Real Change Can Start Right Now,

One Micro-Moment at a Time By Heidi Brooks, PhD

Heidi Brooks is a senior lecturer at the Yale School of Management, where she teaches Everyday Leadership courses, including the course she pioneered by that name. Dr. Brooks received her doctorate in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree from Brown University. She frequently advises companies on leadership and culture.


very day, formal and informal lead- ers do ordinary things that have an impact on others—simple human

acts such as listening, perspective-taking, kindness, curiosity, and decision-making. I call this everyday leadership. We all have a profound capacity to act

like healthy people, ones who take respon- sibility for our impact on the world. In par- ticular, I focus on the “micro-moments” of impact: Moments of choice every day that accumulate into reputation and create the lived experience of organizational culture. Few are skilled or nuanced at paying

attention to culture, but organizational culture impacts the joy and effectiveness of our work (whether that’s in person or by video). How we enact our organizational culture—“the way we do things around here”— plays a central part in fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion. Let’s talk about a few arenas where you

can make a difference today in your every- day leadership. Attend to your impact in micro-moments.

Every day, you communicate signals that have impact, even when you’re not aware of it. An ill-timed sigh in a meeting can kill a sense of psychological safety. Instead, have an attentive gaze as some-

one speaks. Or comment, to indicate that you “get” them. When you don’t get what someone is saying, ask! Build the radical skill of inquiry to “get” others. To be sure, communication is a two-way

street, and both parties have responsibili- ty—so build an environment where people will positively interpret ambiguous signals. We are even less aware of impact across


difference, so consider building awareness about your impact in micro-moments across demographics. Reduce defensive tendencies and reacting

from self-protection. It’s very human to have triggers—issues to which you have a knee- jerk, self-protective reaction. Related to your personal and group

history, these triggers include feeling not in control, under-valued, misunderstood, overly exposed, not belonging, or not being appreciated, among others. When triggered, people respond defen-

sively to protect themselves. The problem is that the threat may not be as dangerous as the emotion suggests, and these reac- tions are generally ineffective leadership strategies. Of course, race in the United States is a

trigger-heavy topic. Heads-up: You cannot lead effectively from a defensive position set up to protect yourself. Learning to recognize a triggered mo-

ment, react less, and respond more is essen- tial intrapersonal leadership work. Respond with a grounded, values-based presence, and your impact will be more credible, compelling, and containing. This is important when everyone is

dealing with discomfort, ambiguity, and vulnerability from COVID-19 as well as facing the reality of racial injustice. Aim to emerge from this time stronger and wiser. Effective everyday leadership can make a

huge difference in our collective capacity to learn, connect, and act with wisdom during this time. Listen to the experiences of others, includ- ing and especially those different from you.

Equity & Inclusion

Heidi Brooks, PhD Senior Lecturer Yale School of Management

People love to be listened to. Ask genuine, curious, connecting questions, and then lis- ten actively to the answers, perhaps reflect- ing what you’ve heard or asking a follow-up question that lets you know you are getting where they are coming from. We have a trained social tendency to

search for common experience and then comment on that. So, if someone tells you about their weekend, it is common to re- spond with similarity by saying, “Oh, yes, I’ve been there too.” This tendency rein- forces the preference to spend time with people who have similar life experiences. If you build a way of listening that is

honestly not about you, then you have more choice in the people with whom you might connect. So, when someone tells you about their

weekend, rather than referring to your own experience, you might say, “How often is your weekend like that?” Or “That sounds nice/ interesting/ calming/ scary/ powerful to me—what was that like for you?” My wish: Use these everyday leadership practices to make a difference every day to different groups in the workplace.

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