quality Time. I’m an introvert, and I absolutely love being alone and doing whatever I want to do. But I also feel very empty when I go for too long without hugs and hellos. And nineteen days is too long. The day that my friend Maegan brought her four-year-old son Kase over to see me once the “don’t spend any time with people who don’t live in your house” ban was over, I started bawling the moment Kase ran in my house and wrapped his arms around my legs. The human touch after so long was overwhelming. Because COVID.

Nine months ago, my senior kiddos graduated from high school. After no senior picnic. No senior parade. No senior breakfast. No scholarship and award celebration. No prom. We were beauteously granted the opportunity to be the very first event ever in the new Globe Life Field in Arlington - before the Rangers even had an opportunity to play in their brand-new stadium. I watched in tears as each of my kiddos “socially distanced” across home plate and received diplomas that they earned by finishing their year virtually. It was surreal. Because COVID.

And seven months ago, school started. I have been teaching for twenty-three years. I have taught every grade level from 6-12 and just about every possible ELAR (English Language Arts) class that you can think of. Currently, I have five preps - AP Literature, AP Research, Dual Credit British Literature, AP Seminar, and Academic Decathlon. In a normal year, I absolutely love having so many different things to teach. I never get bored, and I’ve been doing it for so long that I can come up with lessons and activities on the way to school without having to plan too much. It’s fun and exciting. I have lessons dating back to 1998 that I can draw from. I have a never-ending supply of supplies that I have stocked for years. My classroom runs like a well-oiled machine. I normally have a healthy mix of hands-on and technological lessons and work for my students. But this year, I had to learn to do it all online. Because COVID.

I won’t go into all of my responsibilities, but I will say that I have never worked so hard in my life to ensure a proper learning experience for my students. I took five different subjects with five different curriculums and made them all electronic. I was in my classroom by myself for six weeks finding a routine that included Zoom lessons and Nearpod lessons and Kami annotations and Canvas quizzes and Edpuzzle quizzes and Youtube videos and TED Talks and discussion boards and Blackboard/Turnitin essays and a myriad of other things that I had to learn as I went along. In a normal year, I’d challenge myself to learn one new technological thingy each year. This year, I had to learn one every couple of days and master it well enough to be able to use it flawlessly to teach my students while they were at home learning virtually. I cried just about every day because it was so much work and so overwhelming and exhausting. I didn’t know if I would be able to continue it. Because COVID.

And then came the kids. I had my routine down - grade AP Literature on Mondays, grade Capstone and Dual Credit on Tuesdays, grade AcaDec and build their module for the next week on Wednesday, build AP Lit and AP Research and Dual Credit on Thursday and Friday, contact parents and do all the red tape things on Fridays, build AP Seminar on Sundays while watching football. A routine. A doable routine. Until you put flesh-and blood kids into the mix. Then my routine added in in-person vs. remote attendance at two different times a day for each period, Zooming with remote students and teaching in-person students during class, taking in-person students to the restroom so that we were always socially distancing, getting all the grading and module-building and parent contacting done in the “spare” time during class and my conference period, and fitting in the usual stuff like testing and differentiating and all the things. Because COVID.

But to see those half-faces (masks required) was good for my heart. I am sitting here right now with a class of thirteen, but only one of them is in-person. So, he and I sit awkwardly in class and I escort him awkwardly to lunch, and I teach the rest of them remotely, and it’s awkward. But I love him. There were students I had as their professor at Northlake last year in an online class for ENGL 1301 and 1302, and this year I am their teacher for ENGL 2322 and 2323. I can read on paragraph and know whose “voice” I am hearing in the writing because I know them so well - and I’ve never seen their faces. But I love them. I’ve had to come up with creative ways to get to know my students because (here’s a little answer for people who wonder why teachers do what we do) the best thing about teaching is the relationships you get to build with your students. Man, teenagers these days are awesome. And complicated. And lonely. And isolated. And funny. And lazy. And determined. And lost. And found. And I could go on and on. This is the most important part of my job - to make them feel safe and protected and loved and capable. And I can’t do it to the best of my ability or to the extent I have in the past. Because COVID.

