146: Leaders with Heart Recognize and Unleash the Greatness in Everyone

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In this Leadership with Heart episode, Heather interviews a seasoned leader, Barbara Medina. Dr. Medina was recommended to be on the show by one of the many caring leaders that she helped develop during her time in the Colorado Department of Education as Assistant Commissioner

Caring leadership techniques were ingrained in Barbara from childhood, when she was growing up on the family farm. There, she learned the importance of collaboration, mutual benefit, service and mission. Even the littlest one makes a contribution on the farm, and this is true in organizations as well. Barbara took her natural foundation in leadership to great heights in Colorado government advocating for ESL students and helping develop many caring leaders along the way (who hopefully will be joining Heather on future episodes!). 

Key Takeaways:

  • Everybody has something to provide the organization. Leaders have to help them see this even if they haven’t already. 
  • “I need you to be brilliant, I need you to be bold, but I need you to be brief” also be balanced. 
  • Invest your energy where you can make the biggest difference. 
  • Recognize what people bring to the table, before you invite them to lead with you. Think of it like a party invitation. 
  • Obligation to do your best work will drive you and feed your souls, and you can’t do anything better with your time.
  • Leaders, be gentle and practice good compassion with yourself. 

Barbara Medina’s Full Bio

Dr. Barbara M. Medina has served K-12 students and educators throughout her career. She holds a doctorate in Educational Policy from the University of Colorado, Boulder. 

From her first position as a educator serving students in a rural migrant summer program to her leadership at the Colorado Department of Education as Assistant Commissioner she has been actively involved at the district, state and national levels in the areas of language and literacy for diverse populations, cultural and linguistic diversity, qualitative research methods, and school reform. 

Grounded in K-12 practice, Dr. Medina began her career as a social studies classroom teacher she served as Coordinator of Secondary Second Language Programs in Boulder Valley Schools.  As Professor and Chair of the Department of Teacher Education at Adams State University, Alamosa, Colorado, she accessed federal grants to serve rural districts through graduate programs in Literacy, Special Education, and English Language Development. In 2006 Dr. Medina was appointed as Director of the Office of Language, Culture, and Equity at the Colorado Department of Education. 

Dr. Medina’s most recent administrative position was as Director of English Language Acquisition, Denver Public Schools. Dr. Medina worked to re-negotiate the modified consent decree with the Office of Civil Rights.  In the spring of 2013, Dr. Medina began work as an Educational Consultant. Her consulting is known as 3milagrosconsulting, appointed as an adjunct faculty she has worked with the University of Denver, University of Colorado at Boulder, Regis University, Aurora Public Schools, DELTA schools a charter school incubator firm.  Beginning in 2013 to the present she consults with IMEC, the Interstate Migrant Education Council on issues and policy development for Migrant students on several projects including reauthorization of ESEA and “Promising Practices in Migrant Education”.  She is also currently affiliated with MPI, (Migration Policy Institute, Washington DC) as an MPI Associate on migration policy issues, the education of immigrant and refugee students, teacher professional development for students learning English as a second Language.

Dr. Medina has served on several boards including CASE (Colorado Association of School Executives and Education Specialists), Diversity and CAES, CABE (Colorado Association of Bilingual Education).  Dr. Medina recently completed two terms on the City of Denver’s Denver Human Rights Council, Appointed by Denver Mayor’s Hickenlooper and Hancock to the Latino Commission..

Collaborative Contributions

My parents and grandparents were great examples of service and collaboration. Being first generation on one side, it gives you a hunger. Your parents sacrificed so much for a better life for you, to make sure you had a better chance. So, you honor that sacrifice and you’re always reminded of what obstacles they faced. They teach you about collaboration and service in many spoken and unspoken ways. You have to work together. In my environment, everyone works. Even the littlest one makes a contribution.

You have to recognize what people bring to the table before you can help lead them to serve with you. - Barbara Medina #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Brilliant, Bold, and Brief

You always have to be really clear about mission and your vision, and they have to be shared.

I was working with young people as a teacher, realizing that not everybody had the same start place, so I kept on trying to create opportunities so they could improve. At the back of my mind I was always about making sure that the children I taught had the same opportunities and the same access I did.


I served as an Assistant Commissioner at the Colorado Department of Education and I was the first Latina to be in that role in an appointed position and to last six and a half years.

I just didn’t want to be the last person to have those opportunities. When you have an appointed position, you have a very short period of time. When you have that pen in hand, you have to be very directive, but you also have to be really clear that you have a short mission politics comes and goes. Power changes can change swiftly and so you’re in a leadership position, you better write it and you better write that well. I used to tell my team, “I need you to be brilliant. I need you to be bold, but I need you to be brief.”

You have an obligation to do your best work. - Barbara Medina #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet Every person has something to bring to the organization and you have to help them see that. - Barbara Medina #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Best self, Best work

When you meet people, you have to invest your energy in them as well. You have to help them see past what they’re currently doing, to see what they were, and how they can make the biggest difference. All you push for every day is where can we make the biggest difference, where can we have leverage.

You have to recognize what people bring to the table before you can help lead them to serve with you. It’s like an invitation to a party where you say, We’re going to do some amazing things together. I can’t do it by myself and I need you to be your best self. You have an obligation to do your best work, and you keep that in front of you.” That’s going to drive you and feed your soul because you know it’s meaningful work. We make our worst decisions and we treat people the most off-considerate when we’re overtired, not rested, too caffeinated, or when we hadn’t set our own balance around us and we are not centered. So you have to really guard.  You have to really protect a part of yourself that keeps you whole and healthy mentally and physically because it’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint. When you do make mistakes, you have to own them and you have to apologize, which is for them.

We have to start with leading ourselves. You can't lead anybody else or an organization unless you can lead yourself. - Barbara Medina #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet I would just ask leaders to be really gentle with themselves and to practice good compassion for themselves. - Barbara Medina #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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