Moral Licensing (w/ Dr. Cherry Collier)

Neil and Dr. Cherry Collier talk about Moral Licensing and connect Leadership Fragility and Emotional Tax in the conversation. Dr. Cherry is a Master Certified Executive Coach, Organizational Psychologist, and Inclusion Strategist. She works with individuals in or who strive to be in the C-suite to master the skills to lead and love using a head, heart, and hands approach. She remembers having it all; a 6-figure job, both parents living, a loving and supportive relationship, and all the other things that go along with the fairy tale life. Suddenly, her dreams were turned inside out, forcing her to make some very tough life choices. Her greatest choice was choosing a growth mindset. She believes that success is in each of us. Especially you!

You can connect with Dr. Cherry on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

Check out her personal website, DrCherryCoaching.com.

TRANSCRIPT

Neil
I am Neil Edwards, and this is The Leadership Range, where we elevate the voices of Black and brown coaches, leaders and allies, and have soulful conversations about all things at the intersections of leadership, relationships and teams, well-being and inclusion. I offer deep insights and practical tips for work and everyday life. Today, you will hear Dr. Cherry and I muse about moral licensing and also touch on leadership, fragility, and emotional tax. Dr. Cherry is from Atlanta, Georgia. She’s an organizational psychologist and master coach. Not only is she brilliant, she leads from the heart with love as she works with her C-suite clients. Dr. Cherry shares the story of her leadership beginnings, marching at five or six years old, getting transferred to a white school, and how having dyslexia was good for her. She has an uncommon approach to common problems around inclusion and working with differences that is deeply aligned with my own work as a team and relationship systems coach. This is a pretty special conversation. If nothing else is clear, we must get better at working and living with differences, and Dr. Cherry opens a door to make that a reality in this conversation.

Hello, Dr. Cherry, How are you this evening?

Dr. Cherry
I am fabulous. How are you?

Neil
I’m doing fabulous. I’m so excited to be here with you and really reconnect. We’ve known each other, known about each other, for a little while, and so to have you here with me tonight for this conversation is exciting for me, especially because we already had a conversation about the range of topics we could talk about. And we have chosen one, but I suspect we’ll cover a lot of ground anyway, and our guests are in for a treat in this conversation. So welcome, and you are Dr. Cherry, and that is what you go by. That is your brand, and I know there’s a little bit of a story around that, but I want to make sure people know your full name just once. So everybody listen closely. Dr. Cherry Collier, and she’s here joining us tonight to grace us with her wisdom. But to clarify, she goes by Dr. Cherry. Okay? That is the brand. Cherry and I met, I don’t know, five years ago, six years ago or something like that, and we linked on LinkedIn, and I, you know, I spy on her a little bit. She is busy. She’s always creating, an extremely creative person and just prolific in the number of things that she does. She is an author, she is an organizational psychologist, PhD psychologist, a business owner, a master level coach with the International Coach Federation. She has taught at the college university level, helped create coaching programs. She’s a consultant to leaders and business owners. But I don’t want to say too much. I want her to frame up for herself who she is, and then we’ll get into this conversation. So Dr. Cherry, tell people a little bit about who you are, what you do, who you do it for, and what are you bringing to the table?

Dr. Cherry
Well, I’ll start by saying I’m a little girl from Southwest Atlanta, and I’m very proud to be from Georgia, and one of the things that is really important about being a native of Atlanta is all of the role models that I that I’ve had. And so one of them was a lady, her name was Dr. Jane Smith. And the reason why I am who I am, in addition to my mother and all the other wonderful people is because of Dr. Jane Smith. And so what I do is I work in the C-suite, and I help leaders be their best selves, and I think that one of my first books was called “Move Out of Your Own Way.” And as leaders I don’t think that we know that we’re blocking ourselves from greatness. And so that’s really what I help them to do. I have those difficult conversations in a very, very powerful, promising way so that they can get it they can hear it, and I just am delighted to be here with you. And we spy on each other and we do great work together. So it is just a great day.

Neil
How long have you been doing this work, Dr. Cherry?

Dr. Cherry
So if you read my book, I’ll say since I was five, because I started reading Norman Vincent Peale before I could read my mother, and I would listen to his tapes. And so at five years old, I was like, “I’m going to do this work, I’m going to help people.” But professionally since 1998, once I left the University of Georgia with my PhD, I started doing coaching. And I worked for Accenture, and Accenture was doing large scale change implementations. And I was thinking, “Oh, great, what if we help the people with the change and centers that we do large scale change implementations? We are a technology company will pay you to think about the people, because you are the change management, the human organization person. But we do technology.” And so I really said, “Oh, I need to help the people, because the systems can’t change if you don’t have the people.”

