So you’re the boss now, but are you a great leader? Maybe you quit that toxic job, or braved and left a comfy corporate gig to venture out on your own. You created your operating budget, and drafted the marketing plan, figured out your ideal schedule. Good for you. Now there’s just one question left. You know the one. The question you least want to answer. The one that makes you squirm and has you feeling inadequate. Maybe you thought it was the finance question, or the branding question or the systems question. But, hey leader, turns out being the boss means you get all the uncomfortable questions . . . forever.
Not even the highest leaders in positions of authority can escape those questions. More than ever people have questions about how they’re being treated in the workplace. People have questions about their own relationship with work. And how they’re dealing with the trauma that exists inside and outside of their work lives.
What is True Leadership?
May 25th 2020 is a significant date in all of the minds of many black Americans because it was the day that the murder of George Floyd became national and then international news. It’s the day that suddenly, Americans’ attention was riveted on a problem that it’s had for years and years. A problem that it could no longer avoid. The interesting thing about leadership in a time when the problem can no longer be avoided is that leaders don’t get out of confronting the difficult conversations that need to be had.
Because true leadership is not just about showing up when things are going well. True leadership is about taking a stand for your values, especially when things are going wrong, especially when suddenly what was black and white yesterday is now nothing more than a sea of gray. Leadership is about being with people in the difficulty of figuring ourselves out and deciding who we will be together. That is the fabric of building culture.
True leadership is about taking a stand for your values especially when things are going wrong
Leaders help us find the answers when your tech person needs a mental health day, or your head of Ops needs to homeschool their child this afternoon. It’s the same type of culture-building we are talking about when we zoom out to look at our national landscape and our global landscape. What is it that we’re willing to confront together? How willing are we to own our mistakes, to own the wrongs we have done? Not only against each other but against the very values that we claim to as an organized body? That is the work of defining and shifting culture. Because when we find ourselves confronted with something that doesn’t seem to be of us we must ask ourselves why that is, and who we would rather be in executing our values.
It’s easy for anyone to say that our company stands by integrity and perseverance, justice for all, innovation and collaboration. Everyone loves a great list of “pillars” and a poster with our “core values.” But when you take those values off the page and put it on and wear it like a pair of everyday clothes instead of the ballgown we keep on display, things become more challenging, don’t they? It’s been said that ideas are easy and implementation is hard. Nowhere else is that more true than in the creation of culture or perhaps in the re-creation of culture. Because all of us are creating culture everyday. It’s just a matter of whether or not we’re being intentional about it. And that’s the thing, isn’t it? That’s the thing that’s most confronting of all.
Business Owner as a Great Leader
As business owners, it’s our obligation we survey our team, our unit, our company, our country. We may discover that the culture that we have created by our actions and by our behaviors is not the one that we had initially sought out to conjure. We have somehow gotten to a place where we can’t even recognize ourselves. And it’s in those moments that leadership must stand up and ask those very difficult questions. And then, those same leaders must guide us in answering them.
How did we get here?
Where did we go wrong?
And most importantly, how do we find our way back?
Chris Wallace’s Failure as a Leader
September 29th 2020 marked the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. It was a dumpster fire of a spectacle. Many around the world watched in horror as the typical norms of decorum for this type of conversation were not just ignored, but blatantly and brutally disrespected and discarded. The moderator whose sole job it is to hold people to account for answering questions seemed to be completely useless. And this dialogue quickly revealed to us that leaders are only as powerful as their resilience. In the face of our most pressing crises, of identity and self and values and beliefs.
If we don’t hold the leader to account to answer the tough questions, can we call them leaders at all?
Chris Wallace failed as a moderator. This is a well known fact. Not only did he fail to create spaces for both leaders to answer to the people in a way where ideas could be heard and absorbed. Chris Wallace failed because he gave up on holding leaders to account on the very question of how we want our values to show up in the culture of our country.
“I’m going to ask a question about race, but if you want to answer about something else, go ahead. But I think that the country would be better served, if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions. I’m appealing to you, sir, to do that.”
Now, to his credit, I am sure that Chris was feeling pretty frustrated by this point in the dialogue. He was verbally manhandled throughout the entire event and someone would say that his suggestion that the speaker could “answer about something else” was a sarcastic jab in reference to how the rest of the evening had gone. But, truthfully, if we don’t hold the leader to account to answer the tough questions, can we call them leaders at all?
Our Responsibility to Engage
And for you, for each of us in our own little corner of the world behind our laptops going to our Zoom meetings and our webinars, are we taking up our responsibility to engage? To answer to who we are being in this moment? For our country, our team, our unit, for ourselves? Because as much as we would like to hide from the difficult questions, they will follow us, and as soon as we answer the one at hand another will follow. And that is the responsibility and the opportunity of great leaders.
Congratulations boss, it’s time to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
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