The Allen brothers, Michael and Gilbert, are Executive Leadership Coaches at Wholistic Equity, a leadership consulting firm for all organizations that place a premium on respecting the dignity of those who are most at risk or have been historically marginalized.
Founded by Dr. Michael Allen, Wholistic Equity is a social enterprise leadership consulting company that prioritizes the humanity of vulnerable and marginalized groups in all aspects of its work, to empower current and future leaders.
In addition to investing in the development of tomorrow’s leaders, it funds initiatives to raise awareness about and combat the effects of mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness, and the breakdown of families, by donating to organizations that support these efforts.
“We cannot change the world until we change ourselves. If we invest in our healing, then we will be able to achieve great things.”
Passionate About Helping Those Who Struggle
When Michael was a kid, he always dreamed of being a pharmacist. He loved the kinetic, healing power of science and medicine, and was convinced that he could heal humanity through having his hand in the medicine available to people in pharmacies.
Michael was always passionate about the coaching and consulting industry because it is the one area that has directly led to so much of his leadership success, especially in the education field. Over the years, his coaches and consultants always came in with a fresh set of eyes that illuminated a perspective enabling him to see more and be more, which unlocked access to opportunities and decisions that were impactful to the masses.
Gilbert’s dream as a kid was to help his community overcome challenges such as poverty, mental health, and anyone who was struggling with a learning disability. “To be honest, I’m living my dreams now as a social worker, book author, and keynote speaker. I’m able to speak life into others who are struggling with finding meaning in this world,” he says.
Working to Create Transformation & Breakthroughs
As a co-founder and Executive Leadership Coach at Wholistic Equity, Gilbert’s responsibilities include providing keynote speeches and presentations, executive leadership coaching and training, professional development, and partnerships with schools or organizations. He sees himself as a transformational leader who enjoys inspiring his teams or clients to think in new ways. His goals are challenging others to grow, as well as understanding that we all have unique gifts.
“I often ask staff members what is their why, and how is it connected to their gift. I think there’s nothing better than seeing a client or team member, who initially struggles with confidence, experience breakthroughs that enhance their practices. As humans, we all have challenges and strengths, but we need someone to help us see the bigger picture as professionals,” he says.
Most of Michael’s time is allocated toward the work he loves, which is in the field of coaching and mentoring leaders. He travels all across the globe, giving keynote speeches, facilitating workshops, and presenting his research. He also spends time leading the managerial and administrative side of the organization.
Michael firmly believes that success is the progressive realization of the long-term purpose of one’s life. “In my case, I feel that everything is about empowerment and liberation. I constantly ask myself the question, how can I be an instrument that aids in removing obstacles and barriers that limit access and opportunities for those I’ve been charged to lead and serve?” he asks.
Michael’s goal is to travel all around the world using his gift to empower vulnerable and marginalized people. In addition to Wholistic Equity, he hopes to establish a nonprofit that will enable them to extend their reach, in terms of supporting students and adults. Last but not least, he plans to publish multiple books to support leaders from various sectors.
Learning Lessons on the Leadership Journey
Before his most recent career move, Michael was an educator for 16 years in public schools, 14 of which he spent as a principal. When he started his formal leadership journey as a principal in Chicago at the age of 24, he struggled with his narrow view of excellence and dedication. “I was impatient with how I embraced the complexities that each person brought into the process of moving the team forward. It took me some time to understand that not everyone had the same approach as me and that was completely fine,” he says.
Among the many awards that Michael received, perhaps his greatest accomplishment was the honor of being named Principal of the Year. “I didn’t care about the award, but I value how it centered the focus on the success of my entire school family. Our school had been counted out for decades, and the things that we were collectively able to accomplish in a short period were nothing short of remarkable,” he affirms.
Michael recalls that while being a young leader helped him during certain phases of his journey, one roadblock he faced was that many people didn’t take his dedication to the field seriously. They often saw his youth and assumed that his priorities and commitment mirrored those of the stereotypes for his age. As a result, he often spent a lot of time trying to overcompensate for how people perceived him. Eventually, he started to realize that his competence spoke for itself, and the more he evolved in this way, other people gradually came on board.
