Why aren’t we talking about race?
One of the fundamental qualities of a great leader is the ability to have difficult conversations. Yet so many of the leaders I know aren’t talking about racism in America. We’re talking about our sales numbers, our marketing funnels, and how we can write better headlines. But, we aren’t talking about race.
If you want to become a better leader one place to start is by beginning a conversation about race in your home, your businesses, and your communities. Nothing will teach you how to speak skillfully, listen deeply, or face uncomfortable topics quite like addressing this deep and divisive issue. Not to mention that talking about race will also make you a better citizen and human being.
Why I don’t talk about race –
I’m a coach and the truth is coaching is a very white profession. Most of the times when I’m at coaching conferences, in coaching forums, or around other coaches, I’m around white people. Not just white people, but white middle class, college educated people.
The reality is that coaching is largely a profession of white people helping other white people. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, people of all colors need love, support, and guidance, but recently I noticed how silent my fellow coaches and I were being about what’s been going on in our country, this week, this year, and this century. Despite the fact that coaches pride ourselves on having difficult conversations; this is one conversation we aren’t having.
We aren’t talking about race. We aren’t talking about how white the world of coaching is. We aren’t talking about what our responsibilities are when it comes to addressing the reality of racial oppression and privilege in our country.
Instead, we spend our time talking about marketing, coaching techniques, and the events we’re going to.
One reason I don’t talk about race is because I don’t have to. I’m a white, college educated man. I can simply share or like some Facebook posts and then go on with my day.
Recently a friend of mine posted about how he deals with the police when stopped and the only familiarity I felt was when I remembering what it was like to get pulled over when I had drugs in my car. And even in these cases, there’s no real comparison.
My experience of privilege is mostly invisible. In fact, I spent most of the week not even thinking about how the killings of two black men might affect the people of color I know. I have two clients who are African American, I have another that’s South American, and I have friends who are people of color. Yet, it took me almost a week before I really thought about reaching out to them.
It took me a week because that’s how easy it is for a white person like me to not pay attention, to not care, and to do nothing.
This isn’t just a personal failure when it comes to race. It’s a failure of leadership. I pride myself on coaching leaders on serving the unconventional and forward thinking but I failed my clients, colleagues, and friends this week because I was too caught up in my white privileged way of thinking.
What’s A Leader To Do?
So, what’s a leader to do? Wading into a conversation on race is scary and fraught with difficulty. Which makes talking about race something most of us want to avoid and so we do.
But, it’s precisely because it’s so scary and hard that as leaders we must talk about it. The world needs people who don’t know what they’re doing to speak up. It needs leaders to magnify and support the voices of people of color who are speaking about this issue with so much passion and clarity. It needs leaders who are willing to have those difficult conversations and discussion.
If you aren’t willing to talk about race, what other topics are you avoiding? What other ways of thinking are you not considering?
If we want to help change things, then this is a conversation we all need to start having. And if you want to be a great leader, learning how to talk about race is one of the best ways to learn how to talk about anything and stand up for what’s right all at the same time.
So don’t wait for another killing or another change in the news cycle. Sit down with your team, your family, and your friends today and start talking – imperfectly, ignorantly, and uncertainly. You will make mistakes, you will say things that are colored by your privilege, but great leaders don’t wait until they’re ready or sure that they’ll do it right.