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About Becky Margiotta
Becky Margiotta is an author, change-maker, leader, veteran, and host of the Unleashing Social Change Podcast. Becky is also the co-founder and owner of The Billions Institute which has trained thousands of leaders from every corner of the globe and from every sector of social change in designing and leading large-scale change.
The 100,000 Homes Campaign for Community Solutions, where Becky served as director, mobilized 186 cities to permanently house more than 100,000 people who had previously been living on their streets in just under four years. Most recently, Becky authored Impact with Integrity: Repairing the World Without Breaking Yourself, a call to action for change makers that provides a step-by-step framework for doing the inner work that is necessary for advancing social change.
In this conversation with Jay, she talks about life in the military under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, recounts her incredible career in social activism, and explains why if you want to change the world, the most important work you should be doing is on yourself.
To learn more about the Billions Institute and Becky’s book, click here.
All About Change: Becky Margiotta – Housing 100,000 Houseless
Becky Margiotta: Thousands of people who are trying to lead large scale social change in the world, I’ve seen the same thing in them. they’ve got great strategies, they’ve got plenty of resources, they get in their own way
Hi, I’m Jay Ruderman and welcome to All About Change, a podcast showcasing individuals who leverage the hardships that have been thrown at them to better other people’s lives.
Today on our show, Becky Margiotta.
Becky Margiotta: The problem was never the strategy or the tactics or lack of resources. I mean, certainly those were problems, but the real problem underneath it was my own limitations as a leader.
Becky Margiotta is an author, change-maker, inspirational leader, veteran, and an outspoken member of the LBGTQIA community.
Becky Margiotta: My experiences were of, like kind of mild joking homophobia. Barry Winchell’s was of being bludgeoned to death.
A graduate of West Point, she served for nine years as an officer in the US Army during the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell period. She thought it was working fine for her, but then she went to see a play called “Another American: Asking and Telling.”
Insert from the play:
A person who I knew had left his phone number in the bathroom, and I’ll call him Steve, the guy who left a number. The CID people called his number and set up a date with him. And as soon as they were together, he was arrested for making a move on the CID agent. As an agreement not to be court-martialed or have it proceed any further, he agreed to turn in other people that he knew were gay. He turned in twelve of us. One of the people committed suicide, I was court-martialed, I believe there was another court-martial, and the rest of the people were dishonorably discharged.
Becky Margiotta: And I was just sobbing at the end of, I can’t, I can’t be p.. I can’t be complicit in this another day. The narrative that there’s something wrong with being gay is enabling this kind of violence, and I put in my resignation the next day.
Since then, she has reinvented herself as an activist, and mentor – training thousands of people the world over on how to design and lead large-scale social change.
Becky Margiotta: I’ve seen so many leaders be held back and with a little bit of help and tweaking in that, the difference is completely different out in the world.
Jay Ruderman: Becky, thank you so much for joining me today as my guest on All About Change. It’s a pleasure to meet you.
Becky Margiotta: Likewise. Thank you for having me, Jay.
Jay Ruderman: So Becky, I’d like to bring you back to the beginning, cause your story is an amazing story.
West Point. How did you decide to go to West Point, which is not the easiest place to go to school, and then end up serving for nine years in the military?
Becky Margiotta: So I was the oldest of seven kids and my parents said, you have to go to college and we don’t really have any money saved for you to do it, but you have to go. So good luck. West Point is a full scholarship. There are a few other scholarships I had too. But, I was very drawn to West Point because of, in some ways the mystique, but also that I thought it would just be a really hard challenge.
It was, it, and, just holistically, you know, with the athletics and the leadership development, the, the academics and, got in early admission and that was it. Oh, this is, this is where I’m gonna go. Now, did not really fully understand what it would mean to be an officer in the Army, or any of those things.
And learned that while, while I was at West Point. And didn’t come from a particularly, like, martial family in any way, right? Like my grandfather had been drafted, but, but, but not a long history of, of military service in my family. So it was somewhat of a shock. [laughs]
Jay Ruderman: Mm-hmm.
Becky Margiotta: But it was a great education and I met for the most part really great people and, and um really, wanted to be of service. The value, the ethos of being of service is absolutely nurtured and, and developed while you’re there. And, when I got out into the army and then had to pay back my, my college education, I was stationed on Oahu, as a 23 year old, and it just ruined me for life.
