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“Advocate for Awareness”, With Mory Fontanez and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

I believe everything happens for a reason and this convergence of events is no accident. It is calling our collective attention to what’s broken and I’ve been so heartened to see people of all backgrounds, genders and classes step up, speak out and work toward a different reality. The path won’t be easy, we still […]

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I believe everything happens for a reason and this convergence of events is no accident. It is calling our collective attention to what’s broken and I’ve been so heartened to see people of all backgrounds, genders and classes step up, speak out and work toward a different reality. The path won’t be easy, we still have leaders in place that don’t get it and so those of us that are awake need to work harder and it will take time. If we can accept that, learn to care for ourselves so that we can stay the course instead of burning out and hold ourselves accountable — I think we have a very big opportunity to shift things fundamentally. I am actually quite hopeful and excited for what’s ahead, but it’s a long game.


As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Mory Fontanez.

Mory is a Purpose Coach and the Founder and CEO of 822 Group. After a successful career in corporate America, a critical truth became clear to Mory — many companies operate without a true sense of purpose because their leaders do not understand their own higher purpose. Mory founded the 822 Group as a transformation consultancy. At 822, Mory works with clients to re-connect them to their higher purpose and thereby reveals the boundless opportunity they’ve been seeking.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up the youngest of two girls to a single mom in my earlier years in Keystone Colorado, and then in Gaithersburg Maryland. My parents are both from Iran so I had this interesting experience of being from two places at once and not belonging in either place.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho — This book was the first time I can remember reading something that felt like it was speaking to my soul. The story has so many universal lessons in it and I still think back to that book often.

Broken Open, Elizabeth Lesser — I divorced my husband and father of my two, then very young children in 2011 and as is the case in most divorces it was one of the hardest times of my life. This book shifted my entire foundation and began in me the knowing that every crisis is an opportunity for growth and expansion. I can mark the reading of this book as the moment I realized life was calling me to something greater and that it was my decision to grab ahold of it and figure out my purpose so I can evolve, create a legacy for my children and help others.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” — Anais Nin

This goes back to going through a difficult time in my life and realizing that while breaking out and trying for a better life was hard at the time, the pain of staying in what appeared to be safe and comfortable began to outweigh the risk of the unknown. I’ve used the teachings of this quote in my own career — to make sure I am always doing and advising what is in line with my highest self and not moving from fear.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership to me is about complete self-awareness, accountability, and empathy. You have to do the hard work to really know yourself, your strengths, your triggers and your challenges so that you can be honest with others and free them of the responsibility of “managing” you. Accountability means you hold yourself responsible for your actions instead of looking for others on which to place the blame. This comes with the need to be confident enough to own your mistakes and not be afraid of what others will think — which is what often makes leaders try to hide their true actions. Finally empathy, which often gets confused with taking care of others, is just about remaining centered in your own humanity and remembering that the people you interact with as a leader are at the end of the day humans with needs and emotions and that it is your job to remember and respect that no matter the situation or the challenges you’re facing.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

I talk a lot about connecting with your higher self as a leader. What I mean by that is that there is some version of all of us that is pushing us toward our highest good and what’s best for others. I make it a point to connect with my higher self, daily. Particularly if I am heading into a high stakes situation — in my case guiding an executive through a crisis or coaching them toward their own higher purpose — I take at least 5–10 minutes to meditate and try to just connect to that version of myself. This includes sometimes just sitting in silence outside — I love the outdoors — or putting on a guided or musical meditation and just trying to clear my anxious thoughts. Usually when I do that — a stronger more knowing voice comes in and has very clear guidance for me. We all have this ability, we just have to get acquainted with this version of ourselves and create space for dialogue with them.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

I think there are so many storylines that have converged to bring us to this boiling point. The unacknowledged pain of so many, the desire to burry our heads in the sand, the distraction of our own personal pains and dramas. That said, I think one of the biggest and most tangible factors is that we have had the wrong definition of good leadership for a very long time. I mean for centuries. We have been fed this idea that leadership is about a certain set of characteristics that include valuing the wrong things — cunning, competition and revenue, rather than connection with others and alignment with their own higher self. I believe leaders have simply, lost their connection with their own GPS. Without this connection it’s impossible to be connected to the plight of others and in fact its easier to “other” people so that you can make a case for not spending your time your resources on helping them. I guess it’s a long way of saying we’ve been too selfish as a society and have let our leaders convince us that being any other way is the work of charities and martyrs.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?

I usually get called in when an organization or leader has been called out for a lack of these things, in some public way, or when internal morale has plummeted because of these issues. My number one recommendation in these instances is that the concept of “diversity and inclusion” is in itself problematic because it’s one dimensional. I have created a paradigm that I help walk leaders and brands through that has four essential stages — each of which the organization must fully understand and embrace before moving to the next.