Neil
Yeah, so that sounds like about 22 years. Post terminal degree. Yes, I’d like people to understand that, you know, the little girl from Georgia might be little but is fierce and has been doing this work for quite some time. You bring a lot of wisdom to the table. So thank you for your service in organizations, because organizations need great leaders, and great leaders need to get out of the way of themselves, sometimes in order to get the best work out of the people who follow their leadership and create the products and services that we use and also to create experiences for people who are in those organizations. So what I like to do, Dr. Cherry, is have–you mentioned being a young girl and writing your first book, or reading your first books, and you already mentioned a couple of people who’ve influenced you. But what I like for our listeners to get a hold of and get a sense of is who you are as a leader across the entire span of your life wherever you want to begin, but I like my guests to start younger, right? So that you can really take us on a journey that expresses how your leadership range has expanded over time, the influencers, the people, the events, the experiences that you had, that made you who you are today. And I think even through 2020, right, I think our leadership–if we’re really paying attention in this world, our leadership is always expanding, and 2020 has stretched all of us. So if you could start somewhere in the past and take us on a journey, tell us who you are, what your leadership is like, why it is the way it is, where it came from, who influenced it?

Dr. Cherry
Yes, and I love that because I clearly believe that 2020 is the year of clear vision. And so hindsight is everything when we look and think about it. So one of the most interesting things is recently I got a picture of myself that one of my play uncles–because everybody in Atlanta, everybody’s your uncle, everybody’s your aunt, everybody’s related, although we’re not. And this picture was this little girl marching with Senator Arthur Langford, who was my godfather, and Hosea Williams. And she was a little bitty girl. And of course that little girl was me. And when you think about what’s happening, you know, currently with, you know, George Floyd and all of those things, my godfather, Senator Arthur Langford used to come and pick me up every Saturday, and I would march for rights. I would sing all of those songs, I know all of the hymns, you know? We shall overcome. You know, just all of these, you know, wonderful things, and that’s where I started and how that kind of moved through. Me being a little girl–when I say little, I was like five or six years old in the front of a line, you know, marching for rights. I left there going to elementary school and because I had–some people could call it some gifts. I say it was a punishment. I was moved from my elementary school that was all black to a white school, which made it basically majority to minority. And when I left my school, going to the new school, I said “Oh, so the penalty for doing your work early, the punishment is losing all of your friends.” And so I got to go to school in Buckhead, and going to school in Buckhead was a very different experience, and that helped me to understand that there are people throughout your life who don’t always fit in. And so, you know, people wanted to touch my hair, they wanted to know how different I was. And that piece of marching for the rights of all people allowed me to approach that situation very differently. I wasn’t thinking, “Oh, my goodness, are these people crazy? I thought, “Touch it. It’s very much like yours. It’s hair.” And my experience might be different, but throughout school I was that kid who would go to the tables where no one was sitting, I would speak to the people that other people wouldn’t talk to, and I would do all that I could to just, you know, pull out of people what other people looked over. I’ve never been a person who wanted to follow the crowd. I’ve always wanted to just, you know, do my own thing and make sure that everyone knew that it was okay to do that. So in high school, elementary school, all that I realized that I was dyslexic. I knew that in elementary school, but being dyslexic was good for me because it sealed the deal in yet another experience of fighting for people who are different. And so my entire life has been about allowing people to be their best selves. You don’t have to be like me, you don’t have to look like me, you just need to be you, and that’s what I like people to be able to do. So every day, in corporate America, I’m fighting for leaders to find their voice and to know that that voice is– it needs to be authentic, and it needs to be yours. And it is okay if no one else is saying what you’re saying. Let’s figure out a way for people to be able to hear it. And so that little girl who was marching in the streets is now marching in the C-suites.

Neil
I love that, from marching in the streets to marching in the C-suites. And so when people think about–as I was listening to you and, you know, this conversation around diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, you know, justice for all people, this conversation is really big right now. What I really appreciate about what you’re saying–and it sounds like you learned this at a very early age–that you had these differences, not just race, you had dyslexia, you had to deal with the resilience of experiencing loss by going from one school that was all black to a school that’s all white, you know? So there’s sameness, there’s difference. Noticing people who are alone in school, you know, sitting alone at tables, and I love how that speed from marching on the front lines or something continue to grow in you as you had these experiences that demonstrate it, that somebody was being marginalized or set aside, for one reason or another. And also–and I have not heard this before, and I have a little bit of a chuckle and a grin in me, because the hair thing, “They wanted to touch my hair,” and you were different. You said, “All right. Touch it. It’s hair. We have some, you have some, it’s still hair.” You know, there is this thing about “Well, okay, if that’s where you are, let’s go there.” Not so much of us stop, put up a wall. Stop that. Let’s go there and explore. So that’s a really beautiful perspective. I think that I just wanted to call that out because not everybody does it that way.

