Change diversity Leadership

Leadership in a Time of Incivility

Watching the service for John Lewis got me thinking. About civil rights, about politics, about funerals, and mostly about civility.

That’s something we have lost in our country.

Not only civility, even more, but we have also lost the dream of the United States. Why are we so fragmented today? Why are so many people angry and taking sides without asking questions? How have we gotten so far from the dream of the shining land on the top of a hill?

While there are many issues to deal with the main one is leadership.

I have dedicated many years to study, research, and work with leaders from Fortune 100 companies to start-ups. What I see that has changed in recent years is the compartmentalization that is, in a sense, killing us.

We have stopped thinking about the system, the way we are all connected.

Everyone seems so overwhelmed, on the downward route to burn out. It’s not just the virus or Black lives Matter. Yes, they are vital factors in the equation leading to our national despair. It’s more. And this is where leadership is lacking.

It’s the way we are talking AT rather than TO each other; fanning the flames of hatred, the game of gotcha.

Listening to the family, friends, and colleagues of John Lewis made me yearn for what is missing.

We are so uncivil.

Someone recently questioned on my Facebook group for women leaders about the uninvited militia in Portland and wanted to know why this is necessary. The response was “If you don’t like us protecting our federal buildings then, GTFO”.

How have we become so crass? So crude? So, yes, to me, so uncivilized.

At the service for John Lewis in the Rotunda of the Capitol building Nancy Pelosi spoke quietly and then let Congressman Lewis’ words speak.

It was at that moment my sadness went deep.

The recording of one of his speeches was eloquent and elegant. He chided people to think better thoughts, to dream bigger dreams. Many at the service had on masks that said, “Good trouble.” It was a reminder that as a young black man in the South his parents told him to “stay out of trouble.” He saw the wrongs and was willing to put his life on the line. He survived to keep fighting, what he called “Good Trouble.”

We need more leaders to come forward and model what John Lewis taught.

He would never say to someone who disagreed, “then GTFO.”

This post is dedicated to a man I never knew, just knew about.

Change diversity Growth Gutsy Leadership

Can You Remember?

Can you remember the first time words were thrown your way that would bite and sting? 

Was it the color of your skin, the shape of your eyes? Perhaps you had a “funny accent” that someone imitated and you stopped talking. 

Did you live on the “other” side of town, or wear out-of-style, hand-me-down clothes? 

Did you go to the “wrong” church? 

Were you too fat, thin, tall, or short?  

Can you remember….. 

Here is a story from one of my clients when we did the “Can You Remember” exercise in our diversity program “Connections: Results Through Relationships”  for her company. 

Anita, a well-respected corporate lawyer squirmed in her chair as we began to look back at the slings and arrows that so many of us had to endure as children, and sadly, still do to this day. 

 She was just turning four, playing with her next-door neighbor in the yard. She ran into the house to tell her mother she needed a bath. It was the middle of the afternoon and her mother said “Honey, you were just playing outside for ten minutes; you are clean and fine.” 

“No,” Anita insisted. “Mary told me to go home and wash my body cause I’m dirty. I need a bath right now!” 

 Her mother took a deep breath and began the first part of “the talk.” She told her daughter she was not dirty and that her skin was naturally that beautiful cocoa color. 

The little girl marched out to announce to her little friend that this was her skin color, only to come back crying. 

“Mary said she would not play with me until my skin was clean and white.” 

Anita looked around the room. Some of her colleagues expressed anger at the unfairness. Others were simply sad at the state of the world. And there were those who looked down, deep in their own thoughts. 

Anita took a long breath bringing herself back into the present time. “You know that rhyme ‘Sticks and stones can break your bones, but names can never hurt you?’ Of course, it’s not true. One word, one snide smile can bring back all those dreaded childhood memories. 

She looked around at her colleagues, these co-workers with whom she shared so much of her days. 

“What do you do,” she asked “when someone at work says something unfair or unkind to you, or even worse, behind your back just loud enough for you to hear? Do you shut down and walk away; retort and play the gotcha game; complain to human resources? 

“I am so tired of all the legal work I have to do around this still unsettled area of diversity. I am yearning for change and yet..” her voice trailed off.

The workplace should be a major force for the long term, positive change.  It begins by creating a place where there is enough psychological safety for teams to gather and hear each other’s stories about “Can you remember?” (excerpt from UNIQUE: How Story Sparks Diversity, Inclusion, and Engagement”) 

We need programs that will go upriver to find the multiple sources of the toxins that cause so much division in our human family. 

It can be done and this time in our world development is demanding change. 

The mandate of today’s workplace is about more than just the bottom line. It’s a place where real change can be fostered and where people flourish. The paradox is, that when people thrive and care about each other, the bottom line will also show the benefits. 

I would love to hear your story about “Can YOU Remember?” If you like, It could be included in my next book “UNIQUE and CONNECTED.”