Episode: What Does This Moment Require of Me as a Leader?

Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. Today, we’re going to depart from our usual format a bit because the times simply demand it. Today, I’d like to have a conversation about race. The question I keep asking myself is…What does this moment require of me as a leader?

Megan: Well, we’re recording this episode on the first Tuesday in June. George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, died in Minneapolis on May 25…that was eight days ago…after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground for nine minutes by a white police officer. Three other officers stood by, and civilian bystanders captured it on video, as they have many killings in recent years.

The next day the video went viral, and the outrage was instant. Of course, this came on the heels of the brutal murder by police of Breonna Taylor in Louisville during a no-knock raid where the officers not only killed an innocent citizen but got the wrong address when the suspect they were looking for had actually been arrested hours before. Then, of course, the recent video released of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in South Georgia. Then, there was the situation in Central Park with Christian Cooper.

Protests began in Minneapolis and quickly spread to other cities across the US and, in fact, the world. All four officers were fired and one was charged with third-degree murder. There have been many peaceful protests in a number of cities, and there have also been outbreaks of violence, looting, and arson.

We’ve heard from at least one of our BusinessAccelerator coaching clients that has a place of business in Minneapolis that was almost completely destroyed, and all of this is happening during a global pandemic, in case you forgot (it’s easy to do right now), but tensions are incredibly high.

Michael: Yes, they are, and in terms of the issue of race in our country, we’re at one of those big moments, and I’d like to think we’re at a tipping point. I hope we are, but it’s one of those moments that come along once a generation or so, and as a leader talking to leaders, I know we have to face this, learn what we can, and take action.

This moment, I think, for many of us is a real test of our leadership, and I want to open the conversation about it for our audience, because my guess is most of you listening to this, particularly if you’re white, don’t really know what to do. You want to do something. You feel the impulse to do something, but you’re afraid of making a mistake. So we just want to talk about that.

As we begin this episode, we’re going to have a lot to say to white people, but I want to start by saying to my black brothers and sisters that I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the pain you have had to endure for generation after generation after generation. I’m sorry and repent of my own complicity in that. I’ve said this in a variety of circles, but I don’t know jack.

I’m somebody who is learning and who is trying to have an honest assessment of my responsibility in this and what I can do to change this situation, so I hope you come along with us for the ride here, because, frankly, we need your voice. We need your help. We need you to get this right, and I’m not putting on you the responsibility to educate us. That’s my work. I understand that, but to the extent that you can nudge us and point us in the right direction, I would be really grateful.

So there’s one thing I want to say at the outset, and that is that I’m coming to this in the posture of a student. One of the things we’ve taught, since I was heavily involved in Platform University, is that when you have a public platform, and honestly, every leader does have a public platform… It may just be your employees or your teammates, but you have a platform.

You can approach that as a sage, as a sherpa, or as a student. The sage is the person who has all of the wisdom, all of the experience, and all of the knowledge and understanding. That’s not me in this context. Then, there’s the sherpa. This person isn’t as experienced as the sage, but they’ve been to the mountain, they know how to get back there, and that’s a great posture to write from as well, but I’m not even approaching this as a sherpa.

I’m totally 100 percent a student, so what we’re going to be sharing in this podcast is not intended to be prescriptive for others. Neither Megan nor I are claiming to be experts. I don’t know jack, so I’m starting this conversation for my benefit as well as yours, and I’m asking all of you to join us and to help us. This isn’t a one-way top-down conversation. We want to be together in this.

Megan: I think it’s probably good to just start by kind of the emotional reaction we’ve had and probably a lot of you have had as you’ve been watching these events unfold. Dad, I think as a human being there is just the sense of shock and anger and disbelief and fear and disgust. It’s a pretty astonishing thing if you watched that video or if you just read the description of George Floyd. It is arresting, to say the very least. You are just stopped in your tracks by the graphic nature of it, the inhumanity of it, and the callousness of it. There are just so many things that went through my mind.

Michael: I can’t speak for every white person, but for a lot of white people who I know I was just afraid of… I didn’t understand the nuances. I didn’t understand the complexity of it. I was afraid of saying something that would create more pain or that would create offense, so for days, I just didn’t say anything.

