Commentary

Leading in Times of Terror

May 23, 2017

A familiar form of tragedy played out last night at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, as a bomb tore through the entrance to the Manchester Arena killing 22 people and injuring as many as 120 more. The Islamic State has claimed credit for the incident, the deadliest terror attack in Britain since 2005. The concert arena was filled with families; Grande’s key demographic are girls ages 8-15.

And now, once again, millions of people are walking into work processing a collective horror, feeling unsafe or under an oppressive veil of suspicion, worried what this may mean for the world, for their families, for themselves. What do leaders do now?

I first began thinking about leadership’s role in helping people process trauma last year, after the highly publicized police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana, and the lone gunman attack on the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

Subsequent reporting has made it clear that people relish the opportunity to share their fears but also their stories. The decision to have these difficult conversations at work can be transformative for workplaces and the humans who inhabit them.

My recent profile of Tim Ryan, PwC’s U.S. chairman, made it clear that saying nothing is a missed opportunity.

Ryan sent a letter to employees on July 8, 2016, the day after a disturbed veteran killed five officers in Dallas during a protest over police shootings. Over the weekend, his inbox was flooded with gratitude. “The big theme in the responses was that all this stuff was happening and the silence around it was deafening,” he told Fortune. “If I’m coming to work—the place I spend more time than anyplace else, practically—and I’m not sure my son is safe, or I don’t know what to say to a black person, then people can’t realize their full potential.” The responses emboldened an anxious leadership team to hold in-person staff meetings to explore race and conflict; the meetings had no rules and no structure beyond some privacy measures and calls for respect. Now, those in-person conversations have become part of the way the culture operates. (I'll have an important update on Ryan and his vision for creating inclusive organizations later this week.)

But what will today bring for you?

Reverend Mariclea Chollet, who is part of an organization that trains corporate, hospice and military chaplains, tells raceAhead that in times of trauma, front line leaders need to be prepared for fear to surface in unexpected ways, particularly if people are already feeling vulnerable at work.

“Managers need to generate a forum in the workplace for conversations that address issues of safety and foster resilience,” she says. “And they need to be open to the many different understandings of what safety might entail, and be willing to navigate those differences in a way that are inclusive for all.”

And those managers need a safe place to go if they’re unsure of how to handle a concern that arises.

Alison Davis-Blake, the Leon Festinger Collegiate Professor of Management and Organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, counsels against rushing past the difficult parts of any conversation. “Leaders make the mistake of wanting to put a band-aid on things, then trying to get everyone right back to work,” she says. “But a compassionate organization cultivates a sense of empathy for those who are suffering. And the first thing is for leaders to be present, talking, listening, and acknowledging that something specific has happened and that some people may have concerns.”

She recommends bookmarking the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizations, which was created after the attacks of September 11th, specifically to help organizations respond to pain in more inclusive and effective ways.

But I’m also moved to repeat this simple advice shared by David Kyuman Kim, a professor of religious studies and American studies at Connecticut College: By giving genuine attention to the differences between us, people find the courage to talk about their lives. And that's when connection happens. It remains the most effective thing I've learned to do when my own brain is fogged with fear.

“We have a responsibility to draw our attention to co-workers, to community members and ask a simple question – ‘how are you doing?’” says Kim. “And then listen, really listen, as if you don’t already know the answer.”

How are you doing? Let us know.

On Point

Seven ways to calm a young brain in trauma

K-6 classroom teacher Dr. Lori Desautels offers this thoughtful guide to helping children who have experienced trauma begin to feel safe enough to focus. “A traumatized brain can be tired, hungry, worried, rejected, or detached, and these states are often accompanied by feelings of isolation, worry, angst, and fear,” she says. Kids who have been traumatized are often in a constant state of agitation, unable to form healthy attachments or make progress in school. They need help feeling safe inside their own bodies, she says. The techniques are simple and work for everyone. Deep breathing, movement and dancing are all helpful, but my favorite is a rhythmic clapping or drumming exercise that gets the entire class moving in the same rhythm. “The collective sound brings a sense of community to the classroom,” says Desautels.