And then the people that I met were some still to this day, some of the best people I’ve ever met in my life. And, I wanted to stay.
There’s really two reasons that I ultimately left. I served in, I was the fourth woman ever to serve in a special operations unit, special mission unit, the first woman to command in the special operations Signal Battalion. So I was really succeeding in that world, but I didn’t wanna lie about being gay anymore. And it was before the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
It was weird though. I really felt like I belonged, and I got out on National Coming Out Day and then called all my friends who I had served with. And it was like, this is like, before email was even big. I was like, hey, I just wanted to let you know that I was gay. And all, but one person was like, oh, we knew that and [laughs].
Jay Ruderman: Hmm.
Becky Margiotta: But I couldn’t tolerate lying about that anymore. At West Point it was especially difficult and there were rumors about me and I was investigated and I even lied about being gay to not have to get kicked out. I didn’t have any Plan B at all, which totally violates, you know, the honor code there. Although, you know, in retrospect I just really think it was unjust that they even asked, right?
That that really was an invasion of my privacy. But, that was incredibly difficult and, and a difficult coming of age time in, in those ways. But then once I got out into the Army, it was, people were definitely kind of more chill, more cool, kind of already doing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, before it was a thing.
Um, and even in these really elite units, one day, I’ll never forget this, I was the company commander. I was 27 years old. I had a hundred soldiers. We deployed to 18 countries in 18 months, like all over the world supporting special operations on peacekeeping, de-mining missions, things like that.
And my lieutenant came up to me, before morning PT and said, Hey, Captain Canis, I, um, I wanna ask you something. And, uh, that’s my maiden name is Canis. And I was like, yeah, what’s up? And he said, hey, are you gay ? And, and in my mind, immediately I was like, I could get kicked out if I answer this honestly.
And also, it’s very likely that something could happen and I would have to ask Eric to put, put his life at risk based on an order I was giving him. And it’s so important that he trusts me for, for my leadership to have legitimacy with him. So in a split second, I made the choice and decided to err on being honest with him that it mattered more to me, that he’d be able to trust me as his leader.
So then I was like, yeah, what about it?
Jay Ruderman: Mm-hmm.
Becky Margiotta: And he was like, I thought so. There’s this really cute girl I wanna introduce you to.
Jay Ruderman: Oh!
Becky Margiotta: And so I had a lot of experiences like that. To where, and the other thing was that because it was, I guess closeted or taboo, the people who were gay, kind of, we found each other and there was a real sense of community in that, that I don’t find as much in the civilian world because it’s not as necessary.
Clip of Former President Bill Clinton
Before I ran for President, this issue was already upon us. Some of the members of the military returning from the Gulf War announced their coming out to protest the ban…(clip fades out).
Becky Margiotta: It was about four or five years after I had entered in the military environment at all that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, became the, the law of the land basically, or the law of the military. And I did find an easing. I felt a little bit less nervous. I was like, okay, I just need to not tell, you know, that’s all I need to do.
But then I felt like I don’t get to be myself, but I can put up with that. I don’t put up with that anymore, but I could put up with that then. And there was just really, for the most part, it, I think I would describe it as, quasi lighthearted, teasing and homophobia, and I don’t even know if you can have lighthearted homophobia, right. Um, it certainly wasn’t, rainbows and unicorns and fun, or enlivening or like, I felt like I could bring my whole self. There’s an, there was an oppression to it of looking over your shoulder. But I think also most of the people in the military really didn’t care about knowing about that, about somebody in a way that would be negative, you know?
Clip of Former President Bill Clinton continuing:
I stated then what I still believe: that I thought there ought to be a presumption that people who wish to do so should be able to serve in the military…(clip fades out)
Jay Ruderman: And I understand that you still have some close mentors and friends that you did serve with in the military.
Becky Margiotta: Friends for life. Absolutely. Yes.
Jay Ruderman: So tell me about, I, I know you talked about that you went to see a play called Another American Asking and Telling.
Becky Margiotta: Thank you for reminding that, because although my experiences were of like kind of mild joking homophobia, Barry Winchell’s was of being bludgeoned to death. That happened while I was in the assessment and selection for the special mission unit.
