Podcast Transcriptions

Pursue What Matters

Episode 57: Daring Leaders are Never Silent About Hard Things

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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Its been quite a week for those of us in the United States. Just as we rounded the corner on COVID. We run smack into our race issues, which, of course have been with us all along. America, we’ve got some serious work to do.

Dr. Melissa Smith 0:19
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the pursue what matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So today, let’s talk about race. And, you know, if you’re like most of us, you’re fatigued, you’re worn out, you are tired this week. But I hope you will stick with me today. Because this is an important conversation, there are so many really important and painful things happening for many of us today. And whether you are located in the US, or just watching it from afar. There are a lot of important implications for those of us leading. And of course, as I am fond of saying, we’re all leading in some capacity. And so I hope you will stick with me and join me as we think about what all of this means for leadership. This is really, this is tough stuff. You know, as Americans, we’re facing a collective trauma as we grapple with our racism. You know, some of us have been dealing with race every single day. And some of us are just waking up to the race issues around us. And so many people are hurting. Of course, the recent trauma has been touched off by the devastating killing of George Floyd. And then, of course, a few weeks before that, Ahmad arbury, a young black man who was gunned down while out running. Those, of course, are just two recent incidences. But the pain and the trauma go far deeper, sadly, than those stats, although these deaths are enough, enough for all of us to say enough and to be outraged and heartbroken at where we all stand in relation to one another. And so, with this conversation today and the podcast today, you know, I want to be crystal clear that I am not coming before you pretending to have all the answers, boy, oh, boy, I do not have all the answers. I am one person stumbling around, trying to figure this all out, just like you. And you know, I hope that you will give me good intent. I certainly have good intent. And I certainly give you good intent that you’re doing your best trying to figure all of this out. You know, as I thought about this week, and I thought about everything that was happening and thought about what I might share and what I might say and what, you know, what I might be able to add to the conversation. Where I landed was, was that, you know, I feel deeply committed to my values. And I’m committed to respecting and honoring the experiences of those around me, even when those experiences are so very different from my own experience. You know, one thing that I do as a psychologist and as a leadership coach is I I have the privilege of, of being a witness to some of the most vulnerable moments in people’s lives that people give me so much trust, and it is it really is such a privilege. And I see part of my work at the most important part of my work as helping people discover and live in truth, which you know, is kind of a tall order.

Dr. Melissa Smith 4:45
And I definitely don’t pretend to be the one that’s bringing them that truth for a minute. I recognize that that’s definitely not my job but to help individuals Come to truth in their own lives. And so as I tried to live to my own values and tried to live to my truth, it felt really important this week to, to speak to this issue and to hopefully add some value to the really important conversations that are happening out there. And so I’m here hoping to help, hoping to offer some perspective that comes from the work that I’ve been engaged in for a really long time. But I definitely do not pretend to have all figured out. And this is the other thing, I really hope to never have it all figured out. Because that’s a really dangerous place to be whether it comes to, you know, racism, whether it comes to, you know, parenting, whether it comes to leadership, you know, the second you think you have it all figured out, or like, okay, check, I’ve got that done, you’re in trouble. And I really love Abraham Kennedy’s perspective of this. So he is the author of a really good book, how to be an anti racist. And this is what he said, like fighting an addiction, being an anti racist requires persistent self awareness, constant self criticism, and regular self examination. And so that is how I’m approaching this podcast today. And I would invite each of you to also approach the podcast in that way, that this can be an opportunity for you to increase your self awareness, to have a little bit of self criticism, right for us to kind of examine our own worldview, and really, like, poke at the corners there a little bit and really look at how does that belief hold up? And can you just challenge it a little bit, because we’ve, we should be able to challenge our ideas and our beliefs and see how they hold up, and to do some self examination, that there is value in that. And that the ability to do that can move us to empathy and can move us to understanding. Sure, need that this week.

