Sticky Situation – Is it racial injustice, or is it personal?

Is it racial injustice, or is it personal?

We recently published the issue called “Sticky Situation – Is it racial injustice, or is it personal?” written by Victoria Trabosh, CDC, CEC; Suzi Pomerantz, MT, MCC; .and Craig Carr, BCC, PCC, CPCC

The Situation: I’ve been hired to coach an executive who is African American and in a crucial position in a large tech firm. His female director is white. She sees the tension in his department and attributes it to a lack of leadership. He says it’s because he deals with bias and racism, resulting in a lack of respect and commitment to performance. The director isn’t buying it. How do I navigate this sensitive and important issue given what’s currently happening in societies around the world?

Here’s what one of our experts, Craig Carr had to say…

This scenario reveals prejudice working on an organizational system, so here’s how I would approach it as a coach: expose the hidden, acknowledge the unspoken, and express the rawness and vulnerability that wants a voice.

Help create a path forward for the individuals who want to become healthy and be leaders in the organization. This company has some work to do, and if they don’t do it here, they’ll be doing it at another time with the stakes raised even higher. That’s how a system rolls. 

And you’re right about the times we’re living. Norms are toppling, and fear and anger are close to the surface. People are “canceling” each other left and right, often without knowing what they want. It’s a minefield, but an exciting one if you have the grit and spirit for it. You could

say the good news about this situation is, “Thank goodness, this is coming out of the shadows and into the fresh air!” There is truth spoken. But lies, too, which makes your intention to sort through it admirably.

Paradoxically, though, I believe your first step is to let go of the idea that you are there to oversee working things out. Sometimes, it is the coach’s job to take charge of sorting, but in this case, that’s more likely to set you up for failure.

Instead, I suggest you frame the problem as definitely beyond any one individual, and even beyond the history of the organization itself. As you know, bias has a way of finding evidence for a viewpoint, so your job is NOT to believe any single narrative that wants to be in your face, posturing as The Truth. If you let that happen, you ostensibly become a part of the systemic dysfunction, and no one can grow when the coach gets lost in the forest with everyone else.

Step one involves slowing things down and getting out of the way. Step two is an appeal to the truth that the organization has a more significant culture and systemic problem than they may suspect. If they don’t go there – if that seems too hard or too big to tackle – and you still choose to coach this executive, help him to get clear why he would stay and what that would be like. Unless he’s ready to be in fight mode, and possibly become a martyr, going elsewhere could be his better choice.

Lastly, there’s one big thing to deduce from the words, “The director isn’t buying it.” She doesn’t need to buy into his story that he is a victim of bias and racism. It is necessary to buy into acknowledging that the organization has a race issue it wants to put in the past for good.

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