Leadership Development & Anti-Racism in the Workplace – Making a Difference!

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leadership and racism

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There are thousands of blogs, articles, and research pieces on the topic of leadership.  What makes an effective leader?  What qualities should a strong leader have?  How should leaders behave and not behave?  The following is meant to be a brief discussion on the interplay between racism and leadership in business.

The recent lawsuit by Brian Flores against the National Football League (NFL) and a few specific NFL teams reminds me of a blog we wrote in 2020, highlighting some of the reasons why Mr. Flores and the Miami Dolphins could potentially have benefited from executive coaching and development.

Does the NFL Discriminate Based on Race, Specifically Against Black Individuals?

The truth is, I along with most of America do not have enough insight or information to know.  Certainly, at minimum, statistics around the lack of diversity in positions at the top of the NFL ranks suggest a reason to be suspicious and support the possibility of racial preferences or discrimination.  Add on top of the Flores suit, David Culley, another former Black head coach, was fired after being hired only one year before.  The NFL is generically viewed as a success-based business.  Culley was arguably successful despite the lowly record of 4 – 13 as many NFL insiders and outsiders believe the Texans under Culley outperformed the talent on the team and as a coach, he did a very good job.  Do merit and job performance alone matter in evaluating an employee?  Good question and the subject of a different article.

David Culley Nfl Coach

Perhaps the pending lawsuit will help the world better understand whether Brian Flores was or was not subjected to racial discrimination. The focus here is what is leadership’s responsibility and impact on racism in business; in other words, what could better leadership development be done to lead to a better joint experience and outcome for everyone? No matter if the business is professional sports, professional services, nonprofits, or traditional corporate America, leadership matters.

In the past two years, the overall business community has had an elevated focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Some companies’ efforts around DEI were more altruistic than others.  Yet here we are.

What Is Leadership’s Responsibility to Fixing Racism and Discrimination in the Workplace?

Leadership Responsibility Fixing Racism Discrimination

On one hand, it is absolute. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, and many laws subsequently imposed since then, established clear rights of anyone working in the United States of America having the ability to go to work free from sexual harassment and discrimination as based on a myriad of protected classifications.  

On the other hand, it is indisputable racism and discrimination still occur in our society and in some workplaces. Any single organization, nor the entire collective business community alone have the capability to end all prejudice, racism, discrimination, inequality issues, or general issues around treatment, it is a bigger challenge. That said, leaders in corporations and small companies, alike should play a necessary part in embracing diversity while providing equal opportunities and creating inclusive environments towards the ultimate hope of eliminating racism and discrimination.  Leaders have a few basic responsibilities around racism and discrimination that, if followed, can make a difference. A few of these responsibilities include:

  1. Compliance and Education – Many States already mandate training on sexual harassment and discrimination to employers. Federally there are laws in place making it sound risk management practices to secure the possibility of certain affirmative defenses if a complaint occurs by implementing the following:
    1. Anti-Harassment and Anti-Discrimination policies that are disseminated to everyone member of the organization.
    2. Complaint procedures that are disseminated to everyone member of the organization.
    3. Sexual harassment and discrimination training for everyone in the company.
    4. Investigation of all potential issues related to discrimination or sexual harassment.
    5. Prompt corrective action based on the results of any investigations. 
  2. Champion Change – The adage of leading by example is incredibly important. We all have unconscious biases. What we do to understand how our biases may have a negative impact on diversity or result in a potentially discriminatory impact is critical. Back to Brian Flores, he believes he was labeled a “difficult person to work with” at least in part because he was asked to do things that his “White counterparts” would not have been. Whether or not Mr. Flores is correct in his evaluation, the question for this blog is what leadership (e.g. Owner Stephen Ross, General Manager Chris Grier, etc) could have done differently with the way they adapted and interacted with Brian Flores.
    1. If Racism existed – If we assume the extreme on one end and say the Dolphins’ top brass were racists, wouldn’t it behoove them to understand how their racist views did not manifest themselves in a way that was destructive to their business? Even if they were racists and couldn’t or weren’t willing to change, it is the obligation of everyone in a leadership role to lead their team, in this case, that included the Head Coach.
    2. If Racism did not exist – If we assume the extreme other end and the Dolphins top brass didn’t have a racist bone in their bodies and did not act in a discriminatory manner whatsoever, wasn’t it their responsibility to work at their delivery and communication with the people around them? To be sensitive to other people’s sensitivities?
  3. Check Egos at the Door – I don’t know a soul alive who would say they don’t believe some person in business, nor in the NFL has a huge ego. Ego sometimes creates blind spots and without learning those blind spots and actively working on what they have learned, leadership is failing to maximize the potential of themselves, their organizations, and their people. Phil Jackson, an 11-time NBA champion who as a coach was perhaps most known for his ability and willingness to work with the egos of those around him.  Interestingly, it may have been his own inability to learn to keep his own ego in check that led to the debacle with the New York Knicks at the end of what otherwise was arguably the greatest NBA coaching career of all time.
  4. Self-Development – Perhaps this is my own bias, though at my firm we genuinely believe executive coaching to be one of the greatest development tools senior leaders can gift themselves.  An effective executive coaching relationship will work with leaders to both support and challenge the individual to expand their thinking and see new possibilities. If there were non-discriminatory issues that led to the ultimate firing of Mr. Flores, perhaps having executive coaches working with the Dolphin’s leaders may have helped the organization work through the issues. It appeared to us back in 2020 there were leadership development opportunities for Mr. Flores.

Effective leadership has a lot to do with issues like racism and discrimination permeating their organizations. Leaders cannot necessarily control what each person individually says or does; they can work on themselves, how they conduct themselves, and set the tone for the rest of the business. Contact us at info@strategypeopleculture.com or (833) ROCK – SPC (833-762-5772) for a free consultation and see how we can help.

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Andy Botwin

Andrew (or Andy) founded Strategy People Culture, LLC in 2012 with a passion for working with the interconnectivity between people and business and the fundamental beliefs in the symbiotic relationship between the advancement and success of both people and business.