Over my career I have helped guide leadership teams through challenges to ensure they are supported with knowledge and perspective. Being in a leadership role is an honor with a responsibility to show up, even when you aren’t quite sure how.    

This year, many of you were asked to lead a virtual team with little to no preparation.  

You were asked to be vulnerable and create a safe space for the mental health of your team while simultaneously meeting sales goals.   

You are now being called to join the national conversation regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and not alienate your teammates in the process.    

Here are some tips to use this as an opportunity to build trust and support within your team:   

1. Acknowledge the Movement: Your team is living through this experience and it is bigger than you. Without addressing and acknowledging what is going on around us, you risk sounding tone deaf when you ask for an update on an assignment. Ignoring and avoiding an honest conversation could lead to a disconnect between you and your teammates.     

“I understand that our nation is at a pivotal moment in history. I acknowledge that each of you may have different experiences with racism and are processing this experience in your own way.”   

2.) Be Honest: I have seen awareness happen on many different levels – much like a spectrum would look like. There are individuals in our society who have experienced racism, those that are awakening to its existence in our society today, and those that are having a hard time understanding it exists at all. The most genuine gesture you can make is to be honest about where you are at currently. Make sure your actions support your words. 

“I am taking the time to listen and educate myself on the conversation surrounding the BLM movement. I do not feel I have enough knowledge and seek to understand where biases may lie in my own life. I support where each of you are at this moment and want to listen.”   

 Note: Another suggestion, depending on your group, would be to create a survey to see if they would like to have a kind, open conversation about their experience together or would they prefer to come to you privately if they need a space to be heard. You can enlist an HR representative or third party to mediate a respectful conversation in order to build trust vs. diminish it. Those that choose to participate need to make the commitment to be mindful and considerate as well. Keep in mind, not all teammates may want to engage in these conversations, and that’s okay. Allow them the opportunity to dismiss themselves.  

 3.) Listen to understand, not to respond: Give yourself a pep talk before going into the meeting. Make a commitment that you are going to actively listen to your team and their individual messages. Take notes if it is helpful. Let your teammates know you’d like to listen to what they have to say and this call won’t be for a response or solutions. You’d like to review their input and take time to digest it. Some questions you can ask to get the conversation going are:   

  •  Does anyone feel comfortable sharing an experience they have had with racism?    
  • Would anyone like to share how they initially felt after the death of George Floyd? What about after the first week of protests?   
  • How do you feel now?   

Seek to understand your team member’s mindset and how you can help them move forward. Do they feel compelled to learn more about racism? Do they acknowledge that inequality exists and want to work toward impactful solutions as a team? Do they want to process this outside of work with their family and friends?   

There is an opportunity to get into a habit of having a pulse on where your teammates stand and create a psychologically safe space for dialogue. Making it a practice to be genuine and vulnerable with your teammates has the potential to uplift and create a strong bond between them and you. This is the time to learn how to listen without feeling the need to provide a solution.  

I made a comment to a teammate that the sudden remote setup through COVID was the biggest team building exercise they would ever go through as a leader. This year continues to raise the bar. How will you utilize the lessons of this unprecedented time to become a stronger leader?