There was such violence also happening, right. And so, this one man play, he, he played Margarethe Cammermeyer, he played Barry Winchell’s mom.
He played, you know, he played all these people. And I was just sobbing at the end of, I can’t, I can’t be, I can’t be complicit in this another day. The narrative that there’s something wrong with being gay is enabling this kind of violence, and I put in my resignation the next day. Yeah. There’s no turning back.
Jay Ruderman: Wow.
Becky Margiotta: And it was very difficult. I actually went to therapy to, because it was such a difficult emotional process for me because that had been my family. That had been my only thing I had known since turning 18 and leaving my family, until 30. And I, I felt like I was abandoning, in some ways like my grownup family, um, and that it was wrong to quit. So I, I needed to work through that, but I did.
Jay Ruderman: I can imagine what a difficult experience that was. Do you think that that was the beginning of your development into an activist?
Becky Margiotta: I wouldn’t say it comes naturally to me. I feel like I’m much more the community builder aspect of activism, activism versus the kind of the fighting and the part of activism.
And so, I got very involved with my wife here in our local community, in 2020 when George Floyd was murdered by the police to support the Black Lives Matter ethos. It’s not a Black Lives Matter chapter, but it does come naturally to my wife. It does not come as naturally to me. I’m, I think I’m more behind the scenes, build the connective tissue and bonds so that people are willing to do those things versus being out in, in the front of any of that.
Jay Ruderman: Right. Well, it takes all kinds.
News Clip of Anderson Cooper:
Giving apartments to homeless people who’ve been on the street for years, before they’ve received treatment for drug or alcohol problems, or mental illness may not sound like a wise idea. But that’s what’s being done in cities across America in an approach that targets those who’ve been homeless the longest and are believed to be at greatest risk of dying, especially with all this cold weather. They’re people who once might have been viewed as unreachable, but cities and counties affiliated with a movement known as the 100,000 homes campaign have so far managed to get 80,000 of them off the streets.
Jay Ruderman: I want to talk about homelessness because you had a lot of success, in the hundred thousand homes campaign. And it’d be great if you could talk us through that and, and, you know, what were you doing and how were you able to take homeless people off the street, and get them permanently housed? Not just in New York, but in 186 cities across America.
Becky Margiotta: Yeah. When Roseanne Haggerty hired me, my job was to reduce street homelessness by two thirds in three years in Times Square. And there were 30 other non-profit organizations who served the homeless population of that area in, in one way or another. But none of them had, as their charter or their purpose to resolve people’s homelessness.
It was more palliative care, to make it more comfortable to give them socks or services or try to get them into a shelter. And there was just, just once this group of people on the streets who didn’t want any of that. And, and I was just learning. I was just outta the army. And so I was like, I went out with these 30 other organizations on street outreach and I’d watch them walk past somebody and just ignore them who was clearly, had been out there forever.
And I, and with a total beginner’s mind, I’d say, Hey, why’d you walk? Why’d, why’d you walk past that guy? Not critical or anything. And they’d say, ah, he doesn’t want anything. He’s been out here forever, you know? And they had just kind of given up on that person and what, what we found was, if we wanted to make any dent in street homelessness, we had to go right back to that person and say, I know you don’t want socks. I know you don’t want shelter. What do you want? And because my success is tied up in you getting off getting, getting a home or get, you know, or getting, not being here, you know? And, across the board, everybody that we went to with that humility and that curiosity was like, I want my own place to live.
And the truth of the matter is, the way that the system was set up then was if. if you wanted that you had to go through the formal shelter system of New York City. And, they didn’t wanna go to the shelter system. They had gotten beaten up, their stuff got stolen. There was a curfew. They couldn’t be with their lady friends. You know, they had reasons for not going into shelter, but that didn’t mean they didn’t want a home. And all we really did, although it took years, was basically find a way to do the exact same bureaucratic stuff that was done if you had gone into the shelter system with people who had opted out of the shelter system.
So that was the innovation, using motivational interviewing, using good street outreach tactics, and we were able to reduce this street homeless population by 87% in four years.
Jay Ruderman: Wow.