Dr. Melissa Smith 7:32
So with that, I’m here. And I’m willing to take a stand and say that these topics matter. And these Lives Matter, these conversations matter. And especially as leaders of people, we need to be willing to lean in to these conversations, and hold space for others, even when, and I would say especially one, it is incredibly vulnerable and uncomfortable. Right? Because as a leader, like sometimes, these conversations can scare the hell out of you. But the thing is like this is nothing compared to the challenges that so many face every single day, like, you know, but it’s also not nothing. It’s something like being willing to have these conversations and to hold space for people is actually a very important something that you can do. So it’s one thing that you can offer, it’s one thing that I can offer, in addition to the life that I live in the values that I teach in my own home. And so that’s my invitation for each of us today. So with that I want to focus on three things today. And so the first thing that I want to talk about is I want to talk about the impact of trauma, and how it becomes a touchstone for pain, and the need to be seen and heard. So that’s the first thing that we’re going to talk about is the impact of trauma, and how that shows up, especially when it comes to racism. The second thing I want to talk about today is why race issues can be so hard to talk about, especially for those in positions of privilege. Right and So hard to talk about. And then the third thing that I want to focus on today is what does all of this mean for your leadership, because of course, each of you are called to lead. So that’s what we are going to focus on today. And with that last point, I’m going to have a couple of examples of what I think are some really great examples of leaders with moral authority this last week, who were not silent about hard things. And that is remarkable. And that’s what we need. Those are the kinds of leaders that we need. And we had some good examples of that this week. And so I will share just a couple of brief examples of that, I think there are probably a lot more, but I will just share a couple of those. So we will, we will focus on that. And then of course, every week, I take it as one of my goals is to help you develop the confidence to lead and I do that in one of three primary areas each week with the podcast. So you know, clarity, or leading with clarity, so clarity to lead curiosity to lead, and leading with community. And so when we think about clarity is having this sense of purpose, when we think about curiosity as having self awareness, and we think about community, it’s building and leading a community. And so as we think about our discussion today, primarily, it is around curiosity and really building self awareness for yourself, it is also tied to community because as a leader, you have got to lead your community, you’ve got to lead your people. And you cannot be silent on these things. And so, you know, I take as my title for the podcast, part of a quote from Bernie Brown, which I will talk about a little bit more. But that is daring leaders are never silent about hard things. And so as a leader, you’ve got to be willing to lead your community, and you’ve got to be willing to have these conversations. And so primarily, we are talking about curiosity, and community. And so I hope that the topic today can really help you develop and strengthen your confidence to lead. So the first topic with the podcast today, which is the impact of trauma, and how it becomes a touchstone, a touchstone for pain, and the need to be seen and heard. So, you know, as part of my background,

Dr. Melissa Smith 12:48
I am a trauma specialist. So in my clinical work, I have worked with trauma survivors for years and years, and it is incredible work, really challenging work. But it gives me a very unique perspective and a lens through which I see the world and make sense of a lot of things. And as I have watched, and, and seeing everything that’s been going on this week, I have really made sense of it through the lens of trauma, we are going through a collective trauma. And of course, we are witnessing millions of specific traumas as well. So a few things to understand about trauma, when trauma is activated, it knows no time boundaries. So the you know, the distinction between the past and the present, really disappear when trauma is activated. And so we are flooded by emotions and memories from the past. And in a very real way, we can begin re experiencing traumatic memories from the past in the present moment. And so right, like the boundaries of time really start to collapse when a trauma is activated, or when a traumatic memory is activated. And so patterns of systemic racism can absolutely be touchpoints for both collective and individual traumas, which then activate these emotional responses and traumatic memories. That, of course, can be so incredibly challenging to contain. And like I said, right, like I think we’ve been witnessing this on such a huge scale this week in response to everything that’s been going on, and it’s just been heartbreaking. And of course, these experiences can be really terrifying. And if you look at the faces of some These protesters, you can see they are in pain they’re suffering, they look terrified some of them. And I think if you can look, if, if you, if you don’t avert your eyes, you can see the face of trauma in some of the faces. So when we ignore trauma, we shame those who have been traumatized. We communicate that they are somehow to blame. And this has been the effect of systemic racism, especially here in America. This adds insult to injury, and it makes healing from trauma incredibly difficult. So it’s like, it’s, I mean, it’s like pouring salt into a wound. I mean, that’s like such a poor metaphor. But that’s, that’s in essence, what it is, except, you know, let’s make that exponential. So when we look the other way, from traumas, we communicate that there is something wrong with those who have been traumatized. We communicate with our silence, that those who have been traumatized, need to pull themselves together. Because this is this is what happens because it’s uncomfortable for us, who are witnessing it, because their emotions, those who have been traumatized, their emotions are uncomfortable for us. And in that way, we put the responsibility on trauma survivors, to clean themselves up, to bury their emotions, and to carry on because we, as witnesses cannot hold it together. That is such an incredible burden to put on those who may be traumatized, who may be re experiencing traumatic memories who may be experiencing another trauma in that moment, we must not look the other way, we cannot, the cost is too high. The burden of trauma can no longer be carried on the shoulders of survivors only healing is found in relationships, healing is found in connection, healing is found in acknowledgement. Healing is found in understanding if I cannot acknowledge your pain, it makes it very hard for you to heal. So, when we consider what