I can’t see their faces or smile at them. I can’t pat them on the back or give them hugs when things aren’t going well. I can’t celebrate with them when they get accepted into college with high fives or fist bumps or (if they are going to be Aggies) by picking them up and swinging them around and squealing in delight. I have to look at their “faces” as black boxes on a Zoom or as words on an email. It’s almost defeating. I’ve had to do video check-ins and emails begging them to tell me what’s going on so I can help them. I have students that have disappeared and other students who have straight 100s in the gradebook. I have students whose parents have divorced and whose grandmothers have gotten sick and whose brothers have suddenly died and whose jobs have scheduled them for 40 hours a week because quarantines and lockdowns have made their parents lose jobs and somebody has to pay the rent. I have students who have received full scholarships and who have gotten pet mini-pigs and who have added rooms onto their house and who have watched every season of Naruto and who have gotten their first date and who have gone through their first breakup. And they all need to talk about it. And they can’t do that easily. Because COVID.

I have rambled on long enough, but I’ll just say, being a teacher during a pandemic sucks. Too many of my colleagues are leaving the profession because their districts or their parents or their administrations or their schools boards just don’t get it. Some are leaving because it’s just not safe for them or their loved ones to be in a place like this until herd immunity is reached. I’m staying. Not because it is easy nor because I can contemplate retiring in six years, nor because I’ve got a good gig where I am. But because of my kiddos – remote or masked. I just hope it goes back to normal soon. I miss normal.

Because COVID.

Really 2021?

Last year (2020), we all thought it was the year of "unprecedented times." And it was. However, a quick look back at a very young 2021 indicates that 2021 might not be off to that much better of a start! 

With political unrest in January, ranging to the massive power outages and winter storms in Texas, to the ongoing battles in Congress. You combine all those events with a relatively inefficient rollout of the COVID vaccines, and you have a recipe for disaster. How can you avoid careening off the rails?

First, you can start by practicing the gift of perspective. My late mom always used to tell me, "Son... don't let your highs be too 'high' and don't let your lows be too 'low'."  She was trying to tell me to stay somewhere in the middle, and to stay grounded. What brilliant advice, especially in these "unprecedented times"!  

Second, get some regular physical activity. It's easy -- in the world of Zoom calls and being camped out in front of our computers inside the cozy confines of our home offices -- to become quite sedentary.  However, about 20 to 30 minutes of physical activity can not only promote cardiovascular 'fitness', but it can also ward off those equatorial pounds around the mid section.  Even a brisk walk up and down the stairs numerous times, or even a walk around the block a time or two can help. Oh... and stay away from the pantry! :)

Third, practice some sort of meditation/prayer or mindfulness activities. What is mindfulness? The Mayo Clinic offers this working definition: "Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress." Mindfulness has many benefits, chief of which are reductions in stress and anxiety, not to mention possible mitigation of certain health ailments. 

Meditation has been studied in many clinical trials. The overall evidence supports the effectiveness of meditation for various conditions, including:

Stress
Anxiety
Pain
Depression
Insomnia
High blood pressure (hypertension)**

Additionally, mindfulness can help you focus on thoughts and emotions with greater balance and acceptance. Meditation also has been shown to:

Improve attention
Decrease job burnout
Improve sleep
Improve diabetes control** 

Whatever you do to get through these (not so) unprecedented times anymore, do SOMETHING. You may even want to phone a friend! Relationships can help us through difficult times as well. Good luck and if we can be of service, please reach out via the "Contact" page on this website. Thank you!

Dr. Emmanuel V. Dalavai
March 3, 2021

** Information taken from the Mayo Clinic Health Information page. 

Resources to Become More Well-informed

Based on the current sociopolitical landscape in our country, here are some resources some friends/colleagues/researchers have recommended to me to become more educated about various issues, and to look at some of these issues through the lens of empathy and compassion:

Movie: Just Mercy (Starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx)

Movie: 13th (Based on the 13th Amendment)

YouTube Video: Brown Eye/Blue Eye by Jane Elliott

Book: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Book: Biased by Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt

Book: Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ by Dr. Daniel Goleman

Social Justice

The late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in Letter from Birmingham Jail, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere!" For so long, the plight of the African-American in this society has been overlooked. The recent events sparked by the untimely and horrific deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd not only sparked national outrage, but have also sparked widespread attention into the terms long thought of as mere "academic" fodder, namely systemic racism and institutional racism.