The other thing was I was concerned… I just felt like if I posted something, and I ended up posting something on Instagram and on Facebook, but I kept thinking, “If I do that, am I just virtue signaling? Am I doing this to make me feel better?” I’ve seen so many people put up a social media post and think they’ve actually done something of consequence, and I felt, “If you post something on social media, great.”

This is why I finally did it, because I felt like my voice needed to be heard, and I thought it might give other white people like myself courage to at least begin and to say something. Just because you post something on social media doesn’t mean anything, but I think we have to speak. I think that’s what leaders do, even if to say nothing other than, “I see you, and I can’t imagine.”

I could never be in the shoes of my African-American friends and know what it’s like to be traumatized by this. I don’t even pretend to do that. I could never know what that’s like, but I can see it. I can acknowledge it. I can try to empathize with them and certainly have compassion for them. One of the things I did to…

The very first thing I did finally when I kind of said, “I have to do something even if I trip all over myself and embarrass myself,” and, again, we’re not trying to be prescriptive. But if you’re a white person in a position of leadership, this may be something to consider. That is, I reached out specifically as the CEO of our company to check in with the people on our team who are African American and say to them, “I just want you to know this is not okay. I can’t imagine what this must be like for you. It has to be re-traumatizing every time this happens.”

This is not like a lone incident. This is one more incident in a 450-year history. I can’t imagine what that’s like, but just to express. I said, “Not that my feelings matter so much, but I want you to know I’m feeling anger, great sadness, and, frankly, embarrassment.”

Megan: Dad, I have kind of this very strange dual experience which over time is becoming more familiar to me. I had an experience as a white American woman viewing this from kind of the outside so to speak, like you were talking about, and being horrified and all of that. Then, I have the experience of being a mom of two African-American boys and a baby girl.

My boys are 10 and 12, right at the point of almost being teenagers. I’m sorry I’m crying. This is just hard. It’s hard to talk about. By the way, I just want to say in my emotion, lest it seem stupid in some way, I am not saying my experience is equivalent of being an African-American mom with black children.

I know this is just a part of that, but it is a unique part of my experience that this hits home in a way for us that is unique as white parents. To have to sit my boys down… We finally did it. We sat them down this past weekend, and we said, “Guys, we have to talk to you about something. We have to talk to you about the police, and we have to talk to you about what you need to know about engaging with the police.”

I know this is a very common experience for African-American parents, but as you take the innocence away from your children to watch them go from, “The world is basically a safe place where I ride my bike around the neighborhood and go to the pool and play with my friends,” to “I have to be very careful, and there are things I can’t do that my white cousins who live down the street will never, ever, ever be talked to about.”

I said in my Instagram post that I just kind of wondered, “How do I protect my kids in our neighborhood?” This is not new. None of this is new. It’s just that we finally have cell-phone videos and social media and media itself has been very democratized in that way, and we’re all sitting at home because there’s a pandemic and we can’t go anywhere, and we have to pay attention, and we’re not distracted, and this is happening.

While my experience is a small part of this, if that resonates with you…if you’re listening to this and you’re white, and you’re a parent, and what I’m saying resonate with you…just think of that as a tiny, tiny, tiny drop in the bucket of what parents all across this country are feeling (fearful and angry) because this is wrong, and it’s terrifying.

Michael: Well, Megan, thank you for sharing the emotion of that. It occurred to me this morning as I was reading… By the way, one of the things I’ve been trying to do is just educate myself. I’m a little bit angry about this. I feel like I’ve been deprived of so much of our history. This black history has been expunged from our textbooks. This morning, I was reading The Warmth of Other Suns, which, Megan, you had recommended to me.

Megan: Yeah, it’s excellent.

Michael: The thing I love about it is it’s basically black history from the Civil War to the present but told through the eyes of three individuals who lived it, so you sort of get all of the emotion of it plus the historical context and all of that. I realized that, as a leader and particularly as a white leader, one of the things I haven’t had as a frame of reference is history.

I haven’t understood. I’ve heard my African-American friends talk about reparations or white privilege or systemic injustice and all of that. I haven’t said much, but it kind of felt like if somebody pressed me and threw me up against a wall, I think I would say, “Well, it just seems like an overreaction,” until you understand the history.

