It’s hard to believe we’re barely halfway through 2020 and have experienced so much turmoil. Continents on fire. Pandemics. Murder hornets. Protests to fight racism. Every single thing we’re experiencing is not only challenging in its own right, but the fact that these major events overlap can make it feel impossible to navigate. No matter how you respond, there will be backlash. That’s a sure thing. So, how do you know what’s the right thing to do to best serve your community, family, friends, constituents, and colleagues? How about the strangers who you’ve never met but are impacted?
As a leader, this is an incredible moment and opportunity to lean in, not second guess if you’re choosing the right words or actions to connect with your colleagues and loved ones. It’s easy to hesitate. It’s easy to wait to see how others take the lead and follow suit. It’s easy to hope things will blow over. But I believe more than ever that now is the time for all leaders to take risks, talk about what’s really going on, lead with courage, and inspire real change.
Leader to leader, I urge you to reconsider if you’re feeling hesitant.
And yes, I mean all leaders, starting with me.
The Importance of Using Our Voices
Although I’ve had my fair share of challenging experiences as an executive, I’ve often shied away from publicly sharing my thoughts and personal experiences regarding certain subjects. I was raised not to confront authority and to speak up only when asked, and it’s been a bad learned habit that’s certainly made me feel safe and secure all these years. But it’s a false sense of security that has left me feeling unsettled. I shouldn’t have accepted being content as a bystander when injustice was surrounding my “safe” little bubble. I should have been doing more, I just didn’t know how.
I knew the reality of this stance is what kept me playing small. I sat on the sidelines way too often and for too long. When it comes to addressing controversial subjects in the public spotlight, I find myself frozen in the “what if people don’t agree with me or think I’m wrong” mindset and I too often muzzle myself. But as I’ve watched the scenes unfold on the news each day, the protesters aching to find justice for so many in the Black community who had been wronged, I’ve realized the reluctance to use my voice in these times isn’t helping anyone, let alone myself and those I care about.
Why I Need to Use my Voice Now More Than Ever
As it relates to the current state of affairs with race relations, I’m in a unique situation where I have access to both worlds. I grew up with privilege as a white middle-class female. I married a Black middle-class man, and we’re now raising our two biracial children together in the suburbs of Boston. I live with the duality of both sides and have seen the double standards play out time and time again up close and very personal.
Last week, I had a conversation with my eight-year-old son about George Floyd and the ensuing protests. He knows enough of what’s going on, and this isn’t the first time we’ve had a conversation about racism or watched events like these on the news. During our discussion, he asked to watch the video. I didn’t feel like it was the right moment and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to expose him to any more violence, but this is the reality of our world today. I didn’t have a strong reason to not let him see it. Shielding him in this way just didn’t feel right.
As a mother of biracial children, I feel it’s my duty not to sugarcoat hate or the history and current state of racism. It’s the best way I know to educate and prepare my children to live in this world as able-minded adults and keep them safe. I choose to prepare them to protect them so they can handle whatever comes their way.
So, I let him see a few minutes of the video. After, he put my phone down and said, “Mom, this is scary. Are they going to kill me? I don’t want to die.”
Was I prepared for these words from my own flesh and blood? No. Would I rather have had my husband have been there for the conversation? Hell yes. But there I was in this tender moment alone with my son, so we had “the talk” (or my version of it anyway). While we’ve had conversations about racial discrimination many times in our family, somehow the gravity of this moment and hearing my son’s heartfelt pain was a real wake up call for me. It was a powerful moment.
Suddenly, I was thrust into the middle of the fight. I was no longer safely sitting on the sideline having an intellectual conversation about race. His innocent words reached a place down deep inside of me that ignited my heart, my soul, and my voice. It gave me the courage I needed to talk about it publicly now. Not tomorrow or the next day. Today.
He’s counting on me. How could I not do my part to make him feel safe?