Becky Margiotta: And then other cities wanted to know how we did it. And so we came up with ways to kind of teach our techniques. Before you know it, there was maybe 20 cities around the country adapting our ways of doing street outreach and some of our tools and tactics. And then from there we said, well, what if we could do something even bigger? You know, what, if collectively we could all help a hundred thousand people move off the streets and into housing for good? We built this campaign with the first 20 cities from scratch of like, and, and it was like an us it was always an us. It was never, you know, me or Community Solutions. It was always an us.
Jay Ruderman: Right. So who is providing the housing? The municipalities are providing the homes. Is that, is that correct?
Becky Margiotta: Basically taxpayers. So as taxpayers, we are, funding a large number of subsidized housing options from public housing in, you know, those big high rises that you see in New York City to Section eight vouchers to all kinds of other specialized things like some just for veterans or things like that.
But they’re paid for by taxpayers, and there’s not enough. But, people who have been experiencing homelessness on the streets for a long time, a hundred percent eligible for those vouchers, exactly who those vouchers were designed for, quite frankly, but didn’t have the, probably the capability or the wherewithal or the knowledge to navigate these really complex bureaucracies, which by the way, to get in line for a housing voucher, you need an address.
You know, and so, right, like, so there’s all these incongruities built into the systems and structures. We just created a way for, to support people in navigating that despite not having an address or these other things. But these, these units exist and so they’re, they’re subsidized housing, they’re vouchers. Sometimes it’s a rite of passage where people, you know, turn a certain age and they go register for their subsidized housing and wait 15 years. And, and so there’s not enough, there’s structural major systemic problems, but they do exist and people for the most part ended up in, any old, you know, apartment where the landlord would accept section eight.
And then you bring in the social workers and help them get connected with the services that’ll help them resolve the issues that made them homeless in the first place. Besides the structural issues.
Jay Ruderman: That’s amazing.
Let me talk to you about the Billions Institute and, and maybe you could talk a little bit about how you went about founding it and what are you trying to do with this organization?
Becky Margiotta: Here’s the, the origin story of the Billions Institute is in the final weeks of the 100,000 Homes campaign. I got an email from the TED Prize people and they said, Becky, you’re a finalist for the TED Prize. And if you win, you’ll get a million dollars to make your wish for the world come true. We need you to submit 50 words or less. What’s your wish for the world? don’t put this all over social media, but by all means, call your friends and bounce the ideas off them and let us know your wish by next Tuesday. I was convinced this was a prank that my staff was pulling on me, that they were like it was a big, practical joke, but it turns out it was real.
So I called a couple of people, people I really trusted, and one of the people I called was Joe McCannon. Now, Joe McCannon had run the a hundred thousand Lives campaign for the Institute for Healthcarecare Improvement with Don Berwick, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And uh, he had mentored and coached me on how to design and lead the a hundred thousand homes campaign.
So we had been friends for five or six years and he was one of my first phone calls and I was like, Hey man, you know, I’m a finalist for this TED Prize and I know they’re gonna want me to do something kind of grandiose around homelessness, but I’m really feeling drawn to train people how to do large scale change more broadly on human trafficking, climate change, gun violence, whatever the case may be.
And Joe was like, yeah, they’re definitely gonna want you to do something on homelessness. And I was like, ah, okay. And so, he was like, well, I have some ideas. And I was like, well, what are your ideas? He goes, well, I want, I wanna make a country that solves some of the world’s biggest problems. And I’m like, that’s cool!
Jay Ruderman: Mm-hmm.
Becky Margiotta: So we both had this just really authentic conversation about our dreams and I wanted to train people how to do social change. He wanted to start a country and, and he helped me kind of craft something that would be acceptable to the TED Prize people that wasn’t either of our dreams really.
Jay Ruderman: Hmm.
Becky Margiotta: Fast forward.
I did not get the, the TED Prize, but literally the next day I called Joe and I said, Hey, I just don’t even really care about the TED Prize. Do you wanna go into business together? And he was like, I was thinking the same thing. And he had for years been kind of working on this idea of the Billions Institute large scale change.
And he said, my, my only criteria is it can’t just be any social change, it has to be large scale social change. And I was like, I’m in, let’s do this.
And so in 2015 we started that up and started training people. We did a lot of consulting at the time too. And, um, and he started up that country. So, um, and we’ve been busy ever since. I, I did buy him out a couple years subsequent to that in a very friendly way. We still talk on the phone like once a month, you know, um, like family, um, uh, cuz he want, he wanted to pursue other things more wholeheartedly.