Edutopia

Ellen Pao joins Kapor Center and Kapor Capital, aims to increase diversity in tech

It’s an alliance of diversity titans. Yesterday, tech and diversity veterans Freada Kapor Klein and her husband Mitch Kapor announced that Pao will be the chief diversity and inclusion officer for Kapor Center for Social Impact and a venture partner at Kapor Capital. Pao, whose lawsuit against her former venture capital firm helped catalyze her work to make tech more inclusive, will be focusing her efforts primarily on the Kapor Center’s work to bring underrepresented technologists to market. But her part-time work in the venture capital arm is sure to make waves. According to USA Today, Pao will be helping the investment team with seed-stage investments in companies focused on education, health care, economic inclusion and access to opportunity.

USA Today

Lupita Nyong’o and Rihanna set to star in some sort of caper movie written by Issa Rae and directed by Ava DuVernay because fans wished it into existence

A funny aside on Twitter became a meme, then a bidding war, and now a movie. It started with a photo of Nyong’o and Rihanna sitting together at a 2014 fashion show. “They look like they’re in a heist movie with Rihanna as the tough-as-nails leader/master thief and Lupita as the genius computer hacker,” tweeted @ElizabitchTaylor. Then the meme-masters took over. Fans, delighted at the prospect of the project coming to life, tweeted to the two women, then tapped Insecure creator Issa Rae to write it, and begged Ava DuVernay to direct. To the delight of the world, all four women gave a thumbs up on Twitter. Netflix won the project in a bidding war and now production date is 2018. Take my money, queens.

EW

The secret life of Jared Kushner, landlord

As it turns out, many of the holdings managed by real estate scion Jared Kushner's firm are far from the shiny towers of New York’s Fifth Avenue. Instead, they are humbler digs found in rust belt communities in financial trouble across the country.  Rather than upscale luxury, the multi-family units tend to be down-market “'distress-ridden, Class B’ apartment complexes” purchased out of bankruptcy, sometimes in dire states of disrepair. But the development strategy, according to this careful investigation by ProPublica is not appreciation, it’s steady cash flow. For the low-income tenants of the “Kushnerville” complexes in the Baltimore area, that’s meant sub-standard housing, harassment for late payments, garnishment threats and aggressive lawsuits. And most don’t know that their rental units are owned by the President’s son-in-law.

ProPublica

The Woke Leader

AfroRazones is a multi-artist exploration of being black and proud in Cuba

Take a moment to watch this short trailer for the AfroRazones project, a twelve-track compilation album of hip-hop, spoken word, instrumental and R&B music, devoted to the broader theme of black identity and resistance in Cuba. Their website describes it as a “Cuban manifestation of Black resistance in 2017.” While it is very much rooted in the Cuban experience, reviewer Sara Skolnick explains that there is much to learn from the process of its creation. “Beyond the high-level quality of AfroRazones, however, is the importance of archiving the methods of collaboration, cultural production, and the discussions that emerged throughout the process,” she writes. “AfroRazones offers a model example of representation and cultural exchange, but also of archiving the process of building bridges between Black resistance movements.” True, no doubt. But there is something thrilling about seeing nearby cousins processing their experiences as descendants of Africa with such joy and commitment.

Remezcla

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave an extraordinary speech about race, history, and justice

It’s worth a read, but I found it particularly moving to hear it in his own voice. The removal of the four Confederate-era monuments was really just an excuse for the mayor to raise bigger issues of who we should expect to become based on how we remember ourselves. He places New Orleans, correctly so, as the best of the American melting pot dream, a “bubbling cauldron of many cultures.” He does a masterful job calling out tough truths. “And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans.” If you’re in the mood to enjoy some authentic statecraft, then this speech is for you. He even sips some tea in the middle, but that’s none of my business.

Pulse Gulf Coast

On looking for kindness in the sea of college applications

The college admissions process is a brutal one, and we are wise to hold institutions to account for their methods and ourselves for our madness. But Rebecca Sabky, who works in undergraduate admissions for Dartmouth College, asks us to consider a different type of student amid the crush of ambitious, accomplished over-achievers. “Yet in the chaos of SAT scores, extracurriculars and recommendations, one quality is always irresistible in a candidate: kindness. It’s a trait that would be hard to pinpoint on applications even if colleges asked the right questions.” One of the best examples came in the form of a letter of recommendation written by a school custodian, who had asked to support the student’s dream because of his unfailing thoughtfulness for everyone regardless of status or station. “Over 15 years and 30,000 applications in my admissions career, I had never seen a recommendation from a school custodian,” says Sabky. “It gave us a window into a student’s life in the moments when nothing ‘counted.’”

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