Dr. Cherry
And I think that that’s the the challenge though, because when we don’t do it that way, that kind of ties into something that’s really important, that that emotional tax that we pay, because it’s not fair to expect everyone to want to allow people touch their hair all the time, because I get senior executives who change their hair all the time. And so when they’re in the office–because people walk past them and they don’t know who they are, and they get really offended. And I have to say “What? I didn’t know who you are either.” So, you know, if you have braids one day and, you know, something else one day, and it’s a different color, there is a difference in that look, and recognizing that not everything that people are doing or asking is coming from a place of hate. Some of it is really coming from a place of curiosity. And so what I like is helping them to understand, be curious with me. You might not be able to ask everybody else, but ask me, and I will find the answer for you for sure.

Neil
Yeah. Even if nobody is expressing themselves with their hair the way that you do. Yeah, you’re doing it your way. And so let’s go there. I love that. So it’s such a nice consistency between how you live and how you do the work that you do professionally. So that’s a beautiful authenticity in there. And you mentioned emotional tax, that might come up a little bit later in the conversation, that piqued my interest. So what we’re here to talk about today, and we’ll see where this goes, is something you call moral licensing. And humans, you know, we’re meaning-making machines. So people can make up all sorts of things about what that means, and that’s fine, but you have specific meaning around what you’re talking about when you say moral licensing. So what does that mean? Tell us what that is and let’s take it from there. What is moral licensing? What are you talking about?

Dr. Cherry
Yeah, so moral licensing is really a concept that was highlighted in one of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. So he isn’t the author, but it is such a fascinating theory. And basically, what it says is, if I do something for one person, particularly a marginal person in a marginalized group, then I feel like I’ve done all that I need to do. And so I’ll give you an example. You know, people voted for President Obama, they feel like, “Oh, I should get a pass on everything else. I don’t have to vote for, you know, Neil to be on my advisory board because I’ve already supported you guys.” You know, “I’m done. I’ve done my work.” And when we start to think about glass ceilings and all of these ceilings, it’s very important, because there are some invisible barriers that people are noticing that will come out of, you know, my sorority sister, Kamala Harris, with her being a VP, a female VP.

Neil
Mm-hmm. And so that, you know, it sounds like, well, there’s a lot of things that immediately come up for me if people are, I guess, taking this position of having moral license. It sounds to me like this moral license gives them an out or it gives them some sort of banality on the thing that they have done. What impact does it have when our leaders–and by leaders I mean just about everybody that’s in the world, but we’ll focus it on organizations, right? People in organizations, all our leaders, and some are executives, executive leaders. What happens when people choose to take on this moral licensing? What’s the consequence?

Dr. Cherry
Well, the consequence is “I’m done, I’ve done all that I need to do, and so I believe that I’m a good person.” And the reality is, when we think about what you do, when you’re talking about the leadership range, it isn’t, “I’m a good person because I gave once.” It’s “I’m a good person because I give over and over again.” And so, you know, to quote one of my favorite songs and passages, “Let the work that I’ve done speak for me.” It doesn’t say let the task that I’ve done, it says let the work, which means the body of work. And so what the implication is is if people feel like they’ve done one great thing, and they won’t open it up to other opportunities, then there are going to be people that are going to be, you know, penalized, you know, for this, and those penalties are very painful for individuals because you will have a lot of qualified people who will not be able to make it to the next level because people have given at the office.

Neil
Yeah, yeah. You know, I focus on the inside of an organization, but as you were speaking there, I thought, “Well, you know, if you had an opportunity to–not you, Dr. Cherry, but a person who had an opportunity to do good. And let’s say that to do good is the opposite of to do what we might call bad, like stealing something. So if you don’t steal once, that doesn’t mean that later on you should just steal because you’ve already done the job of not stealing. You have to continue not stealing stuff for the rest of your life.

