It’s Time to LISTEN & LEAD!
By Chris Powell, CEO, Talmetrix and C2HR Board Member 
Connect with Chris at: LinkedIn l Twitter l Download the FREE Diversity X Factor Report

I wasn’t always just black. I used to be just a kid...you know a human being. 

I was 7 years old and landed the lead role as the frog in the spring school play. My entire family was excited, including my grandmother who made my costume, and my mother who taught 6th grade at the same school that was 95% white. The play was a success. A few days later, some of the older students commented to me that they had never seen a black frog before me. I was curious and confused about why I had to be a black frog versus just a frog. 

But it was one of those moments that stick with you. That was the first time I can remember having to so literally put on the weight vest of race. Because that’s what being black in America can feel like and has felt like to me many times; like putting on a vest, just enough to slow you down, just enough to make the next rep require a little more effort, sometimes a lot of effort. 

That was just the beginning of my life as a black professional, a black executive, a black entrepreneur, a black investor. Everyone comes face to face with their socially prescribed identity and for many people of color, that encounter ranges from the benign to death. 

We’re going through something right now in the summer of 2020 that’s both very old and relatively new. Racism is old. The way we react to racism is old, too—everything from righteous anger to ugly disregard has been expressed before, just not on Twitter. But I saw some things out in the streets of my neighborhood that felt different. I joined a peaceful protest and I saw diverse people, Gen Z, and Millennials, step up, facilitate, organize, and capture it all on social media. This is a movement of humanity coming together to say Black Lives Matter. But something else feels new, something even bigger. 

People want to listen. Not everyone of course, but now more than ever, people, maybe even the majority, are going back home from protests, they’re going back to their communities, and yes, they’re going back to work, ready to listen. More than ready, in fact, desperate to listen and learn. We are all trying to figure this out. And by “this” I mean race, culture, diversity, inclusion, equity, equality here at home and globally. By “this” I also mean COVID. We’re all anxious to understand what’s going on and how we’re going to get through the summer of 2020 and beyond. We’re curious and skeptical to know what the post-George Floyd, pre-COVID vaccine reality is going to look like. What’s new about the summer of 2020 is that we’re all sifting and sorting, and we all sense, each in our own way, that the way forward is to listen, to learn, and then to act. 

Here’s the thing: most businesses have not caught up to this new reality. How could they? Many of them have done all they could to survive the last few months. Nevertheless, most traditional work environments are just not equipped to listen to the diversity of voices and experiences, much less actually hear, what their people are saying. America is having radically different experiences in life and in the workplace. At times, things feel like they’re falling apart; systemic injustice one day, a novel virus the next. The whole world is listening, leaning in, hoping to hear something that will help them make sense of it all. 

I believe this is a unique moment. And I also believe that the most successful, and forward-looking organizations, boards of directors and leaders are going to lead the way. We need more leaders who have sustainable courage to cultivate cultures of trust and inclusion. 

Let me bring it back home by saying that we all carry weight. There’s the weight of having an identity that is feared or exalted. There’s the weight of unconscious bias. There’s the weight of fear—fear of the unknown, the unspoken and lost. What are we learning as leaders in this highly charged, tinder box summer of 2020? We’re learning that if we want to change and transform our reality, it starts with self-exploration (“me” search research) to develop our abilities to listen better, to be better, to do better to move us forward to higher versions of ourselves, our communities and our organizations. Join me and other courageous leaders in listening better to your employees’ diverse voices and experiences to understand what actions and commitments are needed to create cultures of trust, inclusion and equality for all. History will judge, but from my vantage point, I can tell you—it might be the most important thing you can do. 

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Chris Powell is an HR veteran with over 20 years of enabling high performing companies such as Deloitte, Marriott International, Voya and Scripps Networks Interactive. He is also a member of the C2HR Board of Directors and CEO of Talmetrix, a company dedicated to helping organizations listen better to the diverse voices & experiences in the workplace.

Connect with Chris at: LinkedIn l Twitter l Download the FREE Diversity X Factor Report

 

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