What I’ve Learned (So Far) & Actions Leaders Can Take

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It’s a crazy time to be an American right now, but a great time to lead a team. I’ve learned a LOT in the past few days. My goal is to share my learning (so far) and add value by helping other leaders have conversations about today’s current events.

First, a fear-based disclaimer: I’m a privileged white woman. I’ve known a little discrimination in a male-dominated industry and I’ve taken action to help fix it with #GirlsClub. I’m unimpacted by riots, and I do not have solutions to share (yet).

So who am I to say something?

So I didn’t. Until a few days ago, a brave (and rightfully angry) black female on my team called me out. Truth: I thought I’d offend her more by saying something. I’m uneducated and inexperienced with racism. It was an uncomfortable exchange, but she handled it beautifully. I love that she called me out and taught me some things.

I’ll share first what I’ve learned from my team and end with some advice (if you want to scroll, but I hope you’ll soak in some learning first. There are some wicked-cool perspectives I’m about to post).

One more point of perspective first: My team has 2 black women, 1 police officer’s wife, and 1 man who got the fright of his life walking unsuspectingly into a riot. We have people in NJ, ATL, DC, DFW, ORD, MSP and PHX, (look up the airport codes if I lost you). We are a family that doesn’t always agree, but who cares deeply about each other, the work we do, and our own families. We are male, female, black, white, and Hispanic. This is my Factor 8 family. 

OK, mind-blowing insights I learned this week by asking, “What do you need?”:

1. The fear some of us have felt during the riots (for ourselves, our spouses in the front lines, for our families, for our communities…) is new to us and it’s scary. Counterpoint: “Black people feel this all the time.”

Bam. I don’t know that fear. I’ve never been scared by a cop outside of getting a ticket. Period. We’re getting a glimpse, folks. And if you want to think now about downplaying it, nitpicking at it, disproving it, there’s your learning. We can’t judge other peoples’ fear. She has it. She’s grown up with it. She fears for her family like the cop’s wife fears for hers.

2. Your black employees feel a pull to protest. Mind blown. My SDR shared this. Get this: she’s personally survived COVID, her husband just got out of the hospital, she’s homeschooling and has WAY too many people living in a small space. She’s still making calls. She’s keeping her ship afloat right now but feels a pressure, a GUILT about not getting out and adding her voice.

Holy crap, of COURSE she does! She’s let herself off the hook right now because she has higher responsibilities. But she may want this in the near future, and it’s my job to give it to her. She asked for a mental health day (and got it no questions asked), but your team members may want a protest day. This could actually be (I hope it is) a turning point in history. If you could have marched with MLK on Washington, wouldn’t you have? I would. Be open to helping them do their duty and be part of history.

3. The connection between a murder and a riot is “disruption.” I started out not understanding this. “What the hell did a Target store do to African Americans?” I asked. Now I get it. EVERY MAJOR CHANGE in America started with disruption. You’ve got to check out this article I found on the subject. Folks, this country was BUILT on protest, disruption, and yes, violence. 

So I now hold some space for this. I am sorry for the small business owners. I’m fearful of loss of life. I’m completely inspired by the non-violent disruptions happening, but I get the need for disruption. Would I be talking about this right now if there weren’t riots? Ask yourself that toughie.

Again, check your response right now. Are you proving me wrong? Railing against the idiots causing damage and harm? Yeah, that’s OK. Me too. I’m saying make room for the need for protest. Remember the white people who’ve protested, rioted, fought, and hurt merchants to make their point (soaking wet tea anyone?)

4. We can all be right together. Truth: I avoid politics like the plague. It’s because I hate the pandering tactics that have to make the other side wrong for their side to be right. This is a critical time in our country right now because for the first time in recent history, people see both sides. NOBODY is arguing for Derek Chauvin who murdered George Floyd. We can hate the violence of riots and understand the why of it. We can fear for the police and for the black community at the same time.

This kind of tolerance and understanding is a brand-spanking-new muscle for a lot of people. You may see people on your team lash out with some anger against the “other side.” It’s OK. That’s what society has taught them to do. They may lash out at you (Yup, I took some heat). That’s OK too. They’re ANGRY, and dammit they have a right to be.

5. We have more to learn. Start here. The woman who called me out for not using my voice to take a stand accused me of having some blind-spot racism. God, I don’t THINK I do, but could that be why I hesitated? I have more to learn. My team recommended two resources so far:

  1. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah on George Floyd
  2. “13th” on Netflix

These are my revelations and insights so far. And because they asked for it, here’s my company’s stand:

Factor 8 and #GirlsClub are appalled by the recent and far too frequent acts by the police against black people. This. Must. Stop. We recognize that the vast majority of officers are not aligned with the bad apples. We respect and appreciate their service. 

We are supportive and proud of the thousands of Americans using their voice to promote change. We are inspired by the brave law enforcement leaders who have deterred riots to protect their people, but even more by those who are helping protesters use their voice while protecting people and businesses with plain-clothes officers keeping people safe vs. the riot-gear and tear gas. Most inspiring is seeing all shades and colors of humans joining in unity and using their voices to incite and inspire change. We prefer non-violence but we respect that it’s working. We love both the people in the black community and the law enforcement community. 

We are all Americans and we want change. 

This all boils down to the following advice for my fellow leaders:

1. Start the conversation with your team. I recommend 1:1 or small groups. I sent an email saying, “What do you need?” I got 6 VERY different answers and some with no replies…  I’m choosing not to do a group meeting right now because it’s volatile and not everyone is ready with tolerance and understanding and point #4 that we can all be right at once.

2. Increase your understanding. Assume you have blind spots and find resources to fill them.

3. Use your voice. Yes, I’m going to piss some people off and get some things wrong with this blog and advice, but the alternative is to say nothing and be a coward. My employees wanted me to give them a voice because mine is louder than theirs right now. If you lead a team, a company, an association, an HOA… you have an opportunity right now to speak up. Remember:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

4. Look for solutions. I don’t know what they are yet, but I’m really eager to hear from more experts (not politicians) who have some and do my part in helping implement them. Who has ideas for reform? For education? For screening? What can help fix this? Let’s get quickly past blame and into solutions. Like you, I want something tangible to do.

I hope this helped you. It’s why I wrote it. If you’d like to share a solution or an insight or a criticism, I’m ready to learn. My email address is LB@Factor8.com. You may not get an immediate response, but I am listening.

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