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Leadership That Works for Who?

At ConantLeadership our mission is “championing leadership that works in the 21st century.” The recent killing of George Floyd, the outcry of pain and mourning in response to this senseless racism—and the countless similar injustices that preceded it in Kentucky, Georgia, and across the countrycall us to reflect on the question, “leadership that works for who?” It’s clear that for too long, leaders and the systems they represent have worked disproportionately for some people at the expense of others, in this and many other cases at the deadly expense of the Black community and, more broadly, communities of color. That must change. Truly effective leadership must work for everybody.

I often talk about the importance of “leading by listening.” Now, as leaders we must listen to the communities affected most by injustice—listen to our colleagues, employees, customers, constituents, neighbors, family, and friends who are tired and fed up. Honor their voices and their lived experience without minimizing it or talking over them. As a leader, visibly let the disenfranchised people who work with you know that you hear them, you support them, you stand with them.

But listening is not enough.


There is a Stephen Covey quote: “You can’t talk your way out of a problem you behaved your way into .  . . you have to behave your way out of it.” As a society, we have behaved ourselves into this racial inequity. So we can’t stop with listening. We have to transform listening into action, into new behaviors to remediate the situation.  In many similar cycles of injustice and outrage, leaders have “listened” but have not taken the responsible actions that are necessary to move things forward in a positive direction.

So we have to listen, declare our intention to take action, and then do what’s right. If we don’t, the people we serve in a leadership capacity may rightly come to the conclusion that our silence “speaks volumes.”

To take a first step towards doing our part, this week we are making sizable donations to both the Equal Justice Initiative for impact nationally, and to the Urban League of Philadelphia for impact in our local community. We will also be continually alert to opportunities to partner with other enlightened organizations who are leading the way on this front.

And we will work to learn and improve. We won’t always get it right. But when we fall short, we will swiftly acknowledge it and commit to do better.  

I encourage all leaders to do the same. In addition to taking action to advance anti-racism within your organization, partner with a social justice organization that is doing the work to tangibly address these issues in your community. Show up. In whatever way is doable for you: Be visible and support an organization with your time, money, or skills.

At ConantLeadership, the core tenet of our philosophy is that “leadership that works” must be anchored in “Honoring People” first—above all else. To honor people, we have to earn their trust, and champion behaviors that are tethered to a higher purpose. To earn trust and serve a higher purpose, leaders must make it unmistakably clear that we are dedicated to honoring all people, to exemplify an inclusive “leadership that works” for everybody, especially those who are harmfully impacted by racism.  

In this particular case, that means we must honor George Floyd’s memory by being tough-minded on standards and calling on the leadership of the community to hold everyone involved in this incident to account for violating public trust and dishonoring human life. His life mattered. (Sign the petition to call for accountability here: https://www.change.org/p/mayor-jacob-frey-justice-for-george-floyd)

The path from here can only be forged by a citizenry—and by leaders—who are doing the work to behave our way forward. We must listen, honor people, inspire trust, and operate with a higher purpose. In my experience, no organization, culture, or country has ever been able to craft an enduring proposition in the absence of those tenets.  We must manifest the courage of these convictions across the board with a ferocity that is second to none. Nothing less will do.  I believe that we can and will rise to this challenge like never before.  We simply must.

Doug Conant is remarkable—and so is this work.
– Stephen M. R. Covey
Author of The Speed of Trust

The Blueprint

The Blueprint

6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights

By Douglas Conant with Amy Federman

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