What all of us need to do is pause, and LISTEN. Practice empathic listening...learn about the issues, learn about the past, and heal. For SO many hundreds of years, we have swept the blight of the residual pain of slavery under the rug, and now we are left to deal with anger, frustration, and heartache...with many STILL having the audacity to ask, "WHY? WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL?" When we can engage in meaningful dialogue, then all parties can be heard, we can heal, we can learn, we can partner, we can build bridges, and provide plausible solutions to many of the gross disparities that exist today. We need to be ALL IN! Remember, that faith without action is DEAD.

What's Wrong with this Picture: Why there Aren't More Chicks in the Cockpit


My friend, Erika Armstrong, is an influencer and aviation expert. She writes extensively on LinkedIn and is a subject matter expert who is sought after for her knowledge and expertise about women. As many of you know, I like to research topics like executive presence and how it affects both genders' career progression in their respective industries. This is an intriguing look at why there are not more women in the cockpit. Enjoy! ~ Dr. EVD

Can you spot the two things wrong with that image? Well, there are actually three errors...

Yeah, 'cause this is what we look like when we're flying...
First, you will never see a woman wearing a mini-skirt in the cockpit. Do you realize how hard it is to get in there, even with pants on? You have to hang like a monkey and hold onto the overhead handle and ungracefully plop into your seat.

The second error is that for most little girls, the thought of becoming a pilot never crosses their mind. Sure, there are exceptions to every rule, but the girls/women about to graduate from high school, have probably not been exposed to the idea. It's getting better, the momentum is moving mountains, but we still have a long way to go.

The third error, is that even though we are super women and do whatever a man can do, we're often also moms, and that is one thing a man still physically can't do. Aviation, by nature of the beast, requires extensive time away from home. That too will never change. Some schedules are better than others, but it requires extensive time to get there!

I can write the words, but unless you actually sit in the captain’s seat of a commercial airliner or corporate jet, no one can know the sublime pleasure of this all-encompassing life experience.

Even as an author, my words will always fail to do justice to all the stories, vivid characters, personality changing moments, and pure passion of piloting. Aviation is one of the most rewarding and challenging careers anyone can have while at the same time, it forces heart-wrenching decisions unlike any other industry and those decisions affect men and women pilots differently.

Yes, men and women are gloriously different and yet, either can accomplish the same goals. Both can be pilots, but some men aren’t cut out to be pilots, just like some women aren’t cut out to be pilots. It has nothing to do with their gender; it has everything to do with individual skills and ambitions. The reality is that there aren’t a lot of women pilots because not a lot of women want to be pilots. Women have proven to the world that we can hurl a piece of machinery through the air at a high rate of speed just as gloriously as a man, or handle an emergency with the focus and calm of a Buddhist Monk (thank you Tammie Jo), but it’s just not that high on our list of priorities. If a woman wants to be a pilot, she can be a pilot, so why are only +/- 4% of all ATPs issued to women, and how does our society change that statistic?

With a confluence of factors, there is an irrefutable qualified pilot shortage looming. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has been requested to research this phenomenon by influential aviation stakeholder organizations. Among the extensive list of concerns is the general question of why Private Pilot certificates have declined by 10,000 each in the past few years? But more specifically, why isn’t anyone asking: Where are all the women? By simply asking the specific question, we may be able to change perceptions.

One of the many answers is as simple as the lack of role models and mentors. The concept of becoming a pilot is too abstract without specifically meeting and talking to someone in the industry. While I was growing up, the most famous female icon I knew of disappeared into the Pacific Ocean, so ending up in the bottom of the deep blue sea wasn’t necessarily on my list of wants or desires. I never knew women pilots existed, so how could I ever include that in my thought process or perspective of possible career choices? The next generation sees and knows, so we will see a change, it just takes a generation, or two.

