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Leadership

Ze Min Xiao, leading through authentic relationship

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The WKKF Community Leadership Network (CLN) with the Center for Creative Leadership is an innovative fellowship that supports local leaders to connect, grow and lead transformational change toward a more equitable.

CLN Class Two graduated August 2021. During nearly two years together, extended by the impacts of the pandemic, fellows have written books, started businesses, moved up in their careers – and most importantly developed networks of mutual support.

As they graduate, our fellows join a network of alumni that stretches the globe and strengthen their community work with new levels of confidence and boldness.

Ze Min Xiao
Ze Min Xiao

Leading

For more than 10 years Ze Min Xiao, of Utah, focused on ensuring immigrants and refugees could connect to their potential through her role at Salt Lake County’s Department of New Americans. Born in China and raised in American Samoa, Xiao says she could always relate to the individuals and families she served but had trouble owning and sharing her personal story.

Connecting

Meeting in person with her CLN cohort prior to COVID-19, Xiao opened up to the lived experiences of the fellows she met. As those relationships strengthened, through the racial healing tools utilized in the fellowship, she began to also share her story – including trauma, pain, triumph and joy.

“In the past I felt shameful,” she says, “in terms of being treated as a deficit in a community. But, once you’ve been in racial healing spaces, you feel like it’s okay to be vulnerable with people in relationship.

“Accepting my own story plays an important role in how I lead and I’ve grown to a different level of leadership in my home community.”

Ze Min meets with CLN fellows
Ze Min meets with CLN fellows

Growing

When asked what she’s bringing back to her community, Xiao says, “Everything.”

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox appointed her co-chair of a multicultural state-level committee to develop culturally-specific COVID-19 responses. She brought racial healing tools with her, encouraging all committee members to build strong and honest relationships with each other. This helped cultivate safe space, where stakeholders could speak authentically about community needs, which in turn enabled state leaders to respond effectively. 

She’s now transitioned out of her government role and is building a new Center for Economic Opportunity and Belonging, with community needs placed at the forefront of the design. 

Her new venture intentionally invests in people, especially people of color, not programs. “Throughout my tenure, we invested in programs that put Band-Aids on problems. The CLN program and the pandemic magnified the need to invest in people and see their lived experiences as valuable. Programs come and go, but when you invest in the leadership of people you get 10 times in return.”

Xiao also carries with her a firm respect for all of the fellows. “I’m amazed by their impact. The New Mexico cohort is building a school. The Mississippi cohort got the Confederate symbol removed from the state flag. Hearing those stories of what others are doing provides strength and inspiration; we can do it as well.”

Sandra Ortsman & Sarah Stripp, stepping back to move forward

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