Every once in a while, a set of events line up and become a catalyst for change. Some of us are blindsided and harshly jostled into reality, and some of us willfully stay blind, refusing to believe the game board has shifted, and that there are new rules to learn. Others fear the changes will be no more than a blip before fading into memory, ignored beneath the sands of time.
My advice is to roll up your sleeves, get into the game, and catch up. There is much to do; minimize the physical and fiscal harm caused by a painful pandemic, curb global pollution, uproot the seedlings of authoritarianism, rein in police brutality. These and countless other challenges, problems, and sins of modern society are clamoring for attention this year. Let’s also definitively acknowledge racism. It is the fool who thinks it no longer exists in the United States and beyond. People roll their eyes and moan, “Why does it always have to be about race?” To which I submit, when is it not? To defeat the ongoing scourge of prejudice, we cannot pretend it doesn’t exist when it inhabits the corners in multiple facets of our society.
The role of my leadership development and accountability firm is to challenge, disrupt, and dramatically reduce the influence of lousy leaders. We know we will never eradicate lousy leadership, it’s too vast. Yet we can, with effort, education, and practice, reduce it to such an infinitesimal size that it becomes the exception, not the norm. So too, with the insidiousness of racism. Not all lousy leaders are racist, but all racists, by definition, are lousy leaders. Rather than getting defensive or haughty about it, instead of abruptly absolving yourself of bias, perhaps inquire to what degree are you prejudiced? This diagram will help you reflect on where you stand.
Racism is the nomenclature we use to disguise the absence of valuing people who appear different from us.
I believe the nation would benefit from a period of truth and reconciliation, attempt restorative justice, and begin treating old afflictions and open wounds so we can start healing. Being America, we may be doing that now in our uniquely messy fashion. Perhaps the prevalence of cellphone and surveillance videos capturing the physical and verbal abuse many of our neighbors must endure daily forces the country to confront the abject brokenness of our systems. While it is imperfect and lacks the elegance and legality of a formal commission, it provides a preponderance of the evidence that citizens of our nation and the world can view and judge. It could be claimed that these images often do not capture the full story or the motivations behind each action. Likewise, it can be argued that the behaviors depicted are so heinous and abhorrent that they are inexcusable in present society.
None of this is going to be easy or comfortable for you. Nor will it likely reach a satisfying conclusion. That’s okay; it is still important work for those who care about aiding in the development of a “more perfect union.” People we thought we knew well are showing their true colors. Deflection is rampant, blood pressure rises, and pulses race. Ask yourself why? Are you threatened? Are you or your way of life endangered? Are you trying to tighten your grasp on traditions that are not surviving the modern era nor serving the greater good? Do you experience anger, ambivalence, or joy when the statue of a rebel falls, a citizen is shot, a peace officer ambushed? Do you care about humanity, democracy, liberty, and justice all the time, or only when it serves your cause?
We are all hypocrites at some point. The cure comes to those who admit it and then resist the urges going forward. Racists are shocked to find they are no longer welcome at places they used to roam free. Ignorance and hatred are being challenged daily instead of enjoying unfettered abuse and arrogance. People are understanding privilege is neither a slur nor a badge of honor; it is a condition one can leverage for good or ill, akin to blessings or gratitude for what you have and what you have achieved. To what end? To hoard with scarcity or share with abundance?
People, technology, and systems are bumping against each other like wildebeest migrating across the Serengeti. A mass of ideas and causes are chaotically heading in approximately the same direction in search of nourishing pastures, with every stretch of the perilous journey lined with threats. Unsurprisingly to those familiar with my philosophy, I believe the way forward begins with better leadership. It is time to examine your leadership and the role you want to play in these unusual times. You can be fearful, defensive, and worried about tomorrow, or you can be courageous, heroic, and do something positive to help influence the future. Do not let others decide for you. It is your choice. Leadership is not granted; it is taken by those who see a void and endeavor to fill it. If you choose to step forward and lead, and I hope you do, you are not alone.