“I see my leadership journey as a beautiful struggle. I’ve learned significantly more from my mistakes than from my successes, and I’m very grateful for every obstacle. If I had to define myself in one word, it would be humane, in a holistic sense,” he reflects. “I strive to keep the team motivated through transparency in communication, modeling vulnerability, centering equity of voice from all stakeholders, as well as constantly commending people for their genius and commitment to moving the organization forward.”
When Gilbert first got into leadership, he struggled with putting the team’s needs first. Over time as a leader, he learned that you have to put the team’s needs above your own needs. His leadership journey taught him to be comfortable with understanding that he doesn’t know it all, and that it’s okay to show your vulnerability to others because it gives them permission to do the same and grow. He believes that it’s important to trust staff members and show them compassion and empathy if you want to see them grow into something special.
“I think my greatest lesson is learning that you need to unlearn things that are not serving your future. I absolutely love self-reflecting on my areas of weakness to understand how I can get better as a leader or as a human in the world around me,” he elaborates. “I keep my team motivated daily by doing my best to keep my word. I also like to share decision-making authority with my staff, and I try to set clear goals for myself and them. I love giving positive feedback and rewarding my team for a job well done. I tell my staff that it’s important for me to help them develop by providing opportunities and ongoing training. If I had to pick one word to describe my leadership journey, I would pick ‘Growth’.”
“When you have a dream, you’ve got to grab it and never let go.” – Carol Burnett
Incorporating Coaching Best Practices for Meaningful Skill Development
Michael points out that coaching is often perceived as scripted and theory-based, rather than practical and tangible for one’s own individual and unique context. His coaching approach, over the years, has become highly based on relationship development, emotional intelligence, and operationalizing humanity, while incorporating best practices that truly move meaningful skill development forward.
Gilbert recalls that when he first entered the field of social work, it wasn’t trauma centered, and now it’s all about not re-traumatizing a family or client. “I’ve learned, over the years, that my words are powerful, and I need to understand how to uplift families and clients from all different backgrounds in my field,” he remarks. His goals over the next few years are to finish his Ph.D. in counseling, continue to grow as a keynote speaker, and shine his light on the world.
Michael notes that their mission is to prepare today’s leaders to live tomorrow’s promise. In today’s evolving society, many leaders from all walks of life are seeking clarity that will aid in their ability to “operationalize” equity in a way that actively meets the needs of all people. WE Leadership Consulting can holistically support teams as they start and further their efforts in building bridges, so that they can activate their fullest potential and empower each member of their teams.
Time Spent in Self-Care and Healing is Never Wasted
Gilbert believes that his greatest achievement at Wholistic Equity is getting the chance to work with his older brother on many projects. “It’s always been a dream of mine to play football with him. I didn’t get a chance to do that, but I did get a chance to open a company and write two books with him. So, for me, that’s been a dream come true for me,” he remarks.
Over the years, Gilbert learned that self-care is very important, so his life balance includes taking road trips to New Orleans, Texas, or other hot areas to relax and recharge, physically, mentally, and emotionally. “To be honest, any place that is hot helps me reset,” he clarifies.
Michael’s goal is to spend at least 30 percent of his time each week on things that keep him grounded or give him peace. He plans out his meditations, workouts, and other creative activities in his calendar with the same urgency and intentionality as his formal work for the week. In addition, he feels the need to go on at least one vacation a quarter. These are the key areas that aid in his ability to recharge his battery.
Michael’s biggest message to Black professionals and leaders is to never underestimate how much time and energy you must invest in healing from the things that you have been exposed to. Similarly, try to lead with love, empathy, and compassion. “I believe that these areas will be the foundations of success in leadership in the future,” he insists.
“We cannot change the world until we change ourselves. If we invest in our healing, then we will be able to achieve great things.” – Gilbert Allen