Dr. Melissa Smith 17:40
that means, for so many who are suffering right now, acknowledgement matters. Silence speaks volumes. It is not enough is not enough to be silent. acknowledgement is healing. Healing is found in connection. Healing is found in relationship. So trauma is real, the impact of racism is real. So

Unknown Speaker 18:23

Dr. Melissa Smith 18:25
right, like, you might not like this truth. But it doesn’t make it any less true. So this is from Abraham Kennedy, again, the author of How to be an anti racist. He said, The opposite of racist is not not racist. It’s an anti racist. So what’s the difference here, and I think this is a great way to think about it. So one endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as racist or racial equality as an anti racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies as an anti racist. One either allows racial inequities to perverse or sorry, persevere as a racist, or confronts racial inequities as an anti racist. There is no in between safe space of not racist. So I think an important point that he makes here is that an anti racist acknowledges systemic racism. And anti racist acknowledges the impact of collective traumas. Right. And if we think about how that shows up, especially in America with the history of slavery, right, like, who there are significant collective traumas and that those play out, and that those certainly are playing out for many this week. And so, you know, to his point, it’s not enough to to not be, you know, to not be racist, because I think for many individuals, they would consider themselves not racist. But do you also acknowledge the the impact of systemic racism, and how that impacts individuals on an ongoing basis. So, now to the second point, and and that is to talk about why race issues can be so hard to talk about, man, they’re painful, especially for those in positions of privilege. Wow. Right. They’re so so hard to talk about. These issues are like a powder keg ready to go off. And of course, this week, they have exploded. So from Kennedy, he said racist ideas, love believers, not thinkers, I really like that, because we really do need to be critical thinkers. And I think that this goes both ways. So I had this conversation with my kids this week, because there’s so much going on on social media. And you know, our two younger kids don’t have social media, but our older one does, but I was having this conversation with all of them. And I think that there’s a real risk of groupthink on every side of this issue. And so we want to be careful about jumping on bandwagons, and kind of this, this whole group think mentality, and really slow ourselves down, and, and get clear on values and get clear on Okay, why would I be doing this? Why would I make one choice over another choice, and what is propelling that decision making, and that forces you to be a thinker, and not just a believer. And often, our choices are very well intentioned, but not always well thought out. And so that’s another thing that I would just invite all of us to do. So you know, I will just say, as a white person, I must admit, I’ve really worried about saying or doing the wrong thing, as all of this has unfolded. And I don’t think I’m alone. I think that’s such an under understandable concern. Because here’s the thing like I, I know where my heart is, like, I know, I have really good intent. But I also know that like, I totally don’t get it right. And that I don’t understand every aspect of, of these issues, and how could I, right? I mean, how could I, with my background, and some of the privilege that I hold, like, it’s just not possible. And so, you know, as I go into these conversations, it’s like, I, I hope that others give me grace. And I’ve got to give myself some grace in that. And I think that’s all that we can ask of one another. But I’ve also decided that the bigger concern is not saying anything at all. And that’s, so that’s where I’ve landed. And I think also, right, that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to speak up on social media,

Dr. Melissa Smith 23:16
or podcasts or blogs, or anything like that. Right, like, how you will speak up will totally be different than how I will speak up. But when it comes to race issues, in particular, the silence on the part of those in positions of privilege, is actually a really loud statement. And so you have got to consider that, like, you really do have to be mindful of

