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"Everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of human freedoms
to choose one's own attitude in any set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

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Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 842 (This is an important piece)

Estimated reading time:  6:00 minutes

 

Good evening from a stormy Vancouver. It is one of those rainy nights that appears biblical in proportions! The theologian in me wonders if the frogs and locusts are next! 

 

Walking home from a coaching session with a client this evening, I was thinking about a conversation with an African American friend the other day. She was telling me about the experience of telling her adolescent children about the election results. I asked, “what did she tell them?” She said, “I told them nothing had changed.” She said a lot more, but it was that comment that got me really thinking.

 

I am a straight white male in my 50’s. I’m very liberal socially and left of centre economically and politically. I think of myself as the kind of man that women are safe around. I am an ally of LGBTQ people and see all humans as completely equal. I also own an apartment in downtown Vancouver and have a steady income which means I am very close to, if not inside the 1% globally in terms of wealth. As a priest friend of mine said once, if you own more than one pair of shoes you are wealthy compared to most people on the planet. I own several.

 

All of this to say, that from my perspective, much has changed. 

 

I think of it this way, if you imagine me standing in the middle of a group of concentric circles (like ripples) moving out. My happy little liberal world had a bright light shining on me and people like me. The rest of the circles, from my perspective were in shadow, and difficult for me to see. I might see something unnerving every now and then. I’d hear about a hate crime, I hear about a sexist or racist remark, but they were all in the shadows, from my perspective. 

 

It was kind of like being in a house in the tropics late at night. You learn to turn the light on before you get out of bed so that all of the bugs scatter across the floor before you step down.

 

Trump’s election turned a light on and the people doing the hate crimes, the racism, the sexism, they didn’t run away and hide. They were right there for me (from my happy little circle) to see. For me, everything changed. I could now see what I could not, or perhaps even would not see before. For people like my African American friend, nothing had changed; the racism, the sexism, the hate crimes were always there. But for me, everything changed, because now I could see. 

 

The closer into the middle of the concentric circle’s you are, the more disturbing the past 10 days or so have been. Our brothers, sisters and niblings in the circles farther away from the centre have been dealing with this for years, we’ve just been too blind to see it, or too comfortable to want to change it.

 

So now we have a choice, we can try to close our eyes and shut out the light, or we can stand up and face the sexism, and racism and homophobia in our own lives and in our own circles. In our organizations and teams, ensuring that all people are treated with dignity and respect, not because of who they love, or the colour of their skin, but because they are human beings. They are on your team because of their competencies, respect those. Help them grow into the human beings they are called to be, not to make them into clones of you or your culture or gender. Give them the opportunity to grow.

 

I watched an old friend do this masterfully a number of years ago. We had run into each other at an airport gate, on our way home from other connecting flights. He was travelling with a younger man, obviously learning the ropes in the business from my friend, the master. As we were talking the young man said something like, “oh, yeah, just like him, he’s so retarded.”  Without missing a beat, my friend turned to the young man and said, “that language and kind of thinking is not appropriate at all and needs to stop, right here, right now.” He then turned back to me and continued the conversation. He was careful to include the young man in the conversation after a minute of so of his guilty silence. It was a powerful message for a leader to send, and it was done non-violently and with an intention of helping the guy grow and develop.

 

The lights are on, there are bad things out there that those of us in positions of power and influence have missed. We cannot miss them any more. May this week be the beginning of a new day of stopping racism, sexism and homophobia in its tracks in the workplaces we have responsibility in.