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7 Questions on Leadership with Illyasha Peete

Name: Illyasha Peete

Title: Founder and CEO

Organisation: Catalyze and Cultivate Consulting

Location: United States

Illyasha “Illy” Peete, the visionary Founder and CEO of Catalyze and Cultivate Consulting, stands at the forefront of advocating for Inclusive & Sustainable Healthcare Access. Her unwavering dedication to Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, and Liberation (IDEAL) principles has propelled significant transformations across various sectors.

Born to civil rights activists, Illy has seamlessly woven the fabric of her heritage into her life's work, championing accessible spaces for those radically excluded populations with unparalleled analytical acuity and innovative flair.

Illy's journey through for-profit and nonprofit realms, alongside her ventures into health and wellness, education, and the biotech/pharma industries, showcases her remarkable ability to integrate IDEAL values into the core of organizational cultures. She transcends the role of a thought leader; she is a catalyst for change, orchestrating environments that nurture pivotal dialogues, champion cultural evolution, and launch pioneering initiatives as evidenced in her impactful work at Center for Excellence in Nonprofits, California Life Sciences, and ClimateWorks Foundation.

Beyond her professional landscape, Illy is an embodiment of balance and lifelong curiosity. An avid hiker, Hot Pilates enthusiast, and traveler, she embraces the fullness of life with the same zeal she applies to her work. As a proud mother of two college basketball athletes, Illy's narrative enriches a professional demeanor, offering a relatable and inspirational figure for many.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Illyasha's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

One of the most challenging aspects I've encountered as a leader is navigating situations where individuals misuse the principles of inclusion, diversity, and justice. These are values I hold in high regard, aiming to foster an environment that celebrates differences and promotes fairness.

However, it becomes particularly difficult when these ideals are leveraged in ways that, paradoxically, undermine the collaborative and respectful culture we strive to build. This misapplication can divert attention from genuine efforts to create a more equitable workplace, complicating our mission to ensure every voice is heard and valued.

My focus remains on guiding these efforts with integrity, ensuring they contribute positively to our collective goal of an inclusive and just organization.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

My leadership journey was profoundly shaped by my upbringing as the daughter of a civil rights activist. From a young age, I was instilled with the conviction that it was our duty to advocate for those whose voices have been historically excluded. My path was further defined by my experiences as a tennis player in Memphis, Tennessee, navigating a space where Black players were rare participants.

A vivid memory that stands out is the day my family and I entered an exclusive tennis club, drawing immediate attention from everyone. This moment was underscored when a Black housekeeper approached us, revealing we were the first Black people she had seen walk through the front door of this club. She expressed her pride in us, a sentiment echoed by the support of the Black and brown staff throughout the rest of the tournament.

Leadership, for me, has always been an inherent part of my identity, molded by a legacy of breaking barriers and championing equity.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

My daily routine begins around 7 am and is a blend of personal growth, professional dedication, and family time, starting with a morning workout to energize my body and mind. I prioritize learning something new each day, ensuring continuous development. Work begins with tackling the most demanding and creative tasks, capitalizing on my peak innovation hours. As the day progresses, I shift focus to the necessary, albeit less thrilling, responsibilities.

A crucial part of my daily routine involves providing unwavering support to my sons in whatever they need and prioritizing attending all their basketball games. This strengthens our family bond and highlights the importance of being there for them in every aspect of their lives. Furthermore, conversations with my mom and sister are frequent and cherished, again underscoring the importance of family in my daily life. Additionally, caring for my two puppies adds joy to my daily schedule. I usually end the day before 10 pm.


4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

My response to this question might come as unexpected, but it's what resonated with me the most. Personal enlightenment has come from reading “Anti-Racist Leadership: How to Transform Corporate Culture in a Race-Conscious World" by James D. White and Krista White.

The book articulates a profound observation: leaders from historically excluded groups often earn executive-level positions based on their proven achievements or current performance, and in some cases, they have been performing the responsibilities of these roles without receiving appropriate compensation.

This contrasts sharply with the practice of promoting white men, who are frequently elevated based on their perceived potential or birthright. While this concept might not have been entirely unfamiliar to me, the book has provided a language to describe a reality many of us have felt but struggled to express.

It's become clear to me that openly discussing these disparities is crucial. By bringing such conversations to the forefront, we stand a better chance of dismantling the systemic barriers perpetuating inequities.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

One book that has profoundly impacted my approach to leadership is "The Inclusive Language Field Guide" by Suzanne Wertheim, Ph.D. This insightful work has clarified my understanding and use of language in professional settings, emphasizing the power of words to include or exclude.

Dr. Wertheim's guide offers practical advice on navigating the complexities of modern communication, ensuring that everyone feels honored, heard, seen, and respected. By integrating these principles into my leadership style, I've become more attuned to any team's diverse needs and perspectives, fostering a more inclusive and supportive environment.

The insights gained from this book have significantly improved my interactions on a personal level and have been instrumental in shaping policies that promote justice, access, and inclusion, not just within my organization but also in the consulting, coaching, cultural assessments, and strategic planning services I provide.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

If I were to offer guidance to an emerging leader, my message would be clear: Leadership transcends titles like VP or CEO—anyone can embody leadership qualities. Embrace authenticity, establish clear boundaries, uphold accountability, and maintain integrity. Remain receptive to diverse opinions and perspectives, acknowledging that the most effective solutions emerge from collaborative discussions that include a wide range of viewpoints.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

One of the most rewarding experiences in my leadership journey has been creating opportunities for individuals to discover and harness their strengths. I find particular joy in mentoring those at the outset of their professional paths. A memorable instance involved a recent college graduate on my team who sought my guidance for her first project. Initially, we tackled the project collaboratively, making decisions side by side.

As her confidence grew, my role evolved to posing strategic questions, nudging her towards independent thought and leadership over the project's direction. Eventually, my inquiries were simplified to "What do you think?" coupled with affirmations of my trust in her judgment. This individual blossomed into one of the most effective members of our team and continues to thrive in her career. Playing a supportive role in someone's development epitomizes the essence of authentic leadership.

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