I often think leaders really aren’t aware of just how much they’re asking for when they ask us to trust them. They’re requesting access to the very core of who we think we are. But it’s tender in there; one reason why it’s intensely personal and very well protected. Access depends on a leader’s ability to present to followership, a sensitive set of social codes that link up with instincts that so primal that they size things up in the “blink” bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell describes.
We have computers, certifications, and all kinds of credentialing data at our disposal. But in the real world, where so little is known about how Black leaders actually manage to leap tall buildings in a single bound, that diamond- hard, solid trust they ask us for only transfers through the rare scent of authenticity.
That being the case, when leaders have so much riding on their ability to connect with diverse followers via our communal scratch-and-sniff, one wonders just what sense it makes for Black leaders to trade authentic cultural cues for corporate scent-masking behaviors?
Results from the League Of Black Women’s (LBW) recent national survey report, Fostering The Leadership Potential Of Black Women In America, reveal that the top benefits Black women expect to receive from their relationships with each other are someone who understands where they’re coming from, and relationships based on mutual trust.
“However,” the report notes, “nearly half of the women surveyed (41.3%) reported having no close relationship with another Black woman in their workplace. As one moves up the corporate hierarchy, segregated groups of Black women start to thin out, forcing an unnatural race-biased challenge that damages intracultural trust.”
The LBW survey also found that, “while 69.6% of the respondents reported having daily contact with another Black woman at their place of employment; only 7.3% reported that they actually socialized with that woman outside of their place of employment.”
I maintain that if you don’t know where a woman gets her hair done, you really don’t know her at all. Certainly, as a leader, you don’t know her well enough to ask her to put it all on the line to support your own leadership.
It’s simple. We need to be with each other a lot in order to sustain the intimacy that allows us to trust each other. It also means that organizations that lure you in with promises of opportunity for all, then switch up and impede or discourage in any way your efforts to enrich communal cohesion and support one another, are toxic zones that should be avoided at all costs. A few individuals may heroically rise in these places despite undermining barriers, but the kind of positioning they endure isn’t the prescriptive path. It will ultimately have you out there as stressed and lonely as the only duck on the pond during hunting season.
Here are 5 cues that you’re on the pond:
- Insisting that you refer to yourself as a person of color rather then your preferred racial or cultural identity.
- Advising you that it’s not smart for you to be seen too often with people who look like you.
- Challenging your efforts to mentor, hire, or promote others of your same race or gender.
- Telling you that your race or gender hurts your chances to rise, so you need to work twice as hard to get half as far.
- Insisting that you mask your natural style of communication in order to appear more acceptable.
Authentic leaders present themselves honestly. They’re known for their distinctive style and admired for their courage of conviction. They’re passionate about what they do, and that passion kicks up the heat that carries that authentic primal scent that reassures followers that they know that the true measure of their success rests on how well they serve and embrace “We the people.”
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