I also didn’t immediately embrace the idea of flocking to a high-stress, high-demand job that requires long absences from home. My addiction started unintentionally when I got a job working the front desk of a busy FBO in Minnesota. Since I was in the right place at the right time, I met a series of mentors that propelled me forward. I was guided by their enthusiasm as well as their knowledge, but only two of them were women. The aviation addiction begins by just being at an airport, so enticing women into the industry in general will help guide them onto a path into the cockpit. There are millions of jobs in the aviation world so getting them into any supporting role is a great way to get started.

My aviation desires began with dreams of flying machines and traveling the world. I had yet to learn about crew scheduling, furloughs, junior assignments, seniority, commuting, and base changes. I learned quickly that it requires sacrifice and self-discipline and those who thrive in commercial aviation are pilots who can compartmentalize career from family (and have very supportive spouses if you have a family).

We might as well admit that women, by design and desire, are still the primary family caregivers. Political correctness aside; it’s just the way it is and we have to acknowledge it’s a factor in the cycle. We’re good at it and it comes more naturally. There are millions of men who are just as good if not better at child rearing than women, but they’re not often pilots. And of course, that’s the catch of being in aviation. This will crinkle the ideology of feminism, but the reality in aviation is that you cannot have it "all" (the whole package - kids, pets, house, etc. and the SERENITY of knowing that when you're flying, everything is okay at home), unless you have a great spouse who can deal with everything when you're working. This applies to both men and women so make sure your future spouse understands the demands of your job. This is hard to do when you're young and feel like there is nothing you can't conquer!

For far too many women, it’s a fabulous ten to fifteen year career until “it” happens. Your schedule goes haywire, you miss your child smiling, walking, birthdays, holidays, and just being home. A mechanical problem in a foreign land means you are three days late getting home…how do you find daycare to handle that kind of schedule? It’s not that men don’t feel this way about it; it’s just that more women are more willing to sacrifice their careers to be the stay-at-home or work on the ground parent.

Our culture has not caught up with its ideology, but I will firmly state that it’s headed in the right direction. I gratefully and deeply thank all those men who watched me walk in the cockpit, never having flown with a woman before, and treated me just like everyone else. Despite what they might have thought internally, the majority was respectful, professional, and eventually got used to the idea that the chick in their cockpit was just trying to earn a living like they were. They got used to me being there and thankfully forgot that I was anything but a pilot and in return, I learned a deep appreciation for the ability of men and women to work together and thrive as a team.

When the airlines and charter companies recognize their enormous return on investment by creating an environment that acknowledges that pilots also have families, which is important to work/life balance, then you will see more women coming to aviation and more woman and men staying…but it will take time. It will take mentors encouraging women AND men to join the ranks and it will take company executives to create a supportive business culture that recognized the stress this career puts on family.

It is too often with heavy hearts that many seasoned pilots cannot enthusiastically recommend this magnificent profession and in the end, women are cognizant that even though we’ve broken through the glass ceiling in the sky, we’re still the ones who have to pick up all the broken glass...

From the front desk of a busy FBO, to the captain's seat of a commercial airliner, Erika Armstrong has experienced everything aviation has to offer. She is also an aviation professor at MSU Denver, Director of Instructional Design at Advanced Aircrew Academy and author of A CHICK IN THE COCKPIT. If you want to rant about her sexist story, she can be reached at erika@achickinthecockpit.com.

"Okay, Boomer!" 

Have you heard this term... "Okay, Boomer"? It's meant to be used in a somewhat derogatory sense, and in a recent conversation with a Millennial (name withheld in case I'm connected to him/her through the 6 degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon -- see what generational and cultural reference I slipped in there? Haha!), I heard this term. Now, what further contributed to the sense of confusion I felt is that this particular Millennial hails from Oklahoma (OU), where the term "Boomer" could mean other things besides just a generational reference.

To be clear, "Okay Boomer" is seemingly an insult to an older person, who may or may not in fact be a "Baby Boomer" (born between 1945-1964). Much to my surprise, the term is not reserved for just "Boomers". It just represents a derisive term that could encompass various generations who are out of touch with the real world of "Tik Tok", "Snapchat", and the way the "real world" works... apparently. I became more well-informed, after this encounter with said Millennial, that the term "Okay Boomer" is used to describe someone who is set in their ways and resistant to change. Well...okay, that describes more than half the people I have worked with in the last 20 years, and most of them are not true Boomers! So, there's that...

