What Makes a Socially Intelligent and Diverse Leader?

Jeri Jimenez


I love this topic. I’ve been a socially and emotionally intelligent diverse leader here in Portland since 1994. During that time, I have met wonderful leaders like Dolores Huerta who worked with Cesar Chavez in the Farmworkers movement. She is a tiny woman, she is now 86 years old and she is the co-founder of the United Farm Workers, she is wise and so powerful! I danced with her in a club until late in the night. As younger organizers like me went home to bed, I guess she closed the club down.

In fact, I have met thousands of people of color and immigrant refugee leaders in the 22 years I have been an activist and community organizer and I have learned from the best. They possess what is now called “Emotional or Social Intelligence.” Like many other “Breakthroughs” that have been claimed by dominant society, who then wrote a book and trademarked the term,while the name is different, the practice is as old as the hills and twice as dusty.

One of the first leaders I met were my parents. They were a biracial couple who met in college and married in the 1950’s. That was a challenge all in itself. It was actually against the law for non-natives to married native people in the State of Oregon. They got married in Reno and had 6 kids. I’m number 4 in the birth order, sometimes referred to as the “lost child’.  Birth order is often believed to have a profound and lasting effect on psychological development.

My father was the first member of the Klamath Tribe to go to school beyond the 6th grade. My parents met at Southern Oregon College. I see them both as leaders. They both became educators and their values and standards of life affected us all very deeply as well as the thousands of students and athletes they inspired.


The ability to inspire someone else is one of the traits of a socially intelligent leader. My parents also mentored kids and my dad coached kids as well. Athletes recognize athletes, my dad had experience in playing all these games, he was an all-around all-star in college and was offered a football contract. His stories inspired many young people to dig deeper and reach further.

One of the largest traits is to be a good listener and to have the skill of empathy. Those are 2 and 3. You don’t have to be homeless to have empathy for the homeless. Number 4 is that you have to know how to address people in many different ways. Coming from grassroots community organizing I was in culture shock when I came to work for Government. I was invited to apply for this job because of my skillset and the ability I had to maintain good relationships with a very large diverse group of people. I felt like a square peg in a round hole. I wondered why on earth did they want me? Was I supposed to become white? That was not in the job description and yet I knew God sent me here and it was my job to obey, which brings me to 3 other skills, stick-to-it-iveness, patience and tolerance. You can’t give up and if you are a good leader sometimes you have to put up with a lot of challenges. Every good leader I know experiences challenges. For me, I love puzzles, so these challenges became puzzles that I needed to figure out.

Trait number 8- you need to love people and they need to feel that you value them, if you don’t then you’re not their leader! You might not be a follower either- you’re just alone.

Number 9 is definitely one of the most important traits I know and when I think of Jesus I think of this. You must operate with humility. When you see or listen to a good leader it is as if I have been humbled and am extremely grateful at the same time. This person has blessed me with something special and by that point I’m in tears. I can’t begin to count how many times I have been there in that glorious place weeping tears of joy.

I’m not sure exactly how I explain number 10. I will start by saying a socially intelligent leader approaches people with respect and caring, but they also understand that in order to move anything forward, we must know that we are a part of something bigger then ourselves and that it is our responsibility to lead in this way.

Jesus was a leader and a messenger as was Moses. Jesus knew that plan and as painful as it was he chose to stick his neck out for the future of humanity. Many people do this in Portland on a daily basis. For the last 10 years I have developed and implemented a capacity building grant program based on teaching diverse and historically under represented people of color and immigrants and refugees. None of this work happened alone, it was created by managing groups of leaders from these constituencies to form and engage in these programs.

My program started being funded in 2006 with a grant for $70,000.00. The goal was to find one constituency who wanted to train their leaders in Civic Engagement. In the first year we ended up funding a partnership of organizations who split the grant 3 ways. In less than a year, there was a request to grow the program to allow more groups in as they were also interested in seeing their leaders learn also. Another $268,000.00 was allocated to reach out to groups the first funding didn’t cover and the Diversity and Civic Leadership Academies were born.

It is an amazing program, so amazing that it was awarded one of the Top 10 Innovations in American Government by the Ash Center at Harvard University.

We have graduated over 800 leaders of color and immigrant refugee leaders in 10 years and I have met incredible Portlanders who have come from all over the world. Many people were never given the opportunity to engage with their homeland Government, many times that would not be a safe thing to do. Here they are welcomed to come and learn and to make their communities more livable through organizing.

In 2015, I authored a 66-page report called “Engaging for Equity.” It can be found at this link,


There was a time in my life, up until I was about 35 that I was a victim of Human trafficking, DV, Addiction and gangs. I was a shy person, an introvert who had no self-esteem. It had been beaten out of me. Organizing changed my life forever and I had made a promise to God in 1989 as I was running down Milwaukee Avenue, half dressed, bleeding and being chased by someone who was willing to kill me for my little bit of money. I told him If he saved me I would serve him for the rest of my life and these are a few extra qualities that make a good leader, honesty and integrity. Over the last 8 years I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most voiceless people on the planet, Human trafficking survivors first co-founding a sisterhood of survivor leaders and then training federal officials on how to identify and better serve this population of the voiceless.

My life has placed me at the feet of many amazing leaders. I think when you see a good leader you should allow them to be an example of what you may want to add to your life.






Birth order- www.realsimple.com/work-life/family/birthorder-traits

Handout -Social intelligence and the biology of leadership by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatziz


About jerisw1

Activist, artist , story teller ,writer currently working for the City Office of Neighborhood Involvement.
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