At the end of 2020, we challenged you to think about what leadership needs to look like in 2021. We suggested that three key courageous actions are imperative:
1. Speak up even when doing so is risky.
2. Focus on the collective.
3. Maintain fierce commitment to self-care.
The events of January 6 highlight the need for these actions more than ever. We’re sure you’ve read countless articles evaluating the failures of leadership at all levels within both political parties that led to current crises. That topic is well-covered by political scientists, historians, journalists, and others who are better informed about these events than we are. Within the context of current events, we are writing in hopes of bringing attention to how we – as everyday leaders — have the opportunity for positive impact. How can we live into the courageous actions we identify above within our own spheres of influence? (Quick reminder: we do not equate “leader” with a position. Every one of you reading these words right now has the potential and ability to lead.)
1. Speak up even when doing so is risky. Note: “Speaking up” means making your voice heard in a way that honors the dignity, respect, and safety of others. This may be the hardest one for many of us right now. If you operate in an environment where it is safe to speak up in a way that is aligned with your values, we encourage you to do so. But not all of us are this lucky. For some of you, speaking up may have dire consequences (physically, financially, or psychologically). “Speaking up” may need to look different for you. Instead of speaking up in a public way, live into your values by contributing financially or with your time to a cause you support. Consider identifying a small group of people who share your values with whom you can take meaningful actions that make a difference – if not in your current community, then elsewhere.
Here is what we want to say in this moment: We reject racism. We reject antisemitism. We reject hateful rhetoric. We reject lies. We reject shaming and bullying. We reject a disregard for science. And we reject the hurling of hateful insults that offer no solution to the deep divides that exist among us. Now is the time to act from a place of love and with an approach that recognizes inherent worth in all human beings. We are committed to engaging in honest, respectful, forward-focused dialogue.
2. Focus on the collective. The only way to solve complex societal problems that require many people to change their behaviors is to tackle them together. What we do and say matters because we are all connected. Denying this fact doesn’t make it any less true! Our behaviors and words have ripple effects. Failing to check your facts and perpetuating falsehoods influences vulnerable people. (And we’re all vulnerable to some extent!) Emotions are contagious. Anger, hate, and anxiety spread quickly from person to person. So do hope, optimism, and courage.
Here is how we’re staying focused on the common good: We continue to support the communities that we serve and admire – professionally and personally. We continue to donate to initiatives in which we believe. We are using our social media platforms to amplify the voices of nonprofit organizations in Birmingham that are doing extraordinary work that benefits our community as a whole. In our core business, our flexibility is allowing us to respond to the shifting needs of the leaders we serve. We have pivoted multiple times to create and deliver programming (grounded in behavioral science) as new needs emerge. (And those of you who know us well know that “flexibility” does not come naturally to either of us!)
3. Maintain fierce commitment to self-care. If you are reading this message, we are talking to YOU. Yes, YOU. Too often, self-care is viewed as discretionary, indulgent, or even selfish. Nothing could be further from the truth. Leading is hard, demanding work — especially now! Overwhelmed, stressed-out leaders are prone to faulty decisions and burnout. Ignore our advice here at the peril of your own well-being and that of the people and communities you lead.
Here’s how we’re committing to self-care: At the end of 2020, we recognized that we were depleted and burned out. We’ve entered this new year with a commitment to a schedule that allows us to have down-time to think, to plan, to be creative, and to spend quality time with our families when we are not stressed out and distracted. This means saying no . . . to really cool business opportunities, to making more money (but not having the time to enjoy it), and to perfectionism.
This commitment to self-care provided us with the time and space to compose this message. And this message (and our communications via our social media platforms) are part of our self-care. They represent our ongoing effort to stay connected to a community of people we love, admire, and respect, especially since we can’t see you all in person right now. This community provides us with the opportunity to take the very actions we recommend that all leaders take in 2021. It is one of the places where we are speaking up. You are part of our collective. You are the people who give us energy and motivation to keep going.
We’re here for you.
Lisa and Julie