In light of recent (and collective) events, it’s important to know how to be a supportive leader. Oftentimes, support is seen as something a leader does to help an employee. However, the situations are pretty common: letting an employee leave early to attend a parent/teacher conference, allowing an employee to flex their time during a time-crunched week, helping a team member with his work when he’s overwhelmed. All of these are great and common ways to be a supportive leader. But, how can one be supportive when the cause is exhaustion, grief, anger, and hopelessness because another racial injustice has occurred?
After another tragic killing of black man, you may have seen various memes posted on social media such as:
“Check on your black friends. We’re not okay.”
You may have also seen posts by friends, colleagues, and/or family members venting about race and where we are in America. I recently came across a post where someone was explaining why black employees may be struggling at work or silent in the upcoming weeks, and requesting that grace be bestowed upon them due to recent events. Whatever your thoughts may be about what is happening across the country right now, in order to be a truly supportive leader, it is important to pay attention to how these events are affecting your employees and act accordingly. So, what does a leader do when the problem that’s hurting their staff (or some of them) exists outside of their organization, business, or company? Here’s a hint: if you ignore it, you’re saying more to your employees than you think.
Over the past few years, more organizations have taken the charge of announcing that they are devoted to diversity, equity, and inclusivity. Trainers have been hired to work with staff on their biases and examine processes that may create barriers for minorities. Diversity and Inclusion Officers have been hired or appointed to show everyone that a business is serious about equity and justice. However, the real work comes in times like these- when things are tense, emotions are high, and people are at a loss for words. In these times, a leader’s true colors (pardon the pun) show. Let me be clear- it’s okay to feel ‘stuck’ or ‘motionless’ right now. It’s okay to want to help your minority employees, but not exactly know how. If you’re a minority leader, you may feel paralyzed in trying to process your own emotions and help your team as well. I’m feeling that way myself. However, here are four ways you can be a supportive leader and show that you see and hear your minority team members (plus set an example for the rest of your employees):
Make a statement: There’s nothing like reading a statement from a leader about turbulent times and how devoted they are to combating racism and discrimination on all fronts. It sends a message to employees, but especially black and brown employees that you see them, hear them, are aware of atrocities happening, and are committed to making sure that the company/organization will not tolerate discrimination of any kind.
Give time off and do not penalize employees for needing a break: This is more than just saying, “Well, everyone has leave time, so let them take that.” What is happening in America, racially, is mentally and emotionally exhausting. It is exhausting for black and brown employees to wake up to another murder of someone who looks like them. Collectively, it’s excruciating and many of your employees may not be at their best at work. Understand that some of them are juggling work, while truly fearing for their lives. This is a great time to a) let them know that if they need time off, they should take it, and b) not give them grief when they do.
Ramp up counseling services for employees: Again, your employees can easily get their own counselor, but not everyone has one or has time to research one. Offering your staff counseling services shows that you recognize that they may need it. More than anything, it’s letting your staff know that YOU are aware of what they are experiencing, and you want to support them.
Take action: Are there local organizations near you fighting racism and prejudice? Are there community talks going on your area? Consider partnering with those organizations and engaging in those talks to be part of the solution. Make them known to your employees so that they can participate as well.
*If you are a black or brown leader, take care of your mental health while doing the items listed above.
These are hard times, but they’re even harder for employees who have silent leaders. There’s no point in touting buzz words like inclusion, diversity, equity, social justice, etc., if they become non-existent during tough times. Be the supportive leader that your employees need. The entire organization will be better for it.
Take care and be safe,