The first part of this post ended on the topic of our interactions with people and how they can leave an unforgettable impression, good or bad. Wait, isn’t this about leadership?
How we show up right now—and always—offers an incredible opportunity to bring out the best in each of us, which is very much needed. I started writing this post through a workplace lens. Then I turned the TV on and witnessed George Floyd’s killing and what ensued. This grisly milestone is forcing overdue conversations and appears to have mobilized enough people to induce change.
While I continue to value the meaning of work, there is a broader need, and I ask that you bear with me as I expand the leadership conversation to a wider context because this is where we are at.
When referencing leadership, it is leadership along the lines of how Brené Brown defines it: “A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential.” That means each of us is a potential leader. Contrary to what some believe, leadership is not a status bestowed upon a chosen few.
In other words, I am talking to you.
Is leadership a concept that applies only to the workplace? Hell no! And, by the way, the idea that we can maintain a work persona and a home persona is not only foolish, it is unrealistic and at the root of today’s level of disengagement toward work. We are who we are and our wholesome selves should be welcome wherever we go. Granted, there are terms of engagement applying to different settings, but who we are is who we are, and, as stated by Brené Brown, who we are is how we lead.
Why am I focusing on leadership? Because we are going through incredible turmoil, the kind that needs inspiring, thoughtful responses and people willing to step up to the plate. We need to do so with an open heart, the willingness to listen to each other and the fortitude to commit to showing up at our best at work, at home, in our communities. This implies leadership and it starts with self-leadership, which relies on self-awareness and self-love, because we cannot help others without first taking care of ourselves. I call this the leadership paradox.
When finding our way forward, it will serve us well to be mindful of all aspects of our current collective experiences. We are dealing with deeply established systems that create dominant cultures in ways that leave many behind, sometimes in unbearable situations. These systems include patriarchy and heterosexism, capitalism, Christian hegemonism, imperialism and of course white supremacy.
The recent events are highlighting the need for change, and not knowing how to activate these changes should not prevent us from accepting this reality.
Drawing most of my attention right now are the prevalent command-and-control systems that dominated organizations during the age of mass production, which have been exposing their limitations for many years, resulting in alarming levels of disengagement. Those limitations are now magnified because employers’ responses to the impact of the pandemic are exposing the core of organizational cultures and where people fit.
Also, the time has come for white people to be willing to accept that many of society’s institutionalized ways have created horrible realities for our non-white friends. Pretending it’s not happening is not an option—it costs lives. While I am not sure how to do this, what I know for sure is that we must acknowledge the problem and definitely state that what has been happening is not okay. Simply not okay.
“Graphic 2 from “A Guide to White Privilege,” a graphic series created by Courtney Ahn Design | February 26, 2020, Instagram.” https://www.instagram.com/p/B9DfahhBChU/
This is where we are at peeps.
When facing the enormity of the tasks that lie ahead, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and stuck. Now is a good time to remember the Chinese proverb that a journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step, and my suggestion is that we start by remembering the fundamental needs of all human beings.
Neurological research has demonstrated that our need to connect with each other is as fundamental as our need for food and water. Therefore, leadership and relationships that do not account for this are bound to fail. If I were to distill the essence of (workplace) relationships and connections that create magic in terms of outcomes, I would end up with potent authenticity, empathy, compassion, kindness, and love.
Say what? Yes, words like love, empathy, kindness, and compassion belong in all aspects of our lives, including at work. They are the basis of all interactions and fostering them will carve a path forward in a manner that will serve the greater good—something we should all hold as a driver of our decision-making processes.
It is true that we are in this together, experiencing a succession of terrible storms, but we must be willing to acknowledge that we are not all in the same boat. Some of us are in a luxurious yacht while others are on a rickety raft. Let’s not make any assumptions about what might be going on for our colleagues, employees, friends, or loved ones. Let’s be humble and strive to be acutely aware of what is happening around us.
At work, at home, and in in our communities, our willingness to engage in conversations that feel risky and uncertain and our willingness to show our emotions and to hear about others’ emotions without judgment will pave the way to real conversations, the kind that make the impossible possible. We must share our vulnerabilities, and as much as it will likely be uncomfortable at times, our ability to sit in this “messy middle” is the steppingstone of a better way forward, professionally and personally.
So, how do we move forward?
This is not a 100-meter dash. We are in a series of back-to-back marathons. Pace yourself.
Take care of yourself
Make self-care and self-compassion the top of your agenda. I don’t mean be selfish. I mean make sure you attend to your own needs so that you can show up at your best in your interactions with others.
This is especially important if you are in a position of authority. Listen, hear, don’t defend yourself, let other people’s truth come out, and let them know that they are heard.
Moving forward in a positive manner will rely heavily on our respective abilities to hold difficult conversations with an open heart and an open mind. What I can promise you is that there will be mistakes, missteps, and moments of embarrassment. So be it. Accept that this will happen, when you stumble, get back up and move on.
If by nature you are a person who works best when keeping your eye on the finish line, perhaps you don’t have a clear sight of it right now. Here’s a thought—: think about creating the kind of world you wish to leave for your grandkids.
Be the change.
I would love to discuss how I can support you on this journey. Drop me a line and let’s connect.