By Ken Coopwood, Ph.D.
“Change of heart” is a cliché all too familiar in American culture and traditions. It is one of humanity’s most noble appeals for motive and learning, and it is also one of life’s most difficult tasks, especially in the areas of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI).
After 25+ years as an executive diversity professional, I have learned that changes of heart indissolubly mark success. I have also learned that the doorway to one’s heart is, in fact, the final frontier and not the first challenge faced by change agents.
There are other prior hurdles to jump in the process of “prepping” a person’s heart for change. These include dealing with preconceptions, thought agility, establishing relevant examples, empathy, and courage, to name a few. Diversity work can be exceedingly time-consuming and exacerbating without examining these matters first. After all, yesterday’s “shadows” influence what today and tomorrow will look like. So, preparing for what people already think makes sense.
In addition, the environment in which a changed heart will thrive must be prepared in advance. Heart change must be met with authentic acceptance, belonging, ownership, and empowerment. Once requisite stages are set to address “front matters” of the heart, then change-of-heart activities, with a high probability of success, can begin. Also, regarding infrastructural thought life, it is essential to note that the preparation process for change should not be completed for the sake of change itself, nor because change is the right thing to do. Instead, change must be purposeful as much as intentional for the sustainability and benefit of those needing change and those who reap the results. Why? Because organizations should exist to serve human needs rather than the reverse.
I have come to understand that it is also crucial that the process not solely result in mandated change but, more transformative, provide enough leadership and education to treasure change as a personal benefit. Thus, the more a process results in a mandated change, the less likely change will willingly occur or the more elongated the process could become. The goal is to build an organizational infrastructure on which change can result as an act of personal responsibility, thereby tying the need for change to a new set of personalized rules for engagement, integration, collaboration, and elevation that breed new, diverse relationships and identities, which benefit the organization today, tomorrow, and afterward.
Embedding motives for personal responsibility, advancement, and empowerment in the heart-change process often set the sail for philosophical transformation that leads to heart change. Gaining buy-in for these motives means leading people away from skepticism associated with circumstances to pluralist experiences that inch away from dualistic thoughts and social contexts that blind people from realities about others. Perspective changes help to identify shared identities with people seen as different for unfavorable reasons.
All the above is doable when intentionally engaging with those prepped for change. Deep-seated issues or remnants of negative experiences can still linger and function as “disarmers” in the process. People may also rock back and forth between thoughts of blatant denial of others and notions of authentic acceptance. However, with persistence, people can “get off their horses,” i.e., see commonalities between themselves and previously denied others as a personal preference and professional standard.
It is a worthwhile undertaking and a hallmark Coop Di Leu “Do” for every JEDI service, every time.
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