He’s back in the government now working at, um, HHS at a real high level. But it was just really two friends saying like, I think we could make a difference here. You want to, you wanna go into business together? And I’m so grateful. It’s been seven years now. I mean, very few businesses, very few small businesses survived that long, especially through a global pandemic.
And I’m really lucky that I get to do what I do.
Jay Ruderman: Right. That’s awesome. That’s awesome.
So let me jump right in and talk about your book, which is having a big impact and, it is called Impact With Integrity, how to Repair the World without Breaking Yourself. What I took away from the book is that if you’re seeking to, be involved in social change and, and, and be a good leader, you really have to do the inner work.
Becky Margiotta: Yes. Well, a hundred percent, that’s what the book is about, and it’s through both my own lived experience as leading a large scale change initiative, the 100,000 Homes campaign. The problem was never the strategy or the tactics or lack of resources. I mean, certainly those were problems, but the real problem underneath it was my own limitations as a leader.
When I would get stuck and have inner work to do as a leader, that would actually hold back the whole effort and the whole campaign.
But then in the Billions Institute, as I’ve been training and coaching thousands of people who are trying to lead large scale social change in the world, I’ve seen the same thing in them. They’ve got great strategies, they’ve got plenty of resources, they get in their own way from limiting beliefs, imposter syndrome, inner work that needs to be done, not knowing how to make clear agreements, not knowing what they really want, not be knowing how to ask for that, not knowing what their genius is.
All these things that I talk about in the book are the same things that I’ve seen so many leaders be held back and with a little bit of help and tweaking in that the difference is completely different out in the world.
Jay Ruderman: So essentially people have a good idea and they’re moving forward, but there’s something that’s hindering them and they don’t quite get it. So when you approach someone, how do you do this in a way that doesn’t immediately turn them off, but says, aha, yes, I should be, you know, maybe paying attention to the way I’m thinking about things and I’m operating.
Becky Margiotta: Well, if someone comes to me for coaching, they came to me so I don’t have to worry about turning ’em off in that case. But in our trainings, we’ve been training people since 2015, thousands of people from all over the world on how to design and lead large scale change. And I found I kind of have to sneak it in at the end, that I have to spend a couple of days building rapport with people that yes, we’re gonna take care of the strategy, yes, we’re gonna take care of the tactics.
You’re gonna lead here with like a good offense and a good defense, and really having a good plan in place. And then I kind of sneak in at the end, by the way, the thing that’s gonna make this not work might be you. And I find by that point people are more warmed up to that possibility. But we used to do it at the very beginning and it was really hard for people to start with that. So it does require some gentle introduction.
Jay Ruderman: And maybe you could talk about some of your own experiences. What were your own epiphanies that you’re like, oh, you know, I’m out there working and I’m trying to change the world and I’m, I’m having some success, but I think there’s something that I could work on.
Becky Margiotta: Most clear in my mind is when I was the director of the 100,000 Homes campaign. There were all kinds of things going on behind the scenes that weren’t known or public necessarily, but that really stressed me out and really kept me awake at night or things I would come home from work and wanna process with my partner of like, of like I don’t know what to do about this situation. And the type of concrete things they were, having really prominent leaders in our sector criticize our work. And I took it personally for weeks I would be like, I can’t believe they said that, and be really upset or having people actively try to undermine our work. and then trying to figure out like how to cut ’em off at the pass or like how to out-maneuver them and it was just wasted energy or, and then even within my own organization, I worked for this amazing, amazing, brilliant person, but I had my own issues to work through as a follower in that case, not just as a leader within, being afraid that, you know, I wouldn’t get credit for what I was doing or being afraid that I would get scapegoated if the program didn’t succeed.
And the energy that I spent trying to manage my own inner dialogue and monologue around these things that somebody else might not worry about at all. For example, those just happened to be the things that I was worried about, every – minute that I spent kind of trying to figure out how to be sort of safe and secure and get approval needs met in that context was a minute that I wasn’t spending actually trying to solve homelessness.
