Ep 110: Being a Leader in Contexts of Victimhood
Even in positions of leadership, there is still much to be said about being in a place of victimhood, most especially where racism persists. Adam Quiney sparks a conversation about being a leader in the context of racism and the inherent implications of white privilege to people of color. He cites examples in explaining what tone policing is and the value and dangers of it in being a leader. He also looks at the conversation on the other side, such as the impact of policies and racist tendencies for a leader who is a person of color. A conversation, not just thoughts, causes transformation and leadership. Tune in to receive fresh and important insights in this episode.
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Being A Leader In Contexts Of Victimhood
These are conversations that cause and generate leadership as opposed to conversations about leadership. The intention of this podcast, episodes, and conversations is that they create leadership at the moment, in the speaking, which is how leadership is generated. There are countless seminars, podcasts, books, and conversations about leadership, conversations that give you more information. Our intention and desire here is simply by virtue of being in this conversation, you cause more of your own leadership, the distinctions, and the conversations we have generate leadership at the moment for and with you.
What we’re going to be talking about is being a leader in contexts of victimhood. That is a mouthful and it’s also a real challenge. What I’m talking about first is generating the being of a leader, meaning not having a position in a hierarchy of a leader but rather, wherever you find yourself. Wherever you situate yourself, regardless of the moment where you are on any particular issue where you find yourself, the beliefs you have being a leader wherever you are. Particularly doing so in contexts that create or are rooted in some degree of victimhood.
Racism And Victimhood
I’ll talk briefly about that. Anytime I talk about a context of victimhood, that would be a context of racism, where the current setup in our racist context is that white people have a privileged position. The word BIPOC Black Indigenous People of Color, I’m going to use people of color, it’s a little easier. BIPOC sounds like a weird space alien. I mean no disrespect there. It feels better that way. That context, that conversation about racism creates inherent victimhood. That is the nature of it. People of color are victimized, they are held down, while white people or classified as white characterized as white are privileged. They get a benefit that people of color do not.
There are many other contexts that are in this victimhood thing, such as the patriarchy. Men are privileged, women are held down, like student debt slavery. That was a conversation more than a decade ago, a big one. The way student debt is set up, students have ultimately held victim to this system that they’re then forced to do indentured slavery. They have to work to pay it off. There are many of these contexts. It’s prevalent and I want to start by saying this is not a context about our conversation about making those wrong nor is it even a conversation.
It’s not a conversation about breaking up racism, or breaking up the patriarchy, or about any of that stuff. This is a conversation about being a leader inside the conversation that revolves around one of these contexts. We’re not having a conversation about owning our racism about addressing white privilege. It’s not to say that is not incredibly important. If you’re interested in educating yourself around those topics, the resources I’ve been using, at least have been reading White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, which I’ll reference a little bit at the end or throughout this conversation.
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Many of those are excellent resources if you wish to educate, and you should, yourself about owning the racist context that exists that we probably can’t see, especially if we’re on the privileged side of it. Those are important if not crucial conversations to be in but it’s not the conversation we’re bringing now. The conversation is about the challenge and almost the automaticity with which it removes our ability to be a leader and it removes our ability by giving us a reason to be right about the fact that we don’t have to be a leader. Let’s look at what this challenge is. I will caveat quite a bit because this is a sensitive topic and it’s the zeitgeist so it’s important to bring a leadership conversation here. I want to be careful and tread carefully as I go forward so as to make clear that this is not a victim-blaming conversation. If you feel blamed as a victim, please let me know.
Racism is not something I’m an expert in but it’s definitely part of our cultural context now. What we’re talking about here is any conversation that is related to a victimization context. It could be racism or it could be whatever. Ultimately, the underlying principle here is that victimhood is ultimately the opposite of leadership. Victimhood is a way of being. It’s the idea that I can’t do anything. There’s nothing I can do, I can own and there’s nothing I can take on to address, move things forward, and have things go differently, which is the opposite of leadership. Leadership is a conversation about what can I own about what’s getting created and what is there for me to take on to generate the result I’m committed to.