Megan: By the way, when you say history, I think what you mean is the context of historical events, but in no way should any of us kid ourselves that this is in the past. I mean, there are so many things, of course, that are in the past, but this is being lived out today, and I think that’s one of the things you find as you start educating yourself.

I think, as Christians and as white Christians, the thing that needs to grab our hearts is the need for repentance. When I say that, I mean it in two ways. First of all, individually, because all of us have been influenced and affected by racism. It’s woven into the fabric of our country and into the fabric of our minds. It’s evil and all of us have racist impulses and thoughts and attitudes, some of which we’re aware of and some of which we’re not. All of those individually need to be repented of, so that’s one thing.

Then, there’s something else that is a collective repentance. It’s so interesting. I have never seen more resistance to a very Christian idea (the idea of generational sin and the idea of collective repentance) which is our own thing than I have seen from white conservatives. I don’t care what your political identification is. There is just a resistance to admit wrong, and I want to just say something.

There is no peace that’s worth anything until there is repentance and until there is justice, but I think once you start understanding the history, what you will see is, at the very minimum, you are undeniably the beneficiary of the wealth and prosperity that was built on the back of free and stolen labor.

Michael: Yep. I think if you’re a leader it’s important you take a stand. Here’s what I found from my Facebook post and my Instagram post. I was so nervous about offending, but I got more views and more comments on that post than any post I’ve ever done before. Most of the comments up until probably yesterday were from black people who were incredibly generous, warm, thankful, encouraging, and helpful.

The only few negative comments I got initially were from woke white people who were disappointed that I didn’t get there till late. I actually started adopting the hashtag #wokeuplate, because that’s kind of what I did. I woke up late. We want to turn a corner, and we want to talk about, as leaders, what is required of us in this moment. I think there are at least three actions we need to take.

First of all, we need to practice discernment. Things are not always what they seem. That’s why it’s incredibly important for us to educate ourselves to assume the posture of a beginner: somebody who is just starting but who is seeking to understand. Things are not what they seem. There are real reasons why these things exist in our society, and we didn’t just get here overnight. As leaders, we have to dig in deep and understand what is behind the context of what is happening right now.

Megan: Some good recommendations for books… If this is a topic you have not read much about at all, I want to recommend, if that’s true for you, that you start with a book called The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege. It’s written by a pastor named Ken Wytsma. That’s a really good historical overview and also an overview of kind of the Christian perspective and the role the church in injustice, and I think in a pretty quick read you can have a working knowledge of what we feel like are kind of the big things to understand.

Then, another great book is How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. That is a book that’s getting a lot of press right now and for good reason. It’s a great read, but if you haven’t read anything, I would probably start with The Myth of Equality. The book my dad was talking about earlier is called The Warmth of Other Sons by Isabel Wilkerson. Larry will put these in the show notes for you, so if you’re listening to these while you’re out running or driving or something, you can come back to them later.

Another one is called White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein, and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates which is a really important book. That’s a hard book, but it’s a really important book.

Michael: That’s our first point. We have to be discerning, and we have to educate ourselves. Secondly, we need to practice humility. This is important to say, because it’s easy to read a book or two and suddenly feel like you’re an expert. Right? We don’t want to do that. Again, I’ve said publicly and I keep saying it. Maybe I should turn this into a hashtag. I don’t know jack, and I haven’t done jack.

By the way, I did have some people who have said to me, “Well, I can’t believe you’re admitting you don’t know anything.” I have done some reading in the past, but I still feel like I don’t know jack, and that’s a good posture to retain. None of us should act like we have all of the answers. We have to be wary of judging people, whether they’re black or white. As we said, things are not always what they seem.

One of the things I find is that people are incredibly forgiving if you’re humble. If I start with… I don’t care if you’re talking to your employees or if you’re making a social media post. If you start with the fact that you probably don’t know what you’re talking about, people are very forgiving. That kind of humility is required of leaders at all times, but it is particularly required in this moment where it’s easy to become a demagogue, to pontificate, to become suddenly the expert, and to be opinionated.

Look. We have too many opinions. We don’t need more opinions. What we need is more humility and especially… This leads to the way that you know you’re being humble is if you’re willing to listen. There’s a reason why God gave you two ears and one mouth. Shut up. Listen. Let other people tell their stories.

