A time to show up

It was a small step after over a year of lockdowns, but we took it. My son and I attended an early-season baseball game: restricted to 9,000 people, all with masks on. There’s still risk even in this tentative re-emergence. Yet we need to find our footing, and take stock of a new landscape.

Things have changed, and in surprising ways. “MLB=BLM” lines the Major League Baseball stadium. The league just announced it was pulling its annual draft and all-star game from Georgia after its legislators passed a new “election integrity” law. I was amazed that even the CEO’s of two Atlanta-based global companies — Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola — publicly condemned the legislation as an attempt to suppress Black voters.

Last month, I hosted sessions for a worldwide Microsoft-sponsored event on inclusion & diversity. These were sometimes controversial topics with outspoken thinkers, and nary a restriction was placed on me by the organizers. At some point during the ongoing global crisis, several major organizations have shifted their typically cautious approach to public issues, and are taking a stand.

As author and community activist Mia Birdsong told us at our most recent Comm Lead Connects, it’s all in “How We Show Up” for each other. It could not be more important than now. It’s also changing. A lot of people are going to need help as we figure out what’s next. The old solutions — and our seemingly intractable differences — won’t help.

I’ve tried my best to “show up” while trying to keep my family safe over the last year: from forming MIRA! (“The future we create”), to all the public conversations I’ve led during the crisis, to supporting leaders of a new project intended to help the smallest of businesses — especially those owned by Black, Indigenous and People of Color entrepreneurs — in their recovery.

We may be done with “safe.” The nearly daily headlines of leaders saying and doing differently underlines the methodology I’m crafting in my new graduate course, “Leadership in Emerging Technologies and Trends.” How can my students and I thoughtfully serve as sense-makers for our communities and organizations, using story, trust, relationship and creativity to illuminate and facilitate decision-making?

My take (best expressed in the 9-minute video below): before courageously communicating, we need to do the even bolder work of convening our stakeholders to determine what matters most to all of us. With that foundation of principles, ethics and values, we can then more easily make decisions in the fog of uncertainty, which should always align with that cultural bedrock. I believe that’s what’s already happening inside companies such as Microsoft and Coca-Cola, as they externally respond to the internal advocacy of their employees and communities.

I’ll explore this further in my upcoming conversation with the co-founder and CEO of the global agency, WE Communications, on Friday, April 9. Melissa Waggener Zorkin helped Bill Gates bring Microsoft into the public arena in the 1980’s. Now, she’s laser-focused on the purpose and meaning of leadership in this moment. As much as we’re trying to lead, we also seem to be all learning in real-time as this moment continues to unfold.