Leaders: Mind your say-do gap

/ Christine Andrukonis

A special message from our Founder, Christine Andrukonis…

The worldwide response to the unnecessary death of George Floyd, a Black man who died at the hands of police in Minneapolis last week, has prompted companies to think critically about how they are addressing racism within their organizations. At our own firm, we are committed to challenging our biases, accepting responsibility for our privilege, and digging in to create a better tomorrow. We stand in solidarity with those calling for justice and reform, and we know that this is just the start of a long, challenging journey.

Leaders of change across all industries must shift their behaviors. It’s hard work—but it’s necessary. Change doesn’t come easy, but leaders should take pivotal, actionable steps to guide their organizations. It starts with you.

Here are three things that any leader MUST DO to truly drive change:

1. Have a healthy and humble sense of self. 

Before we can advise our teams, we must get real with ourselves. We must read about others’ experiences and listen to advice from the experts. We must be open to having difficult conversations with trusted mentors, colleagues, friends, and family members about their own experiences, and be open to the idea that we all have our own biases. It may be scary to hear their truth, but without it, we cannot move forward as leaders. Also, we must spend time alone considering how we feel and respond when it comes to racism, and how we might be contributing to systemic racism without even realizing it. These moments can generate deep insights into potential blind spots and innate privileges we may not be aware of yet.

2. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Repeat after me: it isn’t bad to be uncomfortable. It’s those moments where we feel uneasy and uncertain that can teach us the most about ourselves. On the whole, many of us in corporate leadership positions have not been confident talking about racism and driving fundamental change. But, as with anything worthwhile, taking the risk to open the dialogue and potentially make a mistake is the only way to shift ideologies. It’s okay to step up, speak out, and admit our imperfections. In fact, it makes us more empathetic, courageous leaders.

3. Bring the energy required for a long haul.

Racism is a systematic phenomenon that’s heavily ingrained into many global societies. In the United States, we still have a long way to go to provide equal opportunity to all. So if we are expecting an overnight transformation, we’ll be disappointed. It’s more important to take action now, follow through with discussions, revisit all of our norms and practices, and stay committed to the vision of change. It will be a strenuous fight. And it may feel as if we take one step forward, only to take two steps back. But, as leaders, we need to be unafraid of this convoluted journey—and we must stay the course.

Engaging our teams: These must-do’s are really big things, but nothing will happen unless we are prepared to take some immediate small steps. Here are 3 steps you as a leader can take NOW to start moving forward:

1. Invite your teams to read and reflect.

Just like your first step was addressing and acknowledging your own limitations, your staff should do the same. Part of this process can be reading and listening to words written by authors of color. (You can circulate a list like this one from Time.com that highlights the most influential reads.) Give everyone a week to explore and then hold a forum discussing what employees learned about their privilege and potential biases.

2. Expect them to act.

And by that, I mean encourage everyone to write down one thing they can start doing daily to address privilege and bias in their habits. Maybe it’s joining the NAACP or the Urban League and supporting their policy actions.  Maybe it’s changing the coffee shop they go to every morning from a chain to a minority-owned business. Perhaps it’s double-checking that all of their internal communications are truly inclusive of the voice and experiences of people of color. They can post this goal somewhere at their desk, so they are continuously reminded.

3. Close the loop.

It’s not enough to have one meeting, set some goals, and consider the task complete. Every month, regroup with team leaders and executives for updates on the progress of your initiatives. By circling back on the actions that drive growth and accountability, you can continuously identify more systemic ways to drive change—for yourself, your company, your community, and your clients.

Let’s keep the conversation going. We owe it to our organizations, and our society, to do so.

Categories: Communication, Leadership