I attended a racial equity training yesterday where local leaders learned engagement strategies to pilot projects about race. As you would expect, one of the six steps in the process was community engagement. For this section, the presenter really pushed us to outline a process that was an on-going partnership rather than a one-time encounter.

“It is key that you develop a relationship that is not extractive,” cautioned our Race Forward facilitator – with extractive meaning that you go into a community, extract feedback, then go away only to come back claiming to have the answer. Community members who are impacted need to be involved beyond just providing feedback to become engaged in developing the solutions.

I think extractive encounters occur throughout many organizations. Companies run focus groups and made subsequent decisions based upon the one-time opinions of a few. Leaders conduct town hall meetings and take action based on that slice of feedback rather than cultivating on-going communication with employees. Politicians seek input around election time but seem to disappear the remaining portion of their term.

As you seek to learn from your stakeholders, design your process to be an exchange rather than an extraction. Your community engagement will be far richer for it.

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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