In a recent article by Nicole S. for NBC News, a senior researcher at Dictionary.com, John Kelly, described the cultural and generational term as such: “We’re not using ‘boomer’ per se to take down people who were born after World War II in the baby boom. We're using it in an ironic, often humorous, though sometimes malicious way as a catchall or stand-in for a set of attitudes. A ‘boomer’ [in this case] is an older, angry male who is shaking his fist at the sky while not being able to take an insult. They have close-minded opinions, are resistant to change — whether it’s new technology or gender inclusivity — and are generally out of touch with how their behaviors affect other people.”

So here is where I ask you to put on your "SELF-AWARENESS hat" (the first quadrant of emotional intelligence, or EQ): Does this phrase describe YOU? Do you tend to be open-minded towards new ideas, new approaches, new philosophies to getting work done, or are you... set in your ways? Rather than dismiss Millennials (and other generations) simply because of an over-reliance on digital technology and "lack of meaningful experiences in life", could you adopt an attitude of inclusivity and interactivity by inviting them in for a conversation? Mutual exchange of ideas and open communication is not just a good idea, it's ESSENTIAL in today's business world and in society, at large.

In closing, today's workplace is the first time that up to FIVE generations are co-located in the same ecosystem. Rather than hurl derisive terms like "Okay Boomer" (even if well-deserved!) at each other, let's start by using the fourth quadrant of EQ, relationship management, to build bridges between each other and you know, maybe LEARN valuable information about one another's preferences/styles/tendencies that can help get work done more efficiently. What are your strategies for navigating generational dissonance in the marketplace?

Dr. Emmanuel V. Dalavai is a public speaker and often speaks on generational conflict in the workplace. Find out more by going to www.emmanueldalavai.com to start a conversation.

Talent Acquisition: What Attributes Do You Look For?


Over the past couple of decades, I've compiled some informal data on what makes great leaders. The responses from leaders with whom I've worked, coached, and trained vary from emotional intelligence, attitude, executive presence, a team spirit, a strong work ethic, to empathy, compassion... and finally, RESILIENCE. My late mom, who was an amazing nurse, used to remind me when circumstances seemed disheartening at her hospitals, "Tough times don't last; but, tough people often do." I have always tried to remember these words in the ups and downs of life. It's not just a pithy statement; the saying has some empirical merit as well.

Resilience represents the ability to bounce back quickly from failure or setbacks. (Oxford Dictionary). Ahern et al. (2008) argue that resilience is an “adaptive, stress-resistant personal quality”. The well-being of leaders is crucial for their professional effectiveness as well as for the resilience of their own health and happiness. The failure or loss of resilience in physicians, social workers, nurses, and most professionals can lead to burn-out, which is a major concern in organizations today (Shanafelt, Sloan & Habermann, 2003; Eckleberry-Hunt et al., 2009). In short, the development of resilience can serve as a coping mechanism for a myriad work issues.

The field of positive psychological capital (Luthans et al., 2004) asserts that individuals need an increasing measure of 'HERO' attributes: Hope, Efficacy, Resilience, and Optimism. These elements (and others) comprise high performing teams. Hiring managers should take this information to heart. Service organizations, especially, need resilience in overcoming 'service' and 'compassion fatigue'. Service professionals often get treated poorly and must endure berating and condescending treatment from customers. When you're sourcing candidates, and then subsequently, interviewing them, you might have the tendency to (only) look for factors that reflect a candidate's IQ. This is only part of the equation. It would behoove you to look at non-cognitive skills like EQ, grit, and yes, resilience.

So, as you round the corner on 2019, and enter 2020, keep in mind that RESILIENT leaders are the ones who could help uplift the services of your organization. Yes, IQ is important; that's a given... but, when leading teams, especially through the turbulent waters of change and uncertainty, you NEED resilient people who are emotionally intelligent.

In service,

Dr. Emmanuel V. Dalavai


Do you hire resilient people? Dr. Dalavai would love to hear from you! Please connect and share your thoughts: www.emmanueldalavai.com.
** BLACK FRIDAY ** 

Do you go and shop on Black Friday? I used to, but don't anymore. Call it self-preservation or good, economical sense, but it doesn't appeal to me. "Buy 2, save 20%. Buy 3, save 30%. Buy 4, save 40%... you get the idea.

Buy NOTHING (which may not be realistic) and save 100%... and go and buy something for some kids in need or someone who REALLY needs a "gift".  This year, give the gift of generosity!

Dr. EVD
                                                                                 HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

From our home to yours, please accept my best wishes for a very Happy Thanksgiving! So many times in life, we focus on what we don't have rather than count our blessings for what we do have. May you enjoy a time of relaxation, reflection, and mindfulness as you gather with your friends and families! 

Best regards, 

Dr. EVD
11/26/2019

Today's entry is a "Guest Blog" feature by one of my friends, Shalini Sardana, who is a social impact designer. She is fascinated by the concept of 'Design Thinking'.  I would like to thank her for her contribution. Please enjoy!

11/22/2019 (adapted from an earlier LinkedIn post from 2016)

How Can Design Thinking Help Solve Women's Leadership Challenges?

We all have an inner alchemist. That latent resource within us which holds the potential to radically transform us.

No one knows this better than Elise Roy. She turned her lifelong disability into her biggest gift. Her inner alchemist transformed her biggest limitation – being deaf – into something profoundly liberating by using her unique experiential perspective to re-frame the world around her. In her TED Talk, she talks about that moment of epiphany “what if we changed our mindset? What if we began by designing for disability first and not the norm?” That potent question changed the course of her life.

What’s the magic that made it all happen?

“I stumbled upon a solution that I believe may be an even more powerful tool to solve some of the world's greatest problems, disability or not. And that tool is called design thinking.” Roy says.

Design Thinking is a versatile and proven protocol for innovation, for problem solving and discovering new opportunities in any area. The overarching premise underlying this approach is “human-centered” or people-oriented. It is rooted in the belief that people who face those problems are the ones who hold the key to the most effective answers. Innovative solutions emerge from a deep emotional understanding of people’s actual needs.

“Design is a visceral act as much as an intellectual one.” Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer for IDEO, a global design & innovation firm.

In his recent article for the National Geographic, Paul talks about challenges faced by designers when rebuilding a violence prone community like Eastern Congo where the future remains fragile and only the brave and hardy thrive. And yet beyond the obvious needs, the community craves permanence and hope over beauty. The role of design is to identify and provide for that deep, often un-articulated need.

Understanding why women struggle in leadership roles or what holds them back from stepping into such roles requires contemplation beyond the obvious.

According to Gloria Feldt, co-Founder and President of Take The Lead and author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, the core of women’s leadership struggles is their own unsteady relationship with power. “ Effective leadership and acts that create fundamental social change are rooted in the language of power... until we [women] understand and redefine our relationship with power, we will stay stuck in our half-finished revolution.”

Design for social change is fraught with challenges. When design solutions focus on systemic change or have to alter the social and cultural tapestry of communities, pausing long enough to ask the right questions is the most critical step. In most cases, the problem exists in a few layers below the surface and reaching that requires framing the questions with thought and intent. “Solving for solutions” according to the Interaction Institute for Social Change essentially promotes the same ineffective outdated approaches. This is can be especially problematic when we can’t fall back reliably on what we already know or when we want to change the status quo.

Another important factor to consider is social velocity – the speed with which change travels through living systems. It cannot be controlled. Speeding up the conversation and critical reflection in order to “get into action” can lead to unsuccessful results.

So how can design thinking help?

“Design thinking teaches us to look sideways, to re-frame, to refine, to experiment and, probably most importantly, ask those stupid questions,” writes Warren Berger in the Harvard Business Review article on design thinking.

Design Thinking can be broken into three broad phases:

Asking Questions. This includes asking "stupid" questions, or the ones that challenge existing realities and assumptions. This might just be the secret sauce for innovation. At the core of design thinking is the premise that a creative mindset can be a powerful force for looking beyond the status quo. This becomes much more pertinent when the status quo proves to be a limitation as in the case of Elise Roy. People with a creative mindset believe that they have the ability to improve an existing idea and positively impact the world around them, whether at work or in their personal lives.