And, and the goal for me is that we’re all human. We’re all gonna bring our humanity and our our other needs, in addition to making a dent in the universe to the work that we do. But, but my hope is that instead of that taking all of your mental bandwidth for two weeks or two days or two hours, that it could take 20 minutes. Two minutes.
Jay Ruderman: So is this just human nature? I mean, is this, um, In the world of nonprofit, which is a little bit surprising, but I suppose it’s in any industry that there’s this all this, competition or perceived competition and that people get all worked up about it. Do you find that to be true? And, and how did you actually come to the epiphany that like, Hey, there’s a way to get around this.
Becky Margiotta: Yeah, so I think the nonprofit sector is competitive. There are scarce resources and, and hierarchies. And so all of those things can tend to, um, not always bring out the best in folks. Ideally, and, and it certainly happens that, organizations who are within a field can delineate their own areas of responsibility and be complimentary to one another and, not compete, but sometimes just, the same way in a for-profit, there’s competition for grants, competition for resources to be able to do things in the way that you think is the right way to do things.
And so, so that’s real. in terms of how I reckoned with that. First of all, I, I learned so much from, from my boss, from Rosanne Heggerty. We learned and grew together and she mentored and, and taught me a lot. The second is I learned a lot from Dr. Kathleen Hendrix, who wrote the forward to my book, and I did a, a two year apprenticeship with her, that was really life-changing in terms of being able to have these skills of, body intelligence, humility, curiosity facing what’s really happening, taking responsibility, taking a hundred percent responsibility for all my choices and actions, making clear agreements. So I was in this almost like cauldron of, in this apprenticeship, this two year cauldron where everyone else who was participating in this was also practicing developing those skills.
Jay Ruderman: I saw a video of you, in a class that was being given at Stanford University, and you did something really powerful, which you exhibited, a technique that you call blurt, breathe and move. Can you talk about that technique?
Becky Margiotta: Yeah, I just kind of made that up. Certainly inspired by my apprenticeship with Katie Hendrix. When I do executive coaching with folks, sometimes I start to notice that they’re kind of going around and not getting to, to really to the crux of whatever it is that’s keeping them up at night. And, and because we have so much socialization to package things and be professional and be deferential in some cases and all these things, so what I’ll do is I’ll say, hey, listen, let’s just be un enlight.
Let’s just be inappropriate. Let’s just use language we’re not supposed to use, let’s do what we gotta do. I’m gonna set the timer for two minutes and then you just stream of consciousness, whatever you’ve been wanting to say, just express. It’s almost like starting to unclog the pipes so that the expression can happen.
And if people are willing to do that, when I’m coaching them, I’m able to more accurately discern or start to tease out or detect the underlying emotion and the underlying unconscious commitment of what’s actually happening there in the blurting. But if I’m not there coaching you, that can surface for you even like, oh, I didn’t realize how upset I was, or I didn’t realize how sad I was, or I didn’t realize how scared I was.
So that’s what that blurt piece is. And then the idea is the answer isn’t necessarily something rational or thoughtful, right? We can continue down that rabbit hole forever. But really the answer is in returning our own physiology back to a state of where our parasympathetic nervous system is working again.
So the breathing and the belly breathing, and then for two minutes, which I also do with my coaching clients, is say if I sense that they’re starting to spiral in some way, I’ll say, Hey, why don’t we set a timer for a minute and just breathe together? And it always just helps. The conversation after that is always better.
And then getting up and moving, which activates all kinds of other parts of our brain when literally we’re moving our body, especially if we move our bodies in ways that aren’t habitual for us. That starts to kind of dial in something on an embodiment level and then, okay, fresh playing field. Now let’s reconnect and go from there. And I found it to be really transformative for myself and and so many people.
Jay Ruderman: I think it’s so important. And I think what really resonated is I’m going through the same thing. You know, I just finished writing a book and I’m always like, you know, oh, who’s gonna read this book? I have no idea who’s gonna read this book. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. You don’t know what, what impact the book’s gonna have. I mean, the book could have an impact after you’re gone. It’s just your intuition into people who are just sort of like going full steam ahead, was really, really, I think, powerful and important. And I would encourage people to pick up the book and to read it because there’s so many insights that you have through your life experience that I think people can, can gain from.
Becky Margiotta: Thank you Jay. That is my intention for the book is whoever is meant to read it and whoever it’s meant to help that they find each other and so far, so good.
