I’m going to guess something personal about you: I bet you were scared before the first time you had s*x.
(Gasp. Did she really just go there!?)
Yes I did, and what’s more? I bet the fear didn’t stop you from doing it anyway.
I’m getting personal because I want to talk about fear. We all experience fear. I know you can relate to being scared of getting hurt or making a fool of yourself. It starts when we’re kids and I don’t think it ever stops.
But fear is just a feeling — and feelings are fleeting. So why do we let fear stop us from having tough conversations about diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging?
Case in point: I had a CEO (white, male) tell me that he didn’t want to address DEI because he was afraid of what he didn't know.
"I'm the leader,” he said. “I shouldn't look weak or uninformed."
“Failing to educate yourself and encouraging your team to do the same doesn't make you look weak, it says that you ARE weak," I responded.
Then I asked, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if you educate yourself on DEI?”
He’s a smart man and he figured it out fast. Beyond his own (temporary) fear and discomfort, there was nothing to lose and everything to gain: an enhanced reputation as a leader, the respect and appreciation of his employees, talent attraction and retention, improved productivity, pride in being on the right side of history, resilience from taking action despite fear.
He decided right then to make the time and financial commitment to DEI training and development for himself and his company.
Think about it: we do this all the time. You, too, have a ton of practice being fearful, yet you chose to take action anyway— whether it’s s*x or riding a bike, public speaking or accepting a big promotion.
The difference is that those instances of fear only affected you. I don’t care if you never ride a bike! But when you let fear hold you back from taking DEI action, your personal comfort comes at the expense of other people’s safety, healing and agency.
That choice is not leadership, but cowardice. Fear and leadership are incompatible.
These are the kinds of leadership choices my clients find the courage and strength to make. If you’d like to bring my team to your company for a keynote or workshop, hit reply and let’s get talking.
P.S. If you yearn for a concrete guide, an actionable something you can do this week, my book The Allyship Challenge teaches you how to evoke justice in the context of the workplace.