Victimhood is in opposition to leadership. More caveats. This is not a conversation about asserting well. You need to work harder, which then perpetuates privilege to the illusions of individualism or something along those lines. It’s a conversation about when and how it is challenging to generate the being of a leader. How does this all work? Here’s one of the most obvious places that show up, which is around a concept called Tone Policing. In White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo creates this brilliant distinction called Tone Policing.
Tone Policing happens when a person of color tries to share the impact of racism on them or people they know or the impact of racist policies or tries to communicate the racist culture context, etc., that they find themselves in. The person receiving this communication, more often than not a white person, is unwilling to listen to it. They’re unwilling to receive that communication because of the tone in which it is brought. The conversation will be something along the lines of, “I’d be happy to listen to you, if only you calm down and bring this more this way.” Do you get the idea? It’s a little bit inhumane.
It’d be like if I punched someone in the face and they were holding their hand up with a bag of ice trying to explain to me the impact of that on them and I told them, “I’d love to hear this if only you’d be willing to take your hand away from your face so I can hear you more clearly.” That’s a bit of a dramatic example but that’s a little bit of the unfairness in a way of tone policing. On the one hand, this is an important distinction. If you are a white person committed to understanding racism, deepen your awareness of cultural context, and see something beyond what you already know, hold, and believe to be true. I’m going to re-emphasize that last point. You are committed to seeing something beyond what you already know, hold, and believe to be true.
This is where contexts get us because we have this belief, “I understand how the world is and we can’t see our blind spots.” What a leader is committed to is having their blind spots reflected to them. You always have blind spots so you’re always going to have to continue to commit to that and be a yes to having your blind spots reflected to you. When they are, your immediate reaction is going to be, “I don’t think that’s the case because,” and you’re going to inadvertently cite the way the world is according to you. If you’re committed to something beyond that, you’ve got a situation here where you need to hold that commitment above whatever means by which this thing is being communicated to you.
What by that is, if someone’s trying to share a racist policy, a racist impact with you and you are committed to seeing that because that is what you are committed to as a leader, then your job is to listen and receive what they bring you regardless of the means by which they bring it to you. Your job is to get the communication without needing them to show up any particular way. Your job as a leader is to generate the result you’re committed to. In this situation, that means educating yourself, learning about the confines of what you already know, don’t know, and choosing to hear and see the gold and what people bring to you, regardless of how they bring it to you. I want to be clear. This is challenging. This is high-level leadership to do this. It applies in literally any context.
It doesn’t have to be one of victimhood because nature is that feedback rarely comes to us the way we want it to. We’re like, “I’ll take feedback. If you do an X, Y, and Z.” It usually comes on the heels of someone else’s upset when they’re finally able to share what they haven’t been willing to up to this point. What our ego does there is make them wrong for how they’re bringing it to us and we can dismiss everything that they have to say.
On the one hand, this tone policing, as Robin DiAngelo calls, it is an incredibly human thing to have to happen. It’s simply our ego protecting our world and ourselves as we currently know it to be rather than allowing ourselves to be exposed to something outside of our current worldview. Tone policing is specific to the racism context but it happens anywhere. I had an argument with a friend where he was providing me some feedback that was valuable. I struggled to receive it because he was doing it over text message and he seemed upset so I shared, “I want to take a look at this and this doesn’t work for me. It feels like I’m being attacked and I can’t feel your warmth.”
The easy thing for me to do, and I stayed up all night on this one was to make him wrong for how he’s bringing it, but he’s bringing me something and I’m committed to seeing what I can’t see. I’m paradoxical to say that but to see the blind spots and that’s what he’s reflecting. My work as a leader in service of that result that I’m committed to is to set aside the way he brought it to me and take a look and see how is this true even though it felt like an attack. It’s not because I have to do that but because I’m committed to something beyond my immediate reaction and being right about him bringing it the wrong way.
