The critical skills I was missing as a leader (and still work on)
“I really stepped in it again,” I said to my anti-racism coach.
I was describing a moment where I’d stumbled as a coach—as a non-BiPOC coach, with a client of color.
“I remember her reaction exactly—I said something in a way where I was telling her as though I am the expert. I failed to be a coach honoring her expertise. I could see the door closing behind her eyes. I could see her energetically closing herself off from the conversation.“
“This pattern of me telling versus coaching with my clients of color is consistently happening… more so than my white clients. And I am working so hard on it. ” I continued.
When I started working with my coach – a Black Woman that devotes a great deal of her work helping white folks understand their internal racism – I wasn’t even aware that I was doing this. Now I was aware, but I was struggling to disrupt my own habitual behavior.
“Maybe I’m not the right coach for her,” I concluded. “I feel like I’m doing a disservice to my clients who are people of color. Maybe I shouldn’t coach them…”
“Rachel,” my coach said firmly—and with a small dash of humor. “Really? That’s the solution?”
“Right,” I nodded and smiled. “Not a helpful reaction…”
She continued, more seriously, “You really think you shouldn’t coach people of color because you’re too afraid to fail? How is that of service?” she asked.
She was absolutely right. My quitting the work because it was uncomfortable and challenging wasn’t of service to anyone. In fact, it was the easy way out. Quitting was avoiding important work vital to me being a world class coach and appropriately serving all of my clients.
This is what I know to be true: my relationships are my currency as a leader.
That means that I need to create trust and transparency with my people–direct reports, peers and stakeholders. They need to feel seen and heard by me.
What I’ve come to realize, as a result of working with my anti-racism coach, is this: As a white person, I cannot have or foster safe relationships with people of color—in my company, network, and sphere of influence—without actively doing anti-racism work.
It’s uncomfortable. It’s challenging. And it means looking at my own shit.
The insidiousness of racism shows up in the subtlest of thoughts.
When I, as a non-BIPOC person, started looking at my conditioned behaviors, I was overwhelmed by intense feelings of shame. “I’m a terrible person.” “I am a terrible coach.”
It’s easy to get stuck in shame. The problem is that shame allows me to stay where I am. It enables me to never move through it and as a result never rectify the behavior and shift the underlying belief.
Shame can immobilize me, making me withdraw and shut down. This was exactly what was happening during the session with my antiracism coach and is what led to the thought that maybe I shouldn’t be coaching people of color.
“Being of service to your clients of color is showing up and looking at your white filters. When you fail, you apologize. It’s not about being good or bad or perfect. You WILL fail. That’s the point of this work. You’re coming against deep conditioning,” my coach reminded me.
She says often, “Shame is a liar.”
Shame is the easy way out. I’ve learned that the only way to heal it is by moving THROUGH it.
As a non-BiPOC person, I grew up and still live in an environment where whiteness is placed above all others. It is embedded in my daily life, my company, my client’s companies, our infrastructure and ourselves.
Recognizing that I have been an unwitting participant in a racist system doesn’t mean that I’m good or bad.
I believe: I remain a participant if I don’t start doing the work, if I don’t continue the work. When I don’t do my anti-racism work, I perpetuate racism.
MettaWorks is in the business of strengthening relationships at the highest level so you become the most successful, influential leader, who is sought after in your industry. A vital part of that path to success, as a non-BIPOC leader, is disrupting your own white filters.
We are not an antiracism coaching practice. And. We do our own anti-racism work as coaches and as a team. We invite our non-BIPOC leaders to do the same.
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant