Building Belonging in Leadership Development - AG Collaborative

Building Belonging in Leadership Development

by Kari Bergman | July 1, 2021

Recently our team moved through an EOS process to name our core values- one of which is human.kind.  We lean into this hard by remembering our own humanity, respecting the humanity of all, and offering compassion to ourselves and others along the way.

If you don’t know this already, you will soon… we love quotes and paired one with each of our values.  The accompanying quote for human.kind is from Mother Teresa:

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

For my fellow Strength buddies who rock the connectedness theme, this may not be a far stretch.  I know in my bones we belong to each other.  Still, in a society that functions on separateness, I often forget and fall into the trap of othering.


As humans we are designed for belonging, and yet, this instinct to define and separate from the “other” also seems embedded in our humanness.  When we deny the inherent value in others, we diminish our own.  Our humanity is intertwined with the humanity of all.

How do we reckon with this duality?

How do we choose respect and compassion on purpose?

How do we move toward one another rather than away?

In a recent session with the AGC community, Julian Newman of Culture Creative offered the practice of perspective taking as a way to do just that. Saying, “A shift in perspective can lead us out of judgment into empathy and compassion.” 


Perspective taking is the ability to look beyond your own point of view, so that you can consider how someone else may think or feel about something.  A simple way to practice this is to learn to listen well.  Listening gives us access to the perspective and experience of others.  Listening acknowledges and affirms the inherent value in the person being listened to.  Listening is a bridge that brings us into belonging.

For years, I have followed the work of john a. powell, Director of the Othering & Belonging Institute and Professor of Law at UC Berkeley. He offers a compelling vision for belonging with this invitation, 

“We can build a circle of humanity where no one is outside.”

Belonging expands beyond diversity and inclusion as an active way to be part of something. Belonging as john a. powell describes, “means more than having access. Belonging entails being respected at a basic level that includes the right to both co-create and reshape that which you are part of.” 

Belonging is not assimilation. When we show up alongside others there will definitely be variance in perspectives, beliefs, opinions and even values.  This is where we get to lean into the hard work of holding tension.  Belonging doesn’t create spaces devoid of disagreement and difference. Belonging creates a space brave enough for those to exist together. 

Disagreement and difference are meant to live inside brave spaces of belonging.  Disagreement can exist with respect and compassion.  This offers the choice to turn toward one another rather than away when conflict arises.

When we look for points of connection, we make space for all that is unique and different.  Active belonging is the invitation of each person to bring all of themselves and together reshape what currently exists, co-creating something greater.  We are after all, greater than the sum of our parts, if only we make space to bring it together.

This is the essence of human.kind.  Our work is to embrace discomfort, call forth the unique humanity of each individual and strengthen the connectivity of leaders and teams so everyone has the opportunity to bring their best in service of the whole.

The greatest kindness we can offer is to recognize and affirm the humanity in someone. This is core to leadership.

In most of our programs we introduce this definition of leadership – it is a process of social influence which maximizes the efforts of others toward a specific goal.  In this sense, the most significant leadership move affirms the value each person brings, and aligns that contribution toward the collective vision.

In this model of leadership, the balance of power shifts from “power over” to “power with/to/within.”  Check out Brené Brown’s handy guide that details this dynamic.  

When we choose to leverage our power and privilege to build the power within others, we not only unleash greater possibilities, we invite everyone into active belonging.  Through active belonging we can co create and reshape our teams, our organizations, our communities and our world to be better for all.

Practice Human.Kind

Below is a range of reflective prompts, one may resonate with you more than others.  Pick one to start and spend a few minutes free-writing to see what comes up. 

Let the reflection inspire action and join us in the practice of human.kind.

BONUS: Have your leadership team reflect on these and share answers together.

  • Who is your other? What would it be like to move toward them?
  • Who needs more of your respect & compassion?
  • What situations do you default to judgment rather than curiosity?
  • How can you activate your leadership to call forth the power within others?
  • What space is waiting for you to belong (co-create, reshape)?

Get to work.

Upscaling Communication is a keystone program to build communication skills.  Companies have implemented this throughout their organization to establish a shared approach and framework for connecting with one another.  Learn to listen well, practice perspective taking and develop empathy through this experiential program. 

Schedule a Discovery Call to bring it to your team!

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