Ahmaud Arbery. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor … and countless others. I speak today as an individual, healthcare executive and founder of The Leadership Development Group, and I place my perspective in the context of the crossroad between leadership, organizational development and a strong, unwavering desire to see just and equitable systems in this country that work for all.
Like so many of you, I am feeling enormous pain and overwhelming empathy for the Black community who have long suffered the consequences of systemic inequality. We have stood too quietly and for far too long in the face of clear injustices. We must do more to create the future we all hope for and believe in. I believe that we have arrived at an important moment in time, one that will inspire America to engage in a continuous conversation around how we, as individuals, as organizations and as a nation, can and must do better.
While the protests taking place across the nation are most poignantly tied to the killing of George Floyd, they are also an expression of widespread anguish at the numerous systemic racial inequities and injustices that exist across many facets of our society. We are facing two pandemics — COVID-19 and systemic racism. Both pandemics have disproportionately impacted the Black community, and both require us to tackle systemic change head-on. As John F. Kennedy said, “For of those to whom much is given, much is required.” The call to action has never rang louder for leaders to step fully into that responsibility.
When it comes to systemic change, the fact of the matter is no one of us can do it alone. For systemic change to occur, diverse stakeholders must join together, speak out and collaborate. United around our common purpose, leaders must harness our collective power and influence to champion changes that will benefit the future of our nation. And we must do it together.
What can we, as leaders, do to make a difference and foster systemic change?
We invite you to consider the following model for change:
1. Envision a new future.
Leaders have the platform and influence to ignite the kind of dialogue that leads to meaningful change. We need to take the time to listen, discover, organize and absorb from others to create a shared understanding of what a racially just and equitable future can look like to solve systemic inequality. Only from here — with a shared vision — can we align efforts and outcomes.
2. Align diverse stakeholders.
To advocate for change, we need to orchestrate a coherent system of actions taken simultaneously by actively seeking connections with stakeholders, taking concrete steps to enable trust and demonstrating respect for diverse expertise and perspectives. For too long, we have focused on perspectives in silos — perspectives from the Black community or from the white community but not together. We have avoided bringing diverse stakeholders to the table out of fear and discomfort of making matters worse.
3. Manage boundaries and obstacles.
We need to support constructive conflict by keeping an open mind, disagreeing respectfully and tirelessly seeking common ground. Focusing on opportunity by listening to objections, acknowledging concerns and staying focused on the vision is critical to resolving and navigating tensions to generate options that achieve our common goals. This requires us to be vulnerable and empathetic. This is our learning edge, to push through the discomfort and begin engaging in difficult conversations. This is where the change begins: with each of us sharing, listening and becoming comfortable with uncomfortable discourse.
4. Act and learn.
We need to define change plans and take reasonable steps despite uncertainty, to identify what is working and what is not, to adapt plans and advance our shared vision for a more just society. This will require leaders to create a new narrative for what we mean by “us” through cultivating a broader sense of belonging. And in the world of leadership, this starts with recognition of how current organizational practices contribute to systemic racism and how to make meaningful and impactful shifts in how we hire, develop, promote and sponsor diversity.
We at TLD Group have the privilege of supporting and working with some of today’s greatest leaders and thinkers. We strongly believe that leadership is an important lever in the pursuit of systemic change. We all must commit to being open to conversations about systemic racial injustice now and into the future.