Putting all of this in a summary from this first part, a leader always listens for the gold even when it’s delivered to you covered in poo. I’m not saying that black people or people of color explaining the impact of racist policies or delivering it in poo. I’m saying that if we are committed to hearing, to receiving something in our blind spots, then our job as a leader is to set aside our story about how it should have been given to us better so we can receive what we’re given. That’s leadership on the side of the white person in this particular context.
We could also say this is leadership on the side of the masculine in the context of a patriarchy-based conversation. We could say that this is the job of the police officer that has arrested a white Anglo-Saxon teenager for stealing to listen through this lens. That’s a real clumsy metaphor that I’m putting together, I’m trying to create some other victimized context. My main point here is a leader always listens for the gold, even when it’s delivered covenant poo. Regardless of the means by which is delivered, the leader listens for the gold.
That’s one side of it. Let’s talk about the other side of this because this is where leadership is especially challenging. That first part is challenging because there’s a privilege on the line and we don’t want to believe that we’re racist and we’ve got all these stories about here’s what’s going on. On the other side, we’ve got this place that’s funky in terms of leadership. The book of White Fragility, I would assert is ultimately a book about supporting white people and those that benefit from white privilege and those that struggle with white fragility. It’s a book about supporting those people to be leaders in dismantling their own racist context. The danger with distinctions, tone policing, white guilt, or other like things like that is that they can also be used to reaffirm and continue victimhood as opposed to generating leadership.
Imagine on the other side of this conversation, a person of color whose commitment as a leader is to bring to light the racist tendencies, the impact of policies, and to shine a light and bring into light the racist blind spots of people and policies, to the people that they work with. White people probably especially but at large. When they do so this person of color with that commitment notices that the white people that they bring this to do exactly what is listed in White Fragility. Struggling to hear them, requesting that they address their tone and ultimately, the person of color finds their message falls on deaf ears. The easy place to arrive at here and when I say easy, I mean an understandable place to arrive at here is, “What do you know?”
The truth of White Fragility has been proven and now this person who’s committed to drawing light on the racist tendencies of these policies and people around them throws up their arms and gives up. This person needs to read White Fragility. This is an abdication of leadership. This is a hard pill to swallow because it can sound victim-blaming which it is not so this is again not a conversation about making that person wrong. They have every right in the world to give up, to step out of leadership. It is not wrong to abdicate your leadership. The value is recognizing when and where you do it because you have the ability to choose something different.
Remember, a leader does whatever is required in order to generate the result they’re committed to generating. In this situation, the irony here is that it’s on the person of color or a white person if they were committed to this, to be responsible for their communication and to be responsible for the listening that they’re speaking into and communicating so their message can come across and be heard. The opportunity for leadership on their part at this moment is to address their tone and recognize that is going to get in the way of their message being heard.
I want to say that, again, because it’s nuanced, what we’re working with. The place for that person to practice their leadership in that one interaction is to recognize here’s a person who’s got white fragility. We’re going to assume we’re making this up. That means that if I communicate with a tone of making them wrong or a tone of aggression or something, they’re going to feel more fragile. They’re more likely to defend that they’re not that thing. If I want to communicate how this is racist, I’m going to have to address my tone because that is what is best going to allow me to accomplish the result I’m committed to creating.
This is an incredibly challenging place to generate your leadership because the obvious default conversation is, “I’m being subjected to racist policies. I’m in the impact of racism and now, Adam, you’re telling me and people like me that to communicate and change this, I have to monitor my tone. That’s not on me. That’s not my duty, Adam.” It’s a totally fair response and this is where leadership falls down. The thing here is that the being of a leader is there for you, I, and everyone to step into regardless of where we find ourselves on any side in any particular conversation. As soon as we’re pointing a finger over to the other side of the fence and insisting they need to change, we’re abdicating from our leadership.
If you take this out of the context of victimhood, the job of a leader is to be 100% responsible for how their communication lands. The job of a leader is to be 100% responsible for how they listen to any particular communication and have it land with them. It’s paradoxical because we then would say, “If it’s their job to be 100% responsible over there for how they hear my communication, why should I have to do anything?” The answer is because your leader and you’re communicating something so your job is to be 100% responsible for how that communication lands.