Building Empathy. It may sound counter intuitive to look for answers in places where questions arise, but design thinking believes that the wisdom for the most effective solution lies within the community of users despite its perceived scarcity. Tapping into it requires deep, self-reflective listening with a serious intent. It requires designers to truly immerse themselves in the community and disregard any preconceived ideas. Begin with a clean slate.

Iterating Solutions. Design is a process especially suited for divergent thinking—the exploration of new choices and alternative solutions. Coming up with diverse solutions is key during ideation. That’s the reason human centered design works best with cross-disciplinary teams. A mix of thinkers, makers and doers is the right combination to tackle any design challenge - wider the perspective, more robust the solution. Embracing failure is an underlying mindset. Fear of failure holds us back from trying, learning, taking risks, and tackling new challenges. Creative confidence asks that we overcome that fear. Mistakes will appear in the shape of failed prototypes, time spent on a dead-end direction or ambitious ideas that couldn’t take flight but each is movement forward and that’s critical.

Design thinking is a tool that can awaken the inner alchemist in us by re-framing dysfunctional beliefs that get in the way of success. Dedicated to helping their students succeed in life, and not just in school, Stanford University offers a course for its students called ‘Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life’ based on design thinking for personal transformation. It offers tools and frameworks to tackle and navigate life’s “wicked problems” like how to have a fulfilling career or how to “wayfind” in a chaotic world.

I’ve been a design practitioner for over 12 years. During this time I’ve designed a wide variety of things - from avant-garde fashion to interactive digital experiences and others in between. Now as a Leadership Ambassador for Take The Lead, as my creative career aligns with my passion for women's issues, I strongly believe that design thinking can be a powerful tool to solve this hairy problem. I'm designing a toolkit that will help women identify and solve their own specific leadership challenges.

The stakes are high for me - as a woman, as a designer, as a social innovator and as a change agent. Here's my manifesto to guide my process.

Build a questioning mindset

Creativity is not a privilege limited for designers. It is innate to everyone. Tapping into it requires a questioning mindset that is also not judgmental. Women are subject to cultural discourses that clearly hinder their professional growth. Breaking free from it requires being able to identify and eliminate these dysfunctional beliefs while not being judgmental towards yourself or others. We’re all in this together. The big fear holding most people back from creative confidence is the fear of being judged.

Tap into collective gender intelligence

Struggle for women at work is not a new phenomenon. Shades and varieties of this struggle have existed as long as women have been in the workforce. Along the way we as a gender have accumulated valuable knowledge and strategies to maneuver around obstacles. Tapping and leaning into this pool of knowledge helps everyone. Collaboration within the community is beneficial for all involved. The struggle for a female engineer in Silicon Valley differs from that of a financial executive on Wall Street. But they are all rooted in stale and redundant cultural discourses that limit female leadership.

A new study co-authored by MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and Union College researchers documents the existence of collective intelligence among groups of people who cooperate well, showing that such intelligence extends beyond the cognitive abilities of the groups' individual members and the number of women in the group is linked to effectiveness in solving difficult problems.

Build emotional agility through rapid prototyping

A prototype is an early model or experiment to create solutions to challenges. Many prototypes utterly fail often sending a team “back to the drawing board.” Rapid prototyping means translating your ideas into things very quickly. People who spend a long time “building” something often become emotionally attached to the product and that complicates the process.

Struggles for women lie on a broad spectrum. What works for one woman may not work for another. But it is imperative to try as many different ways of tackling the problem as possible without getting attached to one promising solution. Failed prototypes are an inevitable reality. With any slow moving systemic change, frustration and dismay can easily set in for the stakeholders. But the path to personal and professional fulfillment is rarely straight. Resilience and emotional agility are muscles that build with use.

In her book Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, psychologist Susan David says that emotionally agile people know how to adapt, align their actions with their values and make small but powerful changes that lead to a lifetime of growth. These small successes are intrinsically rewarding, and help people to go on to the next level. We as women need to adopt this approach.


“Design is not simple problem solving. Design is a way to give problems new form, so people can solve them by themselves. They [designers] walk along very human paths, trying to make things easier for other human beings.” Paola Antonelli, author, editor and curator of Museum of Modern Art, New York in her book Humble Masterpieces: Everyday Marvels of Design.