Unknown Speaker 23:39
that. You know,

Dr. Melissa Smith 23:41
I’m part of an accountability group. And we had a really good conversation about that earlier this week. And it was so helpful, like just talking it through and talking about some of the concerns and some of the, you know, some of the ways that maybe we could add value, while also you know, being sensitive to everything that’s going on. And so like having, having good people around you to hold you accountable, and to help you with your thinking, right can be very useful. So as many of you know, I’m a certified dirty lead facilitator. And so with that, I had the, you know, I have the privilege of being trained by Dr. Bernie Brown, and during a training with her a few months ago, I have had the gift of spending three days in a room with 120 people from all over the world. It was such a diverse group, and it was

Unknown Speaker 24:38
it was

Dr. Melissa Smith 24:39
so awesome. And we really had

Dr. Melissa Smith 24:43
three days of challenging conversations about race and privilege and equity and leadership. And they were hard conversations like I had to really take a close look at myself. And here’s the thing like I was not new to these conversations. I mean, I had at that point, I had three graduate degrees and two of those graduate degrees, were in psychology, which are heavily focused on, on these very specific issues around equity and inclusivity. And diversity. So like, I was not new to these conversations, but they were hard. But one of the things that we talked about during those conversations was the mere fact that if you have the choice to be silent about some of these race issues, for instance, that is privileged showing itself, right, that that’s privileged making itself known. So the ability to stay silent about some of these issues, is one of the ways that privilege manifests, manifests itself. So just think about that for a minute, like, let that sink in. Because that has really big implications. So I know, you know, I’ve heard more than one person this week, say, you know, I’ve just had to back out of the conversation, or I just had to take a break from social media. And believe me, I totally get it like, it’s, it’s understandable. And I’ve absolutely felt that as well. But here’s the thing, there are some among us that don’t have that option. Right? Like they don’t necessarily get to opt out of some of these conversations, they don’t get to opt out of some of these issues. They don’t get to choose whether they’re going to think about these things on a given day. That is privilege, that is privileged to choose whether you’re going to think about this, whether you’re going to deal with it, that is privilege, manifesting itself. So insane, this, like, I really want to be clear, like, I’m not trying to judge anyone with that statement, it’s just important to be aware of all the layers of what it means to be able to be free of thinking about these hard issues. And, you know, one of the things that the protests have done is that they have brought these issues to the doorsteps of many Americans. And they have said, think about us. Think about me, think about what I think about and what I worry about every day of my life. That’s one thing that these protests have done. For many Americans, they have forced us to think about race in a way that we have not had to think about. Right, because of privilege. And so you’ve got to pay attention to that. And so it is an opportunity, right, when you can choose to not think about it. And my invitation to you is to choose empathy, choose understanding, choose leaning in to these conversations, rather than choosing judgment, or choosing to blame individuals who are suffering and who are traumatized. Choose empathy, rather than choosing judgment. So I want to share something from Bernie browns, excellent book, dare to lead. And this is where she is talking about living into our values. And this is where we think about our third topic. And this is, you know, as we think about point one, which is all about understanding the impact of trauma. And then, of course, point two, which is why these race issues can be so hard to talk about that. So actually, let me back up a little bit, because I want to say one last thing about why these race issues can be so hard to talk about, right for many, many individuals, right, like so white individuals in positions of privilege. I think another thing that I don’t know, that I’ve clearly articulated, is we’re worried about getting it wrong. You know, like we don’t want to offend, like we want to, we want to be supportive, and we don’t want to get it wrong. And so sometimes it just feels like it’s easier not to say anything. Because first of all, like, especially on social media, like it’s easy to get