“Adam, if I’m 100% responsible for how my communication lands, why should I have to listen to a particular way?” It’s because that’s your job as a leader. This is where we get caught up because rather than be 100% responsible on whichever side we’re on, we point over to the other side and say they’re not being 100% responsible. This is where we all get caught. Your job as a leader is to receive the gold of whatever is provided, even if it’s coated in poo and it’s also to provide people with the gold that you have to give even if it means you have to do so through the poo of someone else’s listening.
This is a pooey conversation. It’s a bit of a funny way to describe it, but you get the point. We’re going to talk a little bit more about this means of communicating on another episode, communicating like a leader but for now, what is important is noticing that whenever an issue becomes divisive and right or wrong. What I mean by right or wrong is it often looks like politicization or something like how could racism be seen as right? Yet there are people that act in racist ways, so we get focused on pointing to them being wrong, and the problem is over there and they need to shift. Anytime something this shows up, we’re going to find ourselves in a place where leadership becomes more challenging. It becomes so much easier for us to entrench ourselves in our own position and to point to the other side needing to change because they’re the ones that are wrong and I’m right so why should I change? What do you do about all of this?
The first thing you do is you have a lot of grace for yourself and everyone that is practicing. This is not easy work. Leadership isn’t something that comes easily. In fact, it’s counterintuitive to our human nature. Our human nature is to make the other side wrong, to be right about where we are. Our human nature is to be correct about our blind spots and to be correct about the way we view the world rather than to be open to being shown how there’s something we can’t see.
In that way, the act of choosing your leadership, that being of a leader is a little bit the act of divine in my world. To step beyond and outside of your incredibly human reactions to other people’s reactions and choose something higher. The best way you can practice this is to notice the fingers you are pointing at other people where you insist they need to change and take a look at what is there for you to do. If your job is to be 100% responsible, not blamed, not at fault, you want to separate blame and fault here entirely from responsible.
Your job is to be 100% responsible for how things are going. What can you see there would be for you to take on? What makes this so challenging is that contexts that inspire victimhood are often valid? I want to be clear that racism is clearly a bad thing that clearly needs to be addressed. It’s so easy to fall into the right and the wrongness of it and abdicate our leadership. That’s why it’s so important that we all practice leadership, rather than insist that what we’re doing is efficient and it’s you that needs to be changed.
What that means is that the conversation is always about what you can take on to do more of. What you can take on to generate the result you say that you are committed to creating. It’s a challenging conversation. I hope that gives you a new way to situate yourself in the conversation. If you’re looking at this and saying, “This is great and I wish they whoever they happen to be would listen to this,” you have failed the test. The test is for you to situate yourself in this conversation and see where there is a place for you to be more responsible.
Where aren’t you listening? It’s because of the way it is being provided to you. Where are you changing your communication? It’s because you are insisting they should receive you however righteously, “They should be listening to me. I’m giving them gold.” If you’re getting in the way of that, that’s your leadership to take on. In the next episode, we’re going to talk about communicating as a leader, and let me check it in quickly and see if there’s anything I’d like to plug. I’m going to plug The Forge.
It is a nine-month deep dive into transformation, leadership, coaching as a means of developing leadership, and all of that stuff causing your transformation and your leadership over the course of nine months. It goes from September to May. If that is something that’s been calling to you, reach out, I’d love to have a conversation with you about it. It’s not a conversation where I try to sell you anything at all. It’s a conversation about what’s possible for you, what you might want to create in your life, and whether or not this would be a good fit. Who knows?
Life happens in conversation not so much inside of our own head. If you felt that call, if you’ve got curiosity or anything like that, maybe now’s a good time to reach out. You can send me an email at Adam@AdamQuiney.com and you can also check out our little landing page for it at EverGrowthCoaching.com/The-Forge. I hope you enjoyed this episode and we’ll see you next one.