On Accountability & Abolition with Desiree Adaway

Actionable insight about the importance of accountability, lessons from today’s prison abolition movement, and the constant journey of leadership.

Referenced in this Episode:

Desiree Adaway works with conscious and caring leaders to give them the skills to cultivate rich, rewarding, and meaningful relationships and conversations across race, class, and gender so that organizational culture CAN change. As a consultant, adviser, strategist, and senior trainer, she works with organizations to do two things: use equity and inclusion to their advantage and leverage leadership across levels.


Episode Transcript:

Liz Wiltsie: Welcome to lead the podcast I am thrilled to welcome Desiree Adaway today. I’ve been a fan of her work for years and I know the rest of you will be, too.

Desiree works with conscious and caring leaders to give them the skills to cultivate rich, rewarding and meaningful relationships and conversations across race, class, and gender so that organizational culture can change. As a consultant, advisor, strategist and senior trainer,  she works with organizations to do two things use equity and inclusion to their advantage and leverage leadership across levels. Welcome, Desiree.

Desiree Adaway: Thanks for having me.

LW: So let’s get to it. What do you think is the number one challenge for leaders?

DA: I think it’s accountability. I think leaders want to hold themselves accountable and they can’t. It is our clients, it is our customers who get to hold us accountable. It’s our employees. But I think even more so than that I think leadershave a very skewed understanding of what accountability is.

A lot of folks see accountability as something that’s punitive. And I see it as a deep love and kinship, right?

So I only hold folks accountable that I care about, that I want to be in community with. And so when we’re called out for not showing up or following through when we’re called out because our impact was not what we had hoped it would be. I take that as a sign of folks that really care about me and care about me as a leader and developing my leadership skills.

And so I just think leaders need to spend a bit more time focused around accountability. And what does that mean? And how can we think of it is not something that’s punitive, but use that as ways that we can learn and wrestle with really big important issues publicly in the model ways for other people to wrestle with those issues.

LW: Yeah, indeed. So what is your number one tip for leaders sort of getting in a space that they can do that?

DA: I think there are two things, I think we have to look at forgiveness and reconciliation, and accountability and healing as core leadership components. So as we think about what leaders are, you know, for some people that’s like, being able to speak publicly that may mean being kind of brave and courageous. I think it also means that we understand how do we help in the healing of folks, how do we talk about forgiveness? How do we model forgiveness? How do we model reconciliation? I think if some of those were really integral leadership skills. We wouldn’t have as many toxic organizations and institutions like yeah.

LW: Absolutely, for sure. So what has been a book, or talk, presentation concept that has really been impactful for you?

DA: There’s been a lot. I’ve been doing a lot studying the prison abolitionist movement, actually, which is a great movement around us imagining what does it mean, to not have prisons? Which means that how do we talk about healing and forgiving. And what does that look like happening on a community and collective level? But a book that has been really amazing for me is a book called Feminist Accountability: Disrupting Violence and Transforming Power. It’s by Dr. Ann Russo. I think she’s a doctor. Ann Russo, she teaches at DePaul University in Chicago. Lots of great work around what is accountability look like? And I just vet him this accountability book is, it’s become my new bible.

LW: I have added it to my reading list immediately. When you’re talking about prison abolition. Do you have a specific… do you have something that you like to point to when you talk about it?

DA: I follow some folks on Twitter, which if you just kind of search on Twitter for but there’s an activist who’s name is Mariame Kaba. And I do a lot of her readings. She has this great book called Fumbling Towards Repair, which is really around like how to repair relationships. When we’ve hurt and harmed folks and what does that look like? And he’s been integral and doing a lot of that work.

LW: Yeah, I do work with a whole bunch of abolitionists things here. Los Angeles. And it really changed the way I think about both accountability and forgiveness like you talk about it. So I really appreciate you brought that to this conversation.

DA: And LA, you know, as what the largest prison system in the world?

LW: Yeah.

DA: So yeah, you know, it’s I think when we think about the kind of political vision of eliminating imprisonment.

For me, what that ultimately has us having to think about is, how do we care for one another when we’ve been harmed? And how do we recover from that together? And how do we just not lock people away? Again, there are no easy answers in any of this work, right.

Like so there’s no real easy answers around these big questions. But I think that brings up big things for me around how do I want to be in community with people.

LW: Yeah.

DA: Models that represent how we want to live in the future.

LW: And how we want to be treated as humans in the future.

DA: Sure. So yeah,

LW: Yeah. So what should I have asked you that I didn’t?

DA: I ask that question to my clients all the time. Yeah, I don’t think there’s anything, honestly, I would just say to your folks that are listening. You know, leadership is a constant destination. It’s a constant journey. You know, it’s not like you arrived and you’re a leader. Those skills have to constantly evolve for the context and the times that we live in.

LW: It’s a perfect way to end thank you so much for being here.

DA: Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.

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