The tragic and historical events of the last weeks – The death of George Floyd, worldwide protests and recognition of other black lives lost at the hands of police brutality- when combined with the economic and health challenges of a worldwide pandemic have challenged even the healthiest of leaders. Our work over the last 30 years has focused on the human side of leadership, and we are committed during these times to help leaders fight racism, discrimination, and inequalities throughout their workforce and their organizations.
What is a Healthy Leader?
Healthy leaders have a deep appreciation for what makes people unique. They believe that people are created equal and different and that each person has a special contribution to make. We are all extensions of everyone we know and have the right to be accepted for who we are, as well as the color of our skin. Healthy leaders know how to tap into diverse talents and build cultures of mutual respect. Valuing differences is not only moral, but it is critical to business success. We must all be working to be better at this. In contrast, unhealthy leaders harbor strong biases and resentments. Generally arrogant, they feel superior to others and believe people are born different and unequal. Not surprisingly, they tend to be dogmatic and unable to take another’s perspective, and typically demand conformity.
The Power of Unconscious Bias
To be inclusive, we first must see clearly, with an unbiased mind. Yet bias is as natural to humans as breathing. Many biases are hardwired in our reptilian brain to protect us, like being fearful of a hot burner and not putting your hand on it. The real question is not “Do we have bias?” but “which biases are mine?”
Unconscious biases are hidden thoughts and feelings we have about other people and situations. These feelings can have no rational basis, and sometimes they are learned from others, yet they impact our decisions and behaviors. Because life moves so fast, we often resort to the cheat sheet of bias to help us make choices quickly. Through selective attention, subliminal messaging, and learned negative biases, our brains only see part of reality. This unfair stereotype prejudices us and can impose a cultural lens that hobbles our worldview.
Bias Becomes Microaggressions
One of the most insidious consequences of bias is “microaggression.” Microaggressions are brief, commonplace verbal or behavioral slights, driven by strong biases toward people who are different from you. They can be intentional or unintentional, conscious, or unconscious. However, the effects of microaggression are the same: They serve to alienate people and undermine inclusivity and innovation.
Negative unconscious bias and microaggressions prevent people from working together effectively. We all need to confront our unconscious biases head-on and operate with a more open and expanded mind. The more inclusive you are about yourself, the more inclusive you will be with others, valuing diverse people and eliminating prejudices.
At Healthy Companies, we believe everyone is a leader who has the ability to change their part of the world. Whether you lead serving your company, family, government, nonprofit, or your faith organization we must continue to speak up and take action when we witness injustice, microaggressions, or biases and continue on our course to being a Healthy Leader and to make the world a better place.
Here Are Some Tips for Being Inclusive and Respectful to Others
Be Aware of your Diversity Lens
Each of us starts with our own cultural biography influenced by where we are born, our experiences, our background, and our expertise. This lens influences how we see and react to the world.
Confront your Unconscious Biases and Overt Prejudices
Notice the stories you tell yourself about people and groups and the feelings you have about them. Question your assumptions and explore what is beneath your feelings to identify potential biases.
Be Curious about Learning from Diverse People
Ask yourself how each person around you is unique and what is special about their contribution. Be open to discovering what cultures other than yours have to offer.
Create a Culture of Inclusion
People enjoy talking about what makes them unique. Practice respect for these differences. It will broaden your perspective and provide more ideas and better solutions.
Plough through Obstacles and Resistances
When you are stuck on differences, keep your higher purpose in mind and create ground rules for communication and decision making.
Tap into Diverse Ideas Around You
Engage in possibility thinking—what if…? Be resourceful and creative; find the root cause of a problem and solve it. Test ideas in small ways to experiment and get feedback. Work together to approach opportunities in bolder ways.
If you would like to learn more about becoming a Healthy Leader® and how your leaders can thrive through uncertainty, see our Virtual Grounded & Conscious Leadership Experience which is part of our new Healthy Leader® Platform, contact Susan Smith.