Think, Engage, and Act Differently

Equity leadership is about being self-aware, self-correcting and self-directed and is vital in developing the transformational habits, skills and practices that demonstrate moral courage, independent judgment and bold action for leading in complex systems. To think, engage and act differently as an equity leader is about increasing your skill to anticipate, notice, and respond to changes in the environment. The process for unlocking one’s innovative potential and increasing one’s ability to engage and lead others in addressing inequity is rarely obvious or self evident on finding a way forward.

For instance, it’s impossible to put forth simple (or even complicated) cause-and-effect explanations for the persistent racial inequities that we see across the country in public education. Yet, time and again, that is exactly what we see happening in the form of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core Standards and the newly enacted Every Student Succeeds Act. For equity leaders to take action requires, in part, a persuasive framework and language, as well as tools to help identify more effective routes to progress on seemingly intractable societal challenges.

In complex situations, equity leaders must concentrate on the present more than the future, look more toward the possible than the probable, and conduct safe-to-learn experiments to discover what might work. By taking multiple perspectives, asking different questions, and seeing more of the system within which they work, equity leaders can better understand themselves, their role and the world around them. As they grow, these habits enhance their performance and enable them to navigate the “not knowing” while still setting a direction for the emergence of solutions to address their most challenging equity issues.

Below is a sample how an equity leader can begin developing useful habits to think, engage and act differently when confronting equity challenges in a complex system.   


We believe people have the capacity to solve their own problems. Consequently, in addition to knowing how to solve complicated problems, leadership development is about developing habits, skills and practices that are appropriate for addressing complex equity challenges. This involves developing habits and skills in undertaking cycles of observing, reflecting, planning and taking action. Developing a critical equity consciousness of how we think, engage and act is key in leading for equity in complex systems.

Learn more about our approach to Leading for Equity in Complex Systems at an upcoming Institute –

Oakland, CA: September 29-30, 2016 | February 23-24, 2017 | April 13-14, 2017 


About Victor Cary

I am Senior Director at the National Equity Project, leading the development of our equity-centered coaching and leadership model. I facilitate Leading in C.A.O.S. (Complex, Adaptive, Oppressive Systems) with educators and communities across the country, particularly collective action initiatives.
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