No longer will I stand on the sidelines. I belong in this conversation. I can help. I can lead. While I nervously feel like maybe my experiences are not powerful enough or that I don’t have the right to speak out, I know these are my own insecurities and it can’t be about that. I have to rise up to this leadership challenge, take risks, be bold, and use my voice to help make the world a better place for others. I want it to be much easier when my son needs to have the conversation with his son decades from now. I have to do this.
Why Leaders Have to Be Courageous During Hard Times
It doesn’t take a genius to recognize this is a seminal moment for our country. Even if you aren’t directly impacted or didn’t have an experience similar to what I had with my son, you still have the power to make a difference. It’s a moment and opportunity for every person and every leader to play a role in shaping our future. Whether you’re leading a company, a community group, a small team, or your family unit, this leadership moment is real. The time is now to take a stand, speak your truth, and be the leader of the change you want to see in the world. Be on the right side of history.
The racial protests are today’s galvanizing moment for leaders all around the world. This is an incredible moment for all of us to dig deep and find courage to use our voices to create change and to improve the lives of others. It’s an opportunity to build this muscle to become a little more prepared, a little braver, and a little more resilient so we’re able to lead through the next big moment for the country, our communities, and our families.
It’s difficult to put yourself out there when many of us are not in a fully safe position to rock the boat. Because doing so could risk our relationships, our jobs, and our status in our families and communities. It’s uncomfortable. It could change how others view you. I get it. But at what cost?
As an experienced executive and leadership coach, I know to truly influence and make a powerful impact on others, it requires a sense of purpose, courage, authenticity, and an ability to relate to others. These are just a few of the key traits of the best leaders. I believe we all have opportunities in our lives to show up with these traits, especially now and in these times.
Standing Up for What’s Right
Personally, it’s scary for me to get backlash for saying or doing the wrong thing while trying to navigate through the current racial conversations. But I’d rather speak my truth and stumble a few times while I listen and learn than sit back and do nothing.
It’s not all rosy, and we can't keep our heads down and pretend like it is. A little backlash is worth it if what we’re doing makes a difference in the lives of Black people and all minorities in this world.
Even before the pandemic and the current momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, leaders were damned if they do and damned if they don’t. You can’t please everyone and you won’t be perfect while you’re trying to make the right calls to navigate through these chaotic times. All that matters is that you know in your heart what you’re doing is the right thing for the right reasons and you embrace that thought and stay the course come hell or high water.
I work with executives and emerging leaders all the time and found it’s common for experienced leaders to need to work on “finding their voice” regarding certain topics and at certain times during their careers. Being courageous is a common struggle as people work through that.
Most of us can afford to take some risks and make some mistakes along the way. We’ve worked our entire lives to build up the social and relationship capital to recover.
Remember that your voice matters. Every step you make and every courageous conversation you have on the front lines is one more opportunity for you to get off the sidelines and be the change you want to see in this world.
How To Uncover Your Courage Today
If you’re struggling to find your purpose and courage that will strengthen your voice, here are some powerful questions to help you both in today’s climate and for years to come:
First, get clear. What does courage mean to you? What does it look like in action? What is an image or metaphor for courage that resonates with you?
Identify your current state. Where in your life are you willing to stand up for what you believe in? Where are you shying away from addressing issues without smoothing over them? What relationships might improve if you were to show up with more courage?
Identify where you want to be. What’s possible for you if you showed up in your life with more courage? On a scale of 1-10, where are you today and where do you want to be in three months?
Challenge yourself. Pick one area of your life you’ll commit to showing up with more courage within the next three months. What will you do? How will you know if you are tracking to your goal(s)? Write down your commitment to hold yourself accountable.
Learn from your experience. How easy or hard was it to fully commit? What did you learn from challenging yourself?
You don’t have to make a massive statement to make a difference. If you lean in, lead with your heart, and do it with conviction, that’s all that matters. This is how I plan on moving forward, and I hope you’ll join me too.
Let’s all take some steps together to be more courageous in our lives. Our future depends on it.