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raceAhead: Leadership Lessons From Ted Cruz

July 21, 2016, 1:16 PM UTC

You have to admit it takes a certain amount of guts to walk into a someone else’s party, hog the spotlight, eat the snacks, insult the host and leave. But that’s pretty much what Senator Ted Cruz did last night at the Republican National Convention.

Ted Cruz sucked all the oxygen out of the convention last night, drawing boos and jeers as he congratulated, but failed to endorse, the nominee, Donald Trump. His parting advice to “vote your conscience!” made one state Republican party chair so angry, he had to be restrained afterward. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called it an “awful, selfish speech.”

But Cruz’s dilemma – if you embrace the most generous possible interpretation of his behavior – mirrors that of many other U.S. voters, who might be attracted to a Republican candidate, just not one who throws around racist, sexist and anti-Muslim rhetoric. What to do when someone you care about is willing to overlook positions on issues that for some, are simply unthinkable?

“My mother is voting for Trump,” one executive told me yesterday, already dreading every family get-together from now until the election.

What if it’s your boss? Your direct report?

Two great pieces of advice I’ve collected over the past few months might help keep families and teams intact. Bottom line: Don’t do what Cruz did and avoid the elephant in the room; ask good questions and listen to the answers.

Alison Davis-Blake, a professor of management and organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, says that times of emotional turmoil are opportunities for smart organizations to check in with themselves. “Think about this election season; think about life post-Brexit,” she says. “Issues of race, ethnicity and national origin are at the forefront and will be for some time.”


Now is a time to check in with employee resource and other affinity groups for an update. What are they hearing? What issues are coming up? Do they have enough resources? Surveys, done regularly, can help. “If you’re trying to create a compassionate organization where everyone can bring their full selves to work, asking smart questions can yield really useful information about how people are actually faring,” she says.

Research co-authored by Harvard’s Frank Dobbin, chair of the joint Arts & Sciences/Harvard Business School Organizational Behavior Ph.D., program, clearly shows what’s effective when it comes to fostering an inclusive environment. What works? Talking.

Systems like diversity task forces and mentorship programs, which engage mostly white managers in conversations about diversity as they relate to business goals (not politics), tend to help people understand the issues associated with race in a more personal way.

“Working with someone you wouldn’t ordinarily encounter tends to be revealing for everyone,” but specifically for leadership, says Dobbin. “Like, ‘wow, I had no idea this company was toxic for African Americans.’” Smart companies design systems that help people talk about race in productive and respectful ways. “It’s important to remember that the psychological research shows the worst thing you can do in the workplace is never talk about race and gender,” he says.

On Point

Trump’s courtship of black voters falling flatOut of 2,472 delegates attending the RNC, only 18 are black. The incredible whiteness of the Republican Party is hampering the candidate’s attempt to paint himself as more responsive to the issues facing black and brown voters, specifically jobs, crime and immigration.
Washington Post

Two selfies tell the tale of diversity on Capitol Hill
Two pictures spoke a thousand words this week, and those words were all about politics and diversity. Compare for yourself: The selfie that House Speaker Paul Ryan posted with Republican interns, and the one posted by Audra Jackson, an intern for the Democratic Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, in response.

Airbnb taps former Attorney General Eric Holder
Airbnb, in an ongoing quest to fix issues of race and bias on its platform has hired Eric Holder to help it craft its anti-discrimination strategy. Holder was U.S. Attorney General from 2009 to 2015, during which he championed the civil rights of minorities and the LGBTQ community. He’s now in private practice at his former law firm.

Excitement grows for new Oprah scripted series
Executive producers Oprah and Ava DuVernay are doing a masterful job stoking excitement for their upcoming series Queen Sugar, which follows the trials and tribulations of the extraordinarily attractive Bordelon siblings in Saint Josephine, Louisiana. Oprah, DuVernay and the cast appeared at the Essence Festival earlier this month, then dropped this extended trailer yesterday. Bonus points: Every episode will be directed by a woman.


The Woke Leader

Why we fail when we try to talk about race
In this installment of an ongoing series about race in America, Eddie Glaude, author of Democracy in Black, decries the now all-too-familiar habit we have of declaring that a “hard talk about racism” needs to happen every time a tragedy strikes. “These conversations fail,” he says, “because of the bad faith of those who participate in them.” Calls for unity let us continue to deceive ourselves that all is really well, he says. If you’re looking for a model for what hard talk looks like, this is a good start.
Bill Moyers

Unequal education is at the root of many social ills
Author Carol Anderson claims that the current need for police reform is a direct result of the unequal education that America has always offered its children, specifically black ones. Besides the widespread economic disadvantage that under-education causes, police are now being asked to handle the related, pressing social issues that would be better managed by the shredded safety nets – social work, mental health, addiction, etc – that could prevent people from entering the criminal justice system in the first place.

Witnessing violence can destroy kids, but counseling helps
Recent legislation proposed, and still being drafted, by Sen. Dick Durbin would connect children who witness or experience violence with some form of mental health counseling, an intervention that could be tremendously helpful in helping children cope with the long-term effects associated with violence. There are plenty of unknowns, but experts are encouraged by the move.
Chicago Magazine




The fear of triggering white fears often distorts black political behavior. We find ourselves swallowing our rage whole and refusing to speak difficult truths in order to maintain the illusion of civility. Like Sartre’s waiter whose movements “are little too precise,” there is something about our “calm” that doesn’t seem quite right. In that moment, we exhibit bad faith.
—Eddie Glaude