Dr. Melissa Smith 29:41
slapped down. And I would just say like, I’ve noticed, you know, I’ve been kind of tracking like what’s happening on social media. Like I think some social media influencers have kind of been, I think attacked is too hard. Maybe too harsh of a word, but I think that Maybe have been scolded. If they say too much for saying like, hey, like, that’s not your place, versus sometimes being scolded if they’re not saying anything. And so I think that there is a real fear out there for many very well intentioned individuals, that like they don’t like, they don’t want to get it wrong. And I’m not saying that that’s an excuse for being silent at all. But I just want to acknowledge, like, I think that there’s a lot of fear and a lot of worry. And like, it’s coming from a good place. Like, from a place of like, I don’t want to cause more harm. But I think also coming from a place of vulnerability, and like, you know, like, I don’t want to get attacked. So I think that can also be true. But what I, what I think is important about that, is you’ve got to, you got to be willing to move to your values, and move into that arena. And that’s what we want to talk about next, which is this third point, which is I want to, you know, what does this mean for your leadership,

Unknown Speaker 31:14
right, so

Dr. Melissa Smith 31:14
an understanding of trauma, the impact of trauma, why race issues are hard to talk about, and what it means for your leadership. So Bernie brown teaches that daring leaders who live into their values are never silent about hard things. So I think as a leader, this quote from Bernie brown can really be a guiding light for you, during challenging times. And certainly, as you navigate your way through what we are facing now. So daring leaders who live into their values are never silent, about hard things. Wow. That’s really, really important. So I want to read just a couple of things from her great book, dare to lead where she speaks more specifically about this. So of course, she talks about the metaphor of the arena. And when she talks about the arena, she she, this harkens back to Theodore Roosevelt’s great speech that’s coming to be known as the man in the arena where he talks about getting in the arena and facing your fears and daring, greatly doing brave things, and being a courageous leader, and that you can’t pay attention to the critics. Because, you know, you’ve got basically you’ve got to live up to your values, you’ve got to dare greatly and do courageous things. So this is what she has to say about this. So she talks about how daring leaders right, live to their values, and are never silent about hard things. And she talks about, you know, when she walks into the arena, right, so when she shows up to do brave things, she has some, some privilege. So there are lots of people in the stands, who are expecting her to do well and cheering her on. And that, you know, she’s had to overcome some things around gender. But there’s also no doubt that she operates from a place of privilege relative to some others. And so she says, when we think about the arena, we have to think about factors like race, age, gender, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, and cognitive ability to name just a few. So then she goes on to talk about this. I haven’t been in a company in five years, where people aren’t whispering, this is great. But how do we talk about race? So this is her response. So this is her counsel for leaders and talking about race. You first listen about race, you will make a lot of mistakes. It will be super uncomfortable. And there’s no way to talk about it without getting some criticism. But you can’t be silent to opt out of conversations about privilege and oppression, because they make you uncomfortable, is the epitome of privilege. So she goes on. Silence is not brave leadership and silence is not a component of brave cultures. Showing up and being courageous around these difficult conversations is not a path you can predetermine a brave leader is not someone who is armed with all the answers. A brave leader is not someone who can facilitate a flawless discussion on hard topics. A brave leader is someone who says, I see you, I hear you. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m going to keep listening and asking questions. We all have the capital To do that we all have the ability to foster empathy. If we want to do good work, it’s imperative that we continue to flesh out these harder conversations to push against secrecy, silence and judgment. It’s the only way to eradicate shame from the workplace, to clear the way for a performance in the arena that correlates with our highest values, and not the fear mongers from the stands. So right there, she gives us a really good guidance on how you lead and show up for others around these difficult conversations. So the way you do that is to start with listening to say, I see you, I hear you, right, I want to understand you, you show up with empathy. So just a few weeks ago, I had a podcast all about empathy and resilience. And I had a freebie on empathy and resilience, skill building.

