This post is part of our Monthly-ish Tips series.

river eddy

I have three draft Weekly Tips in various stages of completion, and I have a lot of internal churn about all of them. This is unusual for me. I normally try not to overthink it, crank out a draft tip in 90 minutes or so, print and proof, and hit the “go” button with my team.

It’s different now because the latest drafts are all related to racial justice, and they’re specifically written for White people like me. Why? Because it has become crystal clear to me in recent months that extraordinary work relationships must be conscious relationships, and for White people that starts with our own racial literacy—something that many of us are now confronting for the first time in our lives.

The related subjects can be complex. I started by addressing White privilege in my last tip, and there’s more I want to learn and share about that. There’s also unconscious bias, systemic racism, and microaggressions, to name a few. Plus, I’m tackling these topics in an historical time wrought with myriad emotions, and with a largely White audience that’s not used to me taking such a strong stand on something that (1) many see as “political,” and (2) most understandably find uncomfortable. So, yes, it’s important for me to take some extra time to be thoughtful about it all.

But I also realized just now, stuck in my own paralysis about what in the world I would publish next, that my internal churn probably has relatively little to do with finding the best information to share, checking my sources, and striking the right tone. The real source is plain old fear, plain and simple, triggered by the fact that the second in a series creates an actual series. By publishing it I will confirm that I meant it when I said I’d be dedicating this channel for a while to racial justice topics written for White people. Which means I might alienate you, annoy you, disappoint you, upset you, lose you, or all of the above.

So I paused to take a closer look at the churn, and in doing so I got myself reconnected to five essential and interrelated lessons about leading with trust. They’re all front and center as I navigate this terrain. If you feel churn in your life too right now—about racial injustice or something else—perhaps this list will help you move through it:

  1. There is a time to take a stand. One of my favorite lines in The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook is some of the best Charlie Green wisdom available: “Knowing when to pick your battles is important,” followed by “If you have no principles worth fighting for, you have none worth living for.” There is a time to be flexible and collaborative and open to change. And there is a time to stand for what you believe in. This is that time for me. Because right now I am called by something far more important than any of my own fear, and that is my commitment to facilitate masterful work relationships that make space for all people’s spirits to come alive. As a White woman in the corporate world, I have a significant part to play when it comes to making that “all” as inclusive as possible.
  2. There is no trust without risk. Taking a risk includes having the courage to have a point of view (“White people have work to do to create racial equity”), and to raise sensitive topics (“Systemic racism is a thing, not a political thing”). If I’m sure that whatever I write or say is going to be easily received, then I’m not taking risks. On the other hand, if I’m concerned that I might lose you as a reader or as a client (check both boxes for me), then I’m definitely in risk territory. And while that might be uncomfortable, it’s ultimately a good thing—good for my risk muscles, and good for the levels of trust in my relationships overall, especially if I’m clear about the principles I’m fighting for.
  3. It’s OK to be messy while sorting something out. Messy is not the same as sloppy. Messy simply means there’s stuff I don’t have figured out yet and I am working it out as I go, as responsibly as I can. Messy requires faith in my ability to clean up any relationship messes I make in the process of taking a stand and taking risks because I’ve said something wrong or offensive or hurtful. Messy can build intimacy, quickly and profoundly. Messy creates opportunity for true collaboration. Messy is real.
  4. Trusted advisorship is an inside job. Leading with trust takes self-awareness. Humility. Ego strength. A willingness to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I’m not sure I can think of a time in my nearly 30-year career that I’ve ever been so challenged on all these dimensions. Growth opportunities abound. Time to get to work.
  5. When in doubt, open up. It’s always been so tempting for me to present a polished, put together, and “professional” front. To show you the best of me. To tell uncomfortable stories when they’re safely in the past and I can be funny and charming in my recounting of them. Opening up means instead being transparent about what’s going on behind the scenes (like, right now). Opening up creates so many more opportunities for meaningful connections than what my baser instincts would lead me to. And opening up breaks inertia.

So there you have it. Inertia overcome. Consider this the second in the series, with more on the way.

Make It Real

This week, look at the churn in your own life, and related to your own leadership. Which items on the list call to you as a way through?

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).