Lowering the Waterline as we Stumble Towards Inclusion
Jun 14 2024

I read a lot, but I have not read many books in the last several years, let alone non-fiction books, so the fact I finished this book is a small miracle and a testament to the authors interesting storytelling! I was introduced to Priya Nalkur by a mutual friend, Elizabeth Davis, this past April, and I was fortunate to join one of her book launches in Austin.  As a fellow South Asian woman and entrepreneur who grew up primarily in North America, I felt an instant connection with her and her stories.

Navigating the choppy waters of leadership is never smooth sailing, especially when you’re trying to foster a sense of inclusion in a world that’s anything but perfect. Her book “Stumbling Towards Inclusion – Finding Grace in Imperfect Leadership” captures this tumultuous journey with a blend of wisdom, grace, and a refreshing dose of humanity.

Reading her book felt like catching up with a wise friend over tea, the kind who doesn’t just nod sympathetically but offers insightful nuggets wrapped in relatable anecdotes. Her stories of leadership mishaps and the subsequent learning curves are similar to the stumbles I’ve had while juggling my entrepreneurial ventures and personal life (which, if you’ve read my blog over the last 15 years, you know are sometimes hilariously clumsy).

Priya doesn’t shy away from the imperfections that come with leadership. She weaves in her personal experiences with research, creating a tapestry that’s as educational as it is comforting. It’s a relief to know that even seasoned leaders fumble. Her stories include humor, making the heavy topics she addresses—bias, privilege, and systemic barriers—feel approachable.

Chapter 40, “Lowering the Waterline,” particularly stood out for me. She uses the metaphor of an iceberg to discuss how we often only see the tip of someone’s behavior, while their values, fears, and motivations lie hidden beneath the surface. This chapter was a powerful reminder to look beyond the obvious and understand the deeper currents that drive people. Throughout my career, I have tried to understand why people act the way they do or say the things they say. Playing out those scenarios often helps connect dots and discover reasons that others may not see.

Her actionable tips on fostering an inclusive environment are practical and empathetic. She emphasizes small, consistent efforts over grand gestures. It’s the little changes, like making sure every voice is heard during meetings or actively seeking out diverse perspectives, that build a truly inclusive culture.  One of my Top 5 Strengths based on the Strengths Finder 2.0 assessment is Includer so many of the suggestions she shared about inclusivity resonated with me.

Priya beautifully ties everything together at the end of her book by highlighting the importance of rapport, equanimity, and courage. She stresses that building genuine connections (rapport), maintaining mental calmness and composure (equanimity), and facing challenges with bravery (courage) are essential components of effective and inclusive leadership.

“Stumbling Towards Inclusion” is a must-read for anyone looking to lead with authenticity and heart. Priya’s insights are a guiding light for those of us striving to create spaces where everyone feels valued, even if we stumble a bit along the way. The book is a testament to the power of perseverance, humility, and, yes, a good sense of humor.

In the end, what she offers is not a roadmap to perfect leadership but a compassionate guide to navigating its imperfections. And isn’t that what we all need? A little grace as we stumble towards our own versions of inclusion.

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