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Steps Toward Antiracist Leadership

A line of protesters faces a line of cops. We need antiracist leadership now.

Just a week ago we earned our leadership roles by analyzing data, making smart decisions, and leading our teams.  Our efforts were rewarded with influence and authority.

Then, the national conversation and our culture shifted.  Now, we must earn our right to lead again under an expanded and more inclusive set of rules.

The old model left millions dispossessed by structural racism, inequality, and inhumanity. We inherited that system and our success often depended upon and perpetuated it.  Yes, those systems efficiently delivered what we designed them to: goods, services, and profits.  But, our design left out critical values that we no longer have the luxury of excluding.  Our models have been revealed as illegitimate because they are unsustainable for our fellow citizens, our Earth, and our own integrity.

To earn leadership now, we must unlearn much of what we thought was true.  We must hold open our minds to the discomfort of not knowing. This is not the time for mindless action. To unlearn the old ways, we must sit quietly with people we don’t understand, those who are feeling pain, who are seething with anger, and who feel too unsafe to reveal their deep sadness. We need to invest our time and attention to find a deeper, wider, and truer understanding of their experience and our shared humanity.

Now is the time for leaders to step into the uncomfortable, the messy, the human. We must step into this moment to ask, to listen, and to design new models together. Together, we will find a more powerful, nuanced understanding of our common rights and responsibilities.

This is our work as leaders today.  Those leaders who rest in the comfort of their titles without doing this work will be left behind.

So there may be a thousand things to do- just keeping a family healthy or business afloat during a pandemic is a lot. But stop the doing for a moment. Listen.

You can start listening even if you are isolated in overwhelming responsibility or comfortable privilege. I have started by seeking out  the antiracist, poor, and disempowered voices I don’t normally hear. Here are a few starting places I have have found:

Listen to the anger, listen to the pain, listen to the sadness.  Let yourself be cracked open. Your ways of looking at the world will be broken by the experience.  Any new model you use to make sense of all the voices and data you gather needs to take all those challenging, historically underrepresented human variables into account.

The pledge of allegiance we used to say to our flag each school morning ended with our shared American goals of “liberty and justice for all.” I still believe in those values. As we lead ourselves, our families, and our teams, let’s make sure our actions actually move us closer to our ideals.

Stephen Sloan

Photo by Koshu Kunii on Unsplash

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