The first is awareness — this is the part about fully immersing in and understanding the landscape for women, POC, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities and more. Without this awareness of their experiences and the systems that are in place that work against their advancement all actions an organization takes will be shallow. This awareness stage is what builds empathy and connection — when you can put yourself in others shoes — you are more like to want to act from a place of authenticity. This Is where some of the unconscious bias and D&I trainings are critical — but It must happen quickly and there must be dialogue within the organization after and continuously to make sure these trainings stick,

The next stage Is access — this Is about opening the doors, working hard to make opportunities open to all, changing your recruiting tactics, widening your circle so that you can actually provide access to opportunities that are valuable and create real diversity In your organization.

Once you have provided access you move to integration — integration is important because unfortunately in some organizations D&I initiatives are siloed groups that are more like a box check than anything else. Integration is about ensuring that diverse voices sit on the leadership team, are part of decision making and are included across the board in every part of the organization. This means creating cultures and environments where people feel comfortable bringing their WHOLE selves to work — not a whitewashed version that needs to walk, talk and act a certain way in order to garner respect or recognition.

The final stage Is empowerment — once the organization has truly mastered the first three phases, they have set up an environment where people from diverse backgrounds can be empowered to lead, to make hard decisions, to act as spokespeople to really help drive the future of the organization.

This paradigm Is about action. If organizations want real change it’s going to require all of this hard and very rewarding work. Diversity and inclusion without definition of action has unfortunately allowed organizations to continue to other people of diverse backgrounds — and that is not effective.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

The most important reason is because the consumer is a diverse group of people. Organizations who do not have that same representation within their own walls are the ones who are making missteps in attempting to communicate with and sell to this diverse set of customers.

The second is because the world is shifting dramatically and businesses either need to shift just as dramatically or go extinct. This is the number one reason I founded 822 Group. Society is asking for more connection and representation and business has to answer this call by making more voices a part of the decision-making process. If the business world does this right, they will be poised to truly lead when governments and other institutions are failing their people.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

  1. Start with Self-Awareness and Accountability — as a leader the only way to affect change is to get VERY well acquainted with yourself. Understand what makes you strong as a leader and what makes you insecure, afraid, angry or frustrated. These feelings are what ultimately make us push others away — which Is the opposite of acting in an inclusive way.
  2. Advocate for Awareness — work hard to ensure that you and your organization masters the awareness level of the paradigm. Don’t just do one training and move on — make it foundational to your work so that this understanding of other people’s experiences becomes organically woven into the culture of your organization.
  3. Embrace Empathy for your Customer and Workforce — we are a data-driven society and this data has immense value. But, its not the whole picture. Your employees and customers are dynamic and human and it’s important to develop empathy so that you can connect to them in a new way. If you’re able to really put yourself in other’s shoes you will develop a new stream of information about what they might need and new ideas and behaviors will emerge within you. If you want to create inclusivity and representation — you must build a mechanism that is constantly reminding you of what others need. Empathy Is that mechanism.
  4. Let Go of the Need for Validation — to create real change you have to get really comfortable with speaking up for what’s right. That’s Incredibly difficult in the business world where we have Investors, shareholders, boards of directors, etc. to please and who still look at the world through the lens of dollars and cents. You are in a leadership position because you have the skills and the intuition to lead your business — trust that. Understand that doing what’s right does not have to come at the cost of success. Once you trust this you need to understand that most people (including your investors, etc) have been taught to see the world through trade-offs and scarcity. It is your job to teach them otherwise — to LEAD them toward a more inclusive and abundant reality — where there is more than enough resource for everyone. Knowing this you have to accept that you will not get validation from people that don’t have this elevated level of understanding. Stop looking for it. Check in with your higher self and advocate knowing that if you’re doing the right thing — there will be success there and you don’t need anyone to pat you on the back.
  5. Be Curious — It’s really important that we remain open and curious about the experience of others. Especially as a leader who is driving diversity. Make sure you stay connected to diverse voices In your organization, be curious about how their experiences In your organization are playing out and be open to new ideas and solutions for solving old, hardened and useless habits and activities that are blocking your organization’s path toward inclusivity.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

Absolutely. I believe everything happens for a reason and this convergence of events is no accident. It is calling our collective attention to what’s broken and I’ve been so heartened to see people of all backgrounds, genders and classes step up, speak out and work toward a different reality. The path won’t be easy, we still have leaders in place that don’t get it and so those of us that are awake need to work harder and it will take time. If we can accept that, learn to care for ourselves so that we can stay the course instead of burning out and hold ourselves accountable — I think we have a very big opportunity to shift things fundamentally. I am actually quite hopeful and excited for what’s ahead, but it’s a long game.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

There are so many it’s hard to pick! I think right now it would be Barack Obama, because he embodies remaining hopeful even in the grimmest times. I would love to hear him talk about how he does this, how he takes care of himself so he can take care of others and to hear what he thinks about my theories and philosophies on leadership and change.

How can our readers follow you online?

I am on Instagram @moryfontanez, LinkedIn and post my thoughts to my blog often on www.822group.com

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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