Managing Relationships with Leaders
My educational background is in Mental Health, I have a Master’s in Clinical Psychology and I am a licensed Psychology Associate. That is largely how I was introduced to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging work and, as a result, a lot of my perspectives in my consulting work are funneled through that lens.
The work of a therapist is to help their client create a deeper, more intimate relationship with themselves and other people. Healthy relationships are the work of creating a mutual understanding about the histories and contexts that each person brings to the world and their partnerships, being honest about the dynamics that exist between them and others, and collaborating to develop boundaries and innovate new ways to optimize your potential and the potential of those partnerships. It is not at all unlike the work we DEI consultants do with our clients when we’re facilitating dialogues, developing trainings, and building strategic plans.
And while I am most used to using my background to guide me in managing my relationships with leaders of organizations that I have partnered with, where I have found it most difficult to keep as my grounding principles is when managing my relationships with my own leaders.
In Brian’s blog post, The Three A’s of Showing Up as a Leader, he highlights a scenario with one of his employees (that would be me!) and how his personal challenges led to some conflict between us. And I think it would be valuable to talk about what it felt like on the receiving end of having a leader practice what they preach.
As he also noted, there was a bit of time between the inciting incident and our dialogue about it and if I’m being honest, I was pretty frustrated… and at first ‘the pause’ only made me more frustrated. Brian was my leader, and I felt like ‘practicing the pause’ was an excuse to avoid taking accountability for the harm I had felt he’d caused with his actions; the pause wasn’t an agreement we made, it was one he made and I received it as an exercise of power.
…and I felt like ‘practicing the pause’ was an excuse to avoid taking accountability for the harm I had felt he’d caused with his actions…
Consequently, I was preparing for resistance. Something we must do often in our line of work is carefully guide leaders through their discomfort in order to impact change, but it feels way direr when your own harm is at the root. I was preparing to have to defend my feelings, and plead for empathy… until I learned that Brian actually used the pause intentionally.
He took the exchange to his professional peers, to therapy, and to his personal reflection spaces. When he showed up to our meeting, he retold the story of our exchange from his perspective, adding in the context of his emotional and mental experience at the time allowing for a more humanized perspective. Not as an excuse, but a perspective to open me up to what followed: an acknowledgment, an apology, gratitude for my forthright approach, and an openness to my perspective. I was shocked.
…adding in the context of his emotional and mental experience at the time allowing for a more humanized perspective.
I had to check myself in that moment and really lean into my training to ensure that we optimized this space of understanding, history, context, honesty, vulnerability, collaboration, and innovation. Resolution came swiftly because we honored our shared humanity and practiced what our organization is preaching to other organizations every day.
Having ushered clients (therapeutic and business) through the work Brian went through to show up as he did in our dynamic, I know that it was surely uncomfortable. Yet, Brian showed an active effort to change as a leader to meet the needs of his employee.
I can say wholeheartedly that the experience feeds back into my gratitude and respect for Hummingbird Humanity as a whole.
I feel more welcomed to show up fully here because I know there is genuine ownership by my leadership team to safety & inclusion in this space through my own lived experience. I think organizations need to see, hear, and feel those kinds of impacts: that employees can be understanding and even encouraged if leaders can be vulnerable, authentic, honest, open, and accountable.
he / him
Obella Obbo is a DEI specialist, mental health professional, and creative artist who loves to talk about identity, cultivate growth environments, and strategize on how to turn compassion into action.
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