Shalini Sardana is a certified Leadership Ambassador for Take The Lead – a social enterprise that prepares, develops, inspires and propels women to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions through workshops. She pairs her leadership training with design thinking. If you are interested in participating or hosting a workshop, please contact her via LinkedIn. 


Because I am a proponent of aspiring to be a servant leader, it is only fitting that my first blog would be about...servant leadership! I hope you enjoy these thoughts... 

11/20/2019

The World Needs More Servant Leaders

Now more than ever, the world in which we live needs SERVANT LEADERS. You may have heard this term before. Some of you in the workplace; others of you in your places of worship, but make no mistake, TODAY the world needs more servant leaders. A lot has been written about being a servant leader. Board rooms and CEOs think it may be a good idea to "treat people right", to fuel engagement, to fuel "followership", and certainly to boost the bottom line. But is it a passing fancy, a flavour du jour, or is it indeed a viable strategy for organizations to espouse in the next quarter century and beyond? I'm not sure I know the definitive answer, but I hope you'll read my thoughts nonetheless.

After completing my dissertation work (partly on servant leadership and partly on emotional intelligence), I have had the blessing and honour of speaking at numerous places around the globe about these two topics. Not because I'm an expert per se, but I do know more about servant leadership (and EQ) today than I did a decade ago, and as a result, I am intrigued to know more, and I think this genuine desire to learn more, to aspire one day to be more of a true servant leader attracts some, and hopefully inspires others (however, that's ultimately not for me to judge).

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at a local Dallas/Ft. Worth university about this topic of servant leadership, and how true servant leadership builds trust that allows leaders to work together successfully to meet the challenges of an ever-changing industry landscape. And, as we have all come to know over the years, trust may be the single most important currency in the economy of relationships, and eventually, getting work done!

The idea of servant leadership has been around for about 40 years. It is not a nascent concept, like emotional intelligence, for instance. However, servant leadership has been misconstrued over the last several decades. For one, people seem to think it's about "weak leadership". There is a big difference between being a "meek leader" and being a "weak leader". Only in the past 20 years or so have corporations made a push to 'operationalize' servant leadership. The grandfather of modern servant leader theory, Robert Greenleaf, summed up Servant Leadership this way:

“The Servant-Leader is servant first. . . . It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. . . . The best test, and difficult to administer is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely themselves to become servants? Moreover, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit, or at least not further be harmed?” (Greenleaf, 1977).

In my estimation, the greatest example of Servant Leadership was exemplified by Jesus of Nazareth, when he washed the disciples' feet. It is not so much the physical act (although cleaning/washing a person's feet in that day and age was considered the humblest and dirtiest of tasks), but rather the symbolic act of stooping so low to consider others better than himself. This is the essence of servant leadership -- the natural inclination to SERVE FIRST, and then to lead. In today's world of greed, ego, and puffing ourselves up to make a show, it's no wonder that role models are hard to come by. Are you willing to do the dirty work? Are you willing to roll up your sleeves and engage in the same work that you're delegating to your followers? Are you OK with not getting the glory? Then, read on...

As many of you aspire to be servant leaders, focus your efforts on being an individual of integrity, of trust, of character, who practices empathic listening, who is socially aware, who is committed to growing people, and who builds a sense of community. These are the attributes of contemporary servant leadership. It does not mean you won't fail. Chances are you will fail, and sometimes that failure will be public, embarrassing, and messy. Trust me, I've learned that numerous times over the past few years. And if that's happened to you, too, then just muster up the courageous leadership to pick yourself up. Don't let the naysayers detract you from pressing on. As a result, hopefully your followers will, in turn, see an authentic and transparent leader, one who is growing, and then serving others in various spheres of influence. The goal of servant leadership is NOT to grow more followers, but to grow other servant leaders. It's the best "pyramid scheme" going! Haha!

If you have had success in "operationalizing" servant leadership in your organization, I would be open to hearing your thoughts for potential collaboration. Thank you for making the commitment to serve first!

In the Spirit of Service,

Dr. Emmanuel V. Dalavai