Megan: I think the last step is commitment to taking action. At some point, if we’re just learning and we’re not doing anything, there is no way we can contribute to the cause of justice. We don’t want to be hearers only. We want to be doers. I think that’s a really important concept. I think the question is…What is it for us to do?

There’s a great article that former President Barak Obama posted yesterday, as we were recording this, with some really practical steps. A lot of it needs to happen at the policy level at the state and local levels, and that’s something, Dad, I think you and I are really committed to educating ourselves about.

One of the features of white privilege is when everything is pretty much working for you it’s really easy to be complacent. It’s really easy not to invest yourself into understanding what is going on in your community, what laws are racist or antiracist, and what needs to change. Admittedly, in my situation, I really don’t know.

I don’t know how our police department is doing. I don’t know how our DA is doing, for example, and those are things I need to understand better. I need to understand what the laws and the policies are so that I and those around me can help to effect and change those things. I think that’s a great step for us.

There are a lot of groups, by the way. This is not something in terms of action that you have to do on your own. Here in our community there is a group called The Public that is doing a lot of educational and activism work, and that’s something that I think is happening in a lot of communities right now that you can get involved with.

I think you want to see a diversity of leadership. If the leadership is only white, that’s going to be a problem. You don’t have to figure it all out on your own. I think the ultimate goal is that we would have justice and healing. I think healing has to happen in relationships. That’s why having a community you’re able to get connected to is really key. I would just look for that.

Another great resource on that is Be the Bridge that Latasha Morrison leads. There are chapters all over the country of that you can get involved with and learn how to take action and all of that stuff. Don’t sit on your education and think knowledge is enough, because we have to change the system. We have to remake it in a way that there is truly justice for all people.

Michael: Megan, as we wrap up this conversation, I just have to say I feel inadequate to all of this. I’m not sure we have covered all of the right bases, but I do feel like this is an important conversation. As we wrap this up, do you have any final thoughts?

Megan: It’s probably the hardest time you’ve ever asked me for my final thoughts. It’s like we do this all of the time, and usually it feels pretty easy. I think this feels hard. This is hard, and it actually should be hard. I think it’s appropriate that it’s hard. It’s appropriate that we feel overwhelmed. It’s appropriate that we feel all kinds of things that are coming up, because this is a really big deal.

I mean, it’s really the original sin of this nation, and it has never really been reckoned with in most of our own hearts and lives. This is true for me until somewhat recently. I didn’t deal with this in my own heart and certainly didn’t engage at a community level in this conversation, and I think it’s time. There is so much at stake, and I think these moments, like you were saying earlier, Dad, only come by every so often, and if we miss this one, what is that going to cost us?

I hope as white folks listening to this that we’re willing to get over our discomfort, we’re willing to step in to the discomfort and the sense of, “I’m not sure what to do, and I’m afraid I’m going to do it wrong, and I feel threatened,” and all of the things that come up just naturally as a part of this conversation, and move through that to a place that ultimately leads us to repentance.

I think if there’s one word I hope you remember from this episode that you really take to heart it’s repentance, because I don’t think anything else can come that’s good on the other side of this until we do that individually and collectively.

Michael: I think as my final thought I just want to say that we also need to have hope. It’s very easy for this to be dark and heavy and for us to feel a sense of despair, like, “How can we make any progress? This is so big and gnarly. How can we improve it?” But I really think we can. I do believe we’re at a tipping point, and I do believe you listening to this podcast can make a difference. You may not be able to solve the entire problem of the nation, but there are people where you live (your neighbors) where you can have an impact.

That’s what I’m asking myself to do. Not how I can solve it at a federal level or even at a state level or even at a city level, but how can I make a meaningful change in the communities where I live and operate? I already have some ideas. I will share those in future episodes, but right now I just need to shut up and listen.

I hope you use this as an opportunity to read and study, because the truth is it’s going to take all of us. We need you. We need your involvement. We need your commitment. We need your willingness to engage and enter into this process. Guys, thank you for joining us today. I know this has been a very different kind of episode, but we’ll see you right here next week with another episode of Lead to Win.