Jay Ruderman: So, Becky, I’m wondering if you could tell us what you mean by the drama triangle: Villain, victim and hero. And, and what does that mean?
Becky Margiotta: Essentially this comes from the field of transactional analysis that in any human drama for it to be, even to be good television, there has to be, a villain who’s perpetrating, you know, some harm or some evil, a victim who’s just at the effect of, the villain, and then a hero who comes in to save the day.
And the gist of this is, as you and I go about our day-to-day, when we’re in our essence, when we’re in our parasympathetic nervous system, when we’re not activated or triggered in some way, that’s good. We have full access to our creativity, our ability to form authentic connections, our wellbeing and our wellness. But invariably, one time a day, ten times a day, a hundred times a day, something happens that disturbs our nervous system, that kind of a glitch in the matrix. Like this is not how it’s supposed to be. And at that moment we’re in a, a very concrete choice point to say, oh, I didn’t, that wasn’t what I wanted.
Or that wasn’t what, I, I didn’t anticipate that. Or now I feel scared to kind of come back to ourselves and be present and be like, almost like a, I dunno if you’ve ever seen like a dog walk into a glass door?
Jay Ruderman: Yeah.
Becky Margiotta: And then they just, they just, it’s shocking to them and they just go and they shake it off and then they’re fine. But for me, when I have a kind of a psychological equivalent of bumping into a glass door, I don’t always shake it off as easily and well, as a dog would. I hold onto it in some way. And when I hold onto it, that activates the drama triangle. And I go either into the hero to try to make everything okay and be comfortable, or the villain of like, whose fault is this?
You know, who’s, it’s, or, and you can be a self villain too of like, oh my gosh, I’m terrible and unworthy of things. Or the victim of, I can’t believe I was just innocently walking down the hall and this glass door was in my face. And so, and why has this always happened to me? And when we go into that mindset, that state of being, we lose access to our creativity and our ability to form authentic connections because when we’re committed to being in that drama triangle space, which does produce adrenaline. It has an immediate benefit for survival but it, it is completely detrimental to any sense of thriving. And certainly to being able to lead large scale change, but people can spend their whole careers on the drama triangle you know, and you’ll burn out.
Jay Ruderman: Oh sure. Right.
Jay Ruderman: And you talk about the reactive against the creative brain. And what does it mean, and how do you, how do you shift from a reactive brain to a creative brain?
Becky Margiotta: Our minds are just constantly in a state of trying to protect us, right?
They’re trying to keep us safe, they’re trying to help us survive. That’s what our brain does, but it’s not us, right? It’s not the core of who we are. It’s not our soul. It’s not our spirit. It’s just, it’s a part of our, part of us is just trying to keep us safe. And, when we run into something that disturbs us, if we hold onto that and like, that shouldn’t have happened, or, oh, now I’m really upset or whatever, that takes us into our reactive brain. The key to that is nothing good happens in our reactive brain that like, don’t try, don’t try to be creative.
Don’t try to solve the problem, that your only job then is to get back into your creative brain. Because when you’re in your creative brain, there’s no problems to be solved. There’s just possibilities and then you have choices, and agency. When you’re feeling scared to ask, what’s the perceived threat?
Like your body is telling you there’s a threat and just be like, okay, what’s the threat? You know, let’s, get curious about it, if you’re feeling sad to notice that and say, okay, what’s the loss? What have I lost? Let me take a moment and acknowledge that my body’s trying to tell me I’ve lost something. And if you’re feeling angry or mad or frustrated, that the question is, what am I getting that I don’t want? Or what am I not getting that I do want? And then, you know, maybe you’ll get it or maybe you won’t, but at least you can know, right? Like, okay, this is what’s going on. So there’s something about just slowing down and listening to what our emotions are trying to tell us, asking ourselves good questions as those make themselves known.
And then getting back into that creative space of like, oh gosh, I was just feeling really angry for a minute there. And like, I realize I’m getting something I don’t want and I can do something about it. I can choose to do something about it, right? I think that’s the game. That’s the game of life. And, and I fail at it daily. You know, I stub my toe and I, and I’m mad for 10 minutes, you know? Although some people would say you’re mad and then you stub your toe.
Jay Ruderman: Right, right.
