Systemic privilege and white supremacy. Two loaded phrases that cause a knee jerk “not me!” response from most people. It’s important to unpack and truly understand what they mean, in order to dismantle them and heal the symptoms of a sick culture. It hurts everyone involved.
White supremacy is the belief that white people are better than other races. White supremacy is not just about the KKK and neo-nazis. It’s much more subtle and insidious. Often that belief or set of beliefs is unconscious. It can still exist deep in the belief system of people who are actively working against oppression. That’s because the U.S. was literally built on the backs of slaves. It’s the water we swim in, and we’re encouraged not to look at it. It’s a sick system, and it’s time to heal it.
According to Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, there are observable symptoms of a sick culture. To be clear, nobody is immune from these symptoms, regardless of race or ethnicity. We’re all impacted by the water we swim in.
Ask yourself if your organization operates under any of these norms:
- Perfectionism: people are quick to point out mistakes, they are unwilling to admit mistakes, and are unwilling to learn from their mistakes. They take it personally when someone makes a mistake. They conflate doing something wrong with being wrong.
- Urgent over Important: the tyranny of time rules over everyone. They are often in fire-drill mode. As a result, they tend to be reactive instead of proactive. Procrastination is the norm. They tend to focus on the short term problems at the expense of longer term goals.
- Either-Or Thinking: binary thinking rules. You lose, I win. There’s no concept of the possibility of both/and, There’s no room to think about creating a win-win situation. This is a by-product of perfectionism. It makes people overly simplify complex issues to fit them into a box.
- Quantity over Quality: if we can’t measure it, it doesn’t count. Output is king, regardless of any bad behavior while doing the work. Little or no value is given to how things get done. People don’t do well with essential skills like emotional intelligence.
- Defensiveness: leaders see criticism as inappropriate or offensive. People don’t take personal responsibility for their actions and behaviors. They play the Blame Game. They respond critically to new ideas. People spend a lot of energy trying to prevent others from reacting defensively.
- Fear of Open Conflict: there’s an emphasis on being “nice.” Avoiding conflict is a high priority for everyone. It results in passive-aggressive behavior and low accountability. When someone dares to raise an issue, they’re vilified. Problem employees get passed around the office instead of being fired, poisoning the well everywhere they go.
The antidote to these problems can be boiled down to these three suggestions:
- Develop Emotional Intelligence: this is really the answer to so many leadership woes. 95% of people think they’re emotionally intelligent, but only 10-15% are. Developing emotional intelligence reduces perfectionism, either-or thinking, defensiveness, and fear of open conflict. It helps you to see employees as humans, not cogs in a machine. There are skills anyone can learn to develop EQ.
- Play the Long Game: purpose-driven companies are less likely to prioritize urgent over important. Companies that operationalize their values avoid the trap of perfectionism. They are more likely to come up with win-win solutions.
- Develop Conscious Communication Skills: healthy conflict management is one of the most essential skills a leader can learn. You can better manage expectations and understand what needs to be brought into the light when you can read the room. Learning conscious communication skills helps you be less defensive and more open to the ideas of others.
As you can see, symptoms of a sick culture are everywhere. It’s a system that harms everyone involved. But the antidote is available. It’s not a quick fix, but it doesn’t have to take another 150 years to reverse the damage. In fact, we start to see real progress in as little as three months.
Johanna Lyman is the Founder and CEO of NextGen Orgs. She is a Leadership Consultant and Executive Coach with over fifteen years of experience in implementing organization wide change strategies for both Fortune 500 companies and Small Businesses.
At NextGen Orgs, they use a combination of unique delivery methods and processes that crack the code on establishing lasting organizational behavior changes in a relatively short period of time. Their proprietary and evolutionary system can eliminate months of frustration often associated with developing strong leadership and building a cohesive, collaborative team.
Johanna is a professional speaker, available to speak on a variety of topics related to culture, communication, innovation, and leadership skills. She is the Board President for the Bay Area Chapter of Conscious Capitalism and is deeply versed in how to help businesses be a force for good in the world. Learn more (URL: https://www.nextgenorgs.com/about/). Contact Johanna at firstname.lastname@example.org