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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Why vulnerability should be a top resolution for today’s leaders

Leaders with vision must reflect on their own level of commitment and identify inherent vulnerabilities in order to see different results.

Why vulnerability should be a top resolution for today’s leaders
[mavoimages /AdobeStock]

Given today’s ever-changing diverse corporate landscape among employees and workplaces, executives must examine the core connection between leadership and vulnerability in 2022. It’s a commitment that starts at the top.

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If you visit the “Careers” page of any company’s website, you’ll likely find a blurb publicly stating their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The cultural reckoning that’s forced many overdue conversations about racism, inherent biases and inequity has set a global movement for purposeful change.

Undeniably late to the game, Corporate America was given a blaring wake-up call in 2020 with employees fed up with racism, demanding more from their employers. But how does anyone know if initiatives around diversity were just quick additions, or whether they hold a commitment to long-lasting transformational change?

Taking words from a page and putting them into practice is a commitment that must start at the top. Those of us at the forefront of this work know that leaders with vision must reflect on their own level of commitment and identify inherent vulnerabilities in order to see different results.

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CULTURAL AWARENESS VERSUS JUST SEEING THE FACTS 

Authentic DEI work is seeing that people from all racial, ethnic and gender groups deliver exceptional outcomes at the highest levels of business. Unfortunately, in many corporate settings, hiring Black, Asian or Indigenous people is still considered a “diversity hire.” This false narrative of underrepresented leaders being a “risk” is just that: an inaccurate claim rooted in bias, racism and systemic oppression. In order to elevate the representation of Black CEOs, we first have to understand what prevents minority talent from advancing into senior profit-and-loss (P&L). In fact, a recent report by Korn Ferry revealed that Black P&L leaders are actually the highest-performing leaders in the C-suite, but are rarely granted access to C-suite opportunities.

I often hear from corporate leaders the need to make data-driven decisions, yet they consistently ignore the data that exists right in front of them. Part of vulnerability in leadership is developing a cultural awareness that sees facts as truth. While DEI is a top priority for many companies, we still live in a country where hiring a Black senior leader or a female executive is a diversity win, when in reality, people from all groups are delivering industry-changing results for their companies.

VULNERABILITY IN LEADERSHIP STARTS WITH SELF-REFLECTION 

We talk about vulnerability being a key attribute of great leaders. But what does this really mean? The power of vulnerability in leadership is never better exhibited than when leaders bring tough conversations into the workplace. Fearing saying the wrong thing or making a mistake when it comes to DEI paralyzes many leaders into inaction. In order to shift DEI awareness to action, leaders must turn reflection inward and address the unconscious biases they hold. On the other hand, vulnerability requires a level of honest self-reflection. It’s a learning process to approach complex DEI conversations without the fear of making a mistake.

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Vulnerability and transparency are what are needed in today’s diverse corporate landscape. Leaders I’ve seen do this well have taken steps to grow personally, with a commitment to having those difficult conversations and making necessary changes. They create a safe place to share these discussions with their larger organization and listen to different ideas on difficult topics. They know that change isn’t a one-and-done conversation and are dedicated to creating opportunities to help their team grow. And perhaps most importantly, these leaders acknowledge that they too won’t always get it right and actively look for guidance from others.

LOOKING FOR GUIDANCE IN THE RIGHT PLACES 

Bottom line: Leaders need guidance to help them redefine their leadership commitment in today’s ever-changing corporate landscape. Look around the room; does everyone look just like you? Hiring the right executive partner to consult on your DEI programs and policies is imperative in 2022 and beyond. But first, leaders must start with examining their unintended unconscious bias within their workplace, among employees and holistically in the world.

Before projecting DEI initiatives outward, leadership must turn reflection inward and address any unconscious biases they hold. Anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion education is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s taking the responsibility of leaders to assess where they are; ask for help and surround themselves with the right support. DEI is a lifelong commitment to practicing and implementing, not just preaching.

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Dr. Ebbie Parsons, III is the Managing Partner of Yardstick Management, America’s leading Black-owned Management Consulting firm.

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