Becky Margiotta: Yeah.
Jay Ruderman: You talk about toxic organizational dynamics. I’m wondering if you could define that. How do you address that?
Becky Margiotta: Yeah. We have an assessment, a self-assessment on that in the book, and so. This came out of our trainings with the Billions Institute. My co-founder Joe McCannon and I wrote an article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review called Inside the Command Center. And it’s just about contrasting what a really thriving, successful, large scale change organization team looks like and feels like on a day-to-day basis versus one that’s not doing very well.
And we articulated some really specific ways of being as a, as a team. And we used to teach those in our school, in our trainings, and have teams do some reflection on do we have any of these kind of toxic dynamics or which of these more, more freeing dynamics would, would, would more suit us in our large-scale change endeavors?
And we used to teach that until I read Tema Okun’s article on white supremacy culture. And Tema had worked for decades in the southeast of the United States primarily within organizations on anti-racism. And she saw some particular dynamics again and again and again, and she was like, wow, I know this is actually something I know something about.
And I can trace the roots of this to white supremacy culture. And, Jay, even though Joe and I didn’t even know about Tema’s work, I would say there’s about 75% overlap between what Joe and I saw and what Tema was naming. And it’s things like perfectionism, paternalism, fear of open conflict, transactional goals, transactional relationships, you know, right to comfort, things like that. And she just names it. And so in the book one of the things that I think is really important for people who are leading really any organization is you’ve got to assume that if any dysfunctions of the broader culture are going to infiltrate your organization, it would just be unrealistic to think your organization’s gonna be like, miraculously free of any of the kind of broader ills that are part of a, a broader society.
But then you can face into it and then you, you can do something about it. As James Baldwin says, you know, nothing, nothing can be changed until you face into it, at least. You’ve got to at the very least do that. And we’ve found in our trainings that, and I’m not by any means an expert in diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, belonging, and any of those things. I just think it’s so essential. Um, we’ve yet to find a single team that does not have 2, 3, 4, 5 of those toxic elements front and center. Regardless of the, the racial or ethnic or gender composition of the teams, we’ve yet to find a team that’s not like, oh my God, we totally do this. And that’s the thing that’s gonna keep you from really being able to unleash one another is these, really dysfunctional ways of being.
Jay Ruderman: I feel like in my work, I, I feel a lot of what I’m going through is very transactional. And what I’m looking for is love and connection. I’m in this business to try to make the world a better place. I’ve dedicated my life to it. I wanna meet other good people who are, you know, doing that. But I find too much of my time is dealing with people who are very transactional. And I, it’s okay to have goals and, and, and to say, listen, I, I, I want to get to here, but is there a way to get beyond that?
Becky Margiotta: Ooh, yes. Oh, this is like the, the questions that light me up. Yes. So what, what I’m, I’m hearing you say that you’re year, you’re yearning for more meaningful and authentic relationships
Jay Ruderman: Exactly.
Becky Margiotta: Even as expressed in your work in creativity for there to be a base note of love, um, and for, transformational relationships or, you know, some other way of relating. And so, yes, I think that can totally change. not knowing all the details of, of your situation, I mean, for you just to decide that, that that’s how you’re gonna roll, that you’re gonna roll transformational, you know, like, I have Jay and I am a transformational change leader, and that this is what this looks like and this is what, these are the, this is the price of admission to be in my, in my circle.
That may mean that some of the relationships around you shift, and that could be really uncomfortable, but, a hundred percent, a hundred percent that you, you, I believe that you deciding I’m not playing transactional anymore. I have a no to these things. You know, what are your no’s to, and I have a yes to this way of being, that you could do that and, and I’d be so excited for you.
Jay Ruderman: That’s amazing. Thank you.
Becky you had such a, or you have such a meaningful life and you’ve, you know, influenced so many people. I wanna urge you know, my listeners to first of all pick up your book, Impact with Integrity: Repair the World Without Breaking Yourself, and to listen to, uh, Becky’s podcast, uh, unleashing Social Change podcast, and check out The Billions Institute.
You’re involved in so many things and you’re really impacting so many people in this world. It’s been such a pleasure to speak to you. I’m honored to have you as a guest on All About Change. So thank you so much.
Becky Margiotta: Thank you, Jay. The honor’s all mine.
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