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Our adult culture could use a reset,” agreed Moses and the COST team at Westlake Middle School. Moses had noticed some adults engaging in punitive practices. “How do we get our adults to move out from a position of power and move to a position of humanizing?” 

The team researched. They outsourced. They planned. And finally, through a series of professional developments, they delivered. And at every engagement, they encountered resistance as folks took deeper looks into their positions on the power spectrum. With over 50+ adults to consider, all with their own individual experiences, all wrestling with their own power, privilege, and place in the world, Moses in particular, was feeling stuck.

So he reflected and scaled down. “What would it look like to have these conversations with just the 9 of us on the COST team? If anyone should be able to have these, you would think the team of social workers and clinicians would be the ones.”


What transpired was a quick lesson in humility. Discussions were tough. Addressing issues around gender, race, sexuality, and ableism weren’t always easy. People felt raw and vulnerable. Moses, as a facilitator of the group, had to model that vulnerability up front. It took weeks of questions and conversation and processing, inside and outside of meetings.

But then something started to shift. “People started to seem a little more hopeful. Before there was so much more looking outward. When we took the lens and turned it inward (us and that small group) we developed so much more empathy for the 50 adults who we were asking to shift.”

Though this started as an attempt to address adult behavior, Moses realized that this approach replicated the same models of hierarchy that he was trying to disrupt. The solution would need to begin with the inward reflection.










personal leadership:key questions and realizations

The biggest lesson: Moses continues on a personal journey to deconstruct hierarchy in his personal and professional life. “I spent my birthday silent because I feel I give my mouth hierarchy in how I communicate.” In his work this has translated into relinquishing control -- of processes, outcomes, and especially people, choosing to see the person before seeing the system. No more is this more important than starting with self, knowing that the more connected we are to ourselves the more connected we can be with the young people who we serve. What I would want others to consider in their team leadership: if you want others to change, start with yourself.

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What are the current systems, structures, processes related to this challenge? How are they working in concert? Where are the gaps and needs?

What are the technical needs?

What are the quality of the relationships between the stakeholders nearest this challenge? How do they identify in relationship to the challenge? What are the values, beliefs and mindsets of those involved? 

What are the relational/adaptive needs?

How is the information flowing? Is there two way communication? Is there space to make meaning collectively? 

What's up with information?

What is the equity imperative connected to this challenge? What is creating inequity in relationship to this challenge?

How about equity?

What are the root causes of this complex challenge?

Based on what's happening above and below the green line...


Pressures of time and need. “Productivity” driven culture.


Moses’ sense of authenticity and reflection. A strong COST team who was willing to engage in the conversation and try something new. 


The perception of inaction.



for leaders considering complex challenges

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