The Role of Leadership in the Journey to Systemic Change
Ahmaud Arbery. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor….and countless others. I speak today as an individual, healthcare executive, and founder of The Leadership Development Group, and place my perspective in the context of the crossroad between leadership, healthcare, and a strong unwavering desire to see just and equitable systems in this country that work for all.
Like so many of you, I am feeling enormous pain and overwhelming empathy for the black community who have long suffered the consequences of systemic inequality. We have stood too quietly and for far too long in the face of clear injustices. We must do more to create the future we all hope for and believe in. I believe that we have arrived at an important moment in time, one that will inspire America to engage in a continuous conversation around how we, as individuals, as organizations, and as a nation, can and must do better.
While the protests taking place across the nation are most poignantly tied to the killing of George Floyd, they are also an expression of widespread anguish at the numerous systemic racial inequities and injustices that exist across many facets of our society. In the health ecosystem community, we know that systemic injustice is, and has been, knocking on our door for quite some time. For examples of how this inequity has played out, we invite you to read this New York Times article on Race and Medicine: The Harm That Comes From Mistrust
We are facing two pandemics – COVID-19 and systemic racism. Both pandemics have disproportionately impacted the black community and both require us to take on systemic change head-on. As John F. Kennedy said “For of those to whom much is given, much is required." The call to action has never rung louder for leaders to step fully into that responsibility.
In the health industry, continued perpetuation of systemic inequality is at odds with our shared mission of healing the communities we serve. When it comes to systemic change, the fact of the matter is no one of us can do it alone. For systemic change to occur, diverse stakeholders must join together, speak out, and collaborate. United around our common purpose, health industry leaders must harness our collective power and influence to champion changes that will benefit the health of our nation. And, we must do it together.
What can we, as leaders, do to make a difference and foster systemic change?
We invite you to consider the following model for change:
- Envision a New Future
Leaders have the platform and influence to ignite the kind of dialogue that leads to meaningful change. We need to take the time to listen, discover, organize, and absorb from others to create a shared understanding of what a racially just and equitable future can look like to solve systemic inequality. Only from here – with a shared vision – can we align efforts and outcomes.
- Align Diverse Stakeholders
To advocate for change, we need to orchestrate a coherent system of actions taken simultaneously by actively seeking connections with stakeholders, taking concrete steps to enable trust, and demonstrating respect for diverse expertise and perspectives. For too long, we have focused on perspectives in silos – perspectives from the black community or from the white community but not together. We have avoided bringing diverse stakeholders to the table out of fear and discomfort of making matters worse.
- Manage Boundaries and Obstacle
We need to support constructive conflict by keeping an open mind, disagreeing respectfully and tirelessly seeking common ground. Focusing on opportunity by listening to objections, acknowledging concerns, and staying focused on the vision is critical to resolving and navigating tensions to generate options that achieve our common goals. This requires us to be vulnerable and empathetic. This is our learning edge, to push through the discomfort and begin engaging in difficult conversations. This is where the change begins: With each of us sharing, listening, and becoming comfortable with uncomfortable discourse.
- Act and Learn
We need to define change plans and take reasonable steps despite uncertainty, identify what is working and what is not, to adapt plans and advance our shared vision for a more just society. This will require leaders to create a new narrative for what we mean by us through cultivating a broader sense of belonging. And in the world of leadership, this starts with recognition of how current organizational practices contribute to systemic racism and how to make meaningful and impactful shifts in how we hire, develop, promote, and sponsor diversity.
As an organization we at TLD Group have the privilege of supporting and working with some of the health industry’s greatest leaders and thinkers. We strongly believe that leadership is an important lever in the pursuit of systemic change, and we are committed to opening conversations about systemic racial injustice in healthcare and beyond. Click here for more information on HOW.
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