Dr. Melissa Smith 36:02
So I will link to that freebie. So if you would like to get that freebie that can be really helpful for you, in these conversations. So again, to talk about race and privilege, right, it’s painful. And so if you’re a leader in a position of privilege, you and if you are leading people at work, you most definitely are in a position of privilege, these conversations are going to kick your butt. So they’ll be uncomfortable, awkward. And as a leader, you might be a target of pain, suffering, and anguish, anguish. So you just need to know that. As leaders, we often are the target of a lot of these emotions. But being part of a daring leader is committing to your values and committing to holding space for your people. So daring leaders create space for those who may not have a voice. So this is a quote from Austin Channing Brown, She is the author of I’m still here, black dignity, in a world made for whiteness. She says it’s work to be the only person of color in an organization bearing the weight of all your white coworkers questions about blackness? That’s hard. That’s a heavy burden, I can imagine. And so right like it in leadership roles when you open up dialogue, when you lean into these conversations, and I think, as we think about it, this week, with everything going on, be willing to bring these conversations into the room. And it can be as simple as asking your team, how is everyone holding up? And again, if you remember what Bernie Brown said, don’t you don’t have to have all the answers? And I don’t think anyone expects you to have all the answers. And you should not expect yourself to have all the answers. But listen, express understanding, express empathy, really listen and seek to understand what your people are going through, to be understood is powerful, and that’s healing. And that’s how healing actually happens. And for people to feel heard, and seen and understand, understood at work, that is so powerful, because maybe that’s one more place that that they didn’t have before this conversation. And for most of us, our work lives are such an incredibly big part of our lives. And so don’t ever underestimate the importance and the value of these conversations. So I want to, I want to finish by sharing just a couple of examples of daring leadership that we have seen this week, because I think they are inspiring, and they can really help all of us as we move forward in our leadership. And right like, it’s this, this is all this can be a little bit heavy, but there is good happening. And I don’t want to for a minute, minimize the challenges. And we also want to acknowledge where people are really working hard to get it right. So I think one that I want to share this is by the peloton, CEO and founder john Foley, he sent an email to customers on Monday, in which he said he said we have stood to quietly in the face of clear injustice. And then he went on to promise in bold underlined text that we must ensure this is an anti racist organization. So there you see he’s kind of adopting some of the language that we see from how to be an anti racist from candy. So there’s one, there’s one very strong statement that we saw from a CEO. And then, of course, I think, you know, I think there are plenty of people who are also, you know, working to make sure that there’s accountability on some of these statements, and that there is action behind these words. And I think that there is certainly value in that accountability for sure, because it’s one thing to profess our values, but it is quite another to live our values. And so that’s, of course, really important to pay attention to. So I just wanted to end with this statement from Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance bottoms, I just think it’s a great statement of moral authority from

Dr. Melissa Smith 41:00
a leader, as she talked about the strength of her people, and acknowledged their pain and their suffering and their anger, while also setting a really good boundary about what needed to happen. So she gave them direction. And I just think it’s such a great example. So I wanted to read part of her statement, what we saw overnight was not a protest, and it was not Atlanta. we as a people are strongest when we use our voices to heal our city, instead of using our hands to tear it down. We know our citizens are angry, we are angry, and we want justice. If we are to enact change in this nation, I implore everyone to channel their anger and sorrow, and do something more meaningful and effective through nonviolent activism. What started out as a peaceful demonstration quickly turned into mayhem, and unnecessary destruction, and ultimately an assault on businesses that are already struggling to recover from the covid 19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, I am calling on our communities to come together to show our strength as one Atlanta through prayer and working together to restore and heal our city as an example for the nation. And I really thought that was such a great example for us. So the last thing, and I will just share this from Ebrahim candy from again, how to be an anti racist, he says, The good news is that racist and anti racist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and an anti racist the next, what we say about race, what we do about race, and each moment determines what not who we are. And I think that that is great, because as we open our minds, open our perspectives and are willing to lean into hard conversations and are willing to seek understanding and really show up for those who are suffering, and seek to understand their stories and their experiences, and stand in solidarity. We can change our country, we can change our experiences, and we can find healing together, hand in hand. I know that that is my prayer this week. And so I’ll leave that with you. So in the shownotes, I have some links to some some book recommendations that I think can be helpful. One is the book by Austin Channing Brown, which I think is excellent. I will also link to her website. She has a newsletter and podcasts on these issues, which I think can be really useful. I’ll also link to dare to lead which is a great book by Bernie Brown. She talks about these issues and leaning into these hard conversations. Of course, if you want to do some dare to lead training. I’m a facilitator for that a certified facilitator for that, all about love by Bell Hooks is also a great resource for these conversations. And then of course, how to be an antiracist by ebron candy is also excellent. I will also link to the podcast and freebie on empathy and resilience is a great way to lean into these conversations and really listen and show up for others. So make sure you head on over to my website to check out the show notes with all the great resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-57 one more time www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-57 I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.

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