Dr. Cherry
We should not. And so what’s interesting is when we have that opportunity to steal, and we don’t steal, the research is saying that by us not stealing, we give ourselves more opportunities to do something else. And so it doesn’t just show up, you know, as it relates to race, it really does, you know, show up in different things. You know, it could be just anything, you know, something really simple. And this whole concept and believing “I deserve it, you know, I’ve done this, I deserve it.” And so we use that deserving piece, which is, you know, one of those words that, like, you deserve it. “Yes, I do. I did all of this, so this right here is definitely for me.” And it absolutely creates, you know, some challenges for us.

Neil
Yeah. You know, tagging on to the usage of that word, deserve, in this context, it’s–and I don’t often but, but I’m gonna but today, “Yes, you did deserve. But are you? Are you continuing to be deserving?”

Dr. Cherry
Yes, yes. And see, you know, the thing that has fascinated me most about psychology, which is my love. To tell you the truth, I love my family, I love everybody, but my first love is psychology and psychological theories, because it explains so much. And if we happen to, like, a self-serving bias, it’s my whole idea, and the way that we process our information is very much self-serving. And helping people and leaders understand the self-servingness of the nature of why they’re doing what they do is kind of one of the gifts that I get out of, you know, working with people in the C-suite. But we walk around a lot really thinking, “I deserve.” Okay, well, what about that homeless person? Did he or she deserve? Yes, that person does deserve many things and many amazing things, but the real question happens for us because we start to say, “There is something that they didn’t do. There is some internal characteristic about that person that makes them not as worthy as me.” And the truth is, we don’t know that person’s situation, but we think about our things and what we’ve done because most of us have really worked hard to get where we are. And so our work is so much more justified, and I think that when we start to really play that on it, it is I think a dangerous playground to play on.

Neil
It’s almost like, “I’m justified now. I can–” I don’t know if relax is the proper characterization, but like you said, you have this moral license now to discontinue doing what is perhaps good, right and good. I love something you said and I want you to react to this because you said something like, “When you don’t steal when you have that opportunity to steal and you don’t do it, it gives you the opportunity to do something else, to do more,” and what came up for me when you said that is if someone does something or a black person, minority, some marginalized person, and now they have this moral license, and they don’t continue to be inclusive at the opportunities where they can be inclusive. They’re giving up the opportunity to build that muscle of inclusive leadership. What would you say to that?

Dr. Cherry
And so this is what I love. You know, Dr. Robin’s book on white fragility. And I think leadership agility, fragility is very important because we’ve got to be vulnerable, right? We’ve got to be willing to call ourselves out. If you’re noticing that everybody at the table is looking like you… Yes, you brought one person in two doors down. Okay, that’s one. Yeah. Hand clap, whoo, whoo, you did that. And it doesn’t stop just because you took a shower. I hope you’re taking multiple showers. You know, I hope you’re brushing your teeth every day, sometimes two days, and you’re flossing. So it is not the same when we’re helping, you know, people who definitely deserve that opportunity. We say to ourselves, “I’ve done it,” but if you took a shower, and you went and worked out, more than likely you’re going to take another shower. Same concept. If you help one person, and you see someone else who’s qualified, who is in a marginalized group as well, you can also help yourself. And this gets into–so my dissertation in the 90s was on unconscious bias, so that’s where I started. I started in unconscious bias in 1991, and many of our thought patterns are literally underneath, and so we don’t know it. So somebody’s got to bring it to our attention. “I’m not sure if you recognize that you just did x, and because you did x, you’re less likely to do y.” “Who, me? Oh, no, no, no, no, no, I’m going to always do x. I’m going to always do x.” And then we’ve got to be willing to show them, “Okay, so let me say this – you just did x, and then you did y, and then you did y again. And then they say, “Are you sure?” “Yeah. So let me make it more clear. You just did x, y, y, y. So there’s no more x.” And then you have to help the person to understand that x still needs your help. You know, you can’t just do one thing. You can’t throw a pebble at someone and, you know, expect them to get out of the ocean. They need a life vest. They might need the Coast Guard. “Oh, but I threw him a pebble.” What does a pebble have to do with them getting out of the ocean?

Neil
Yeah, you know, you threw this thing out there. You threw out leadership fragility, and I’m curious about that. And this is in the context of “Hey, I did x. Didn’t I already do x? I’m good.” Now, is that–and you threw this out there in the context of the white fragility concept that–I don’t know if Dr. Robin DiAngelo invented it or created it, but she wrote about it, and her book is called White Fragility. So is this leadership fragility sort of the, at least, in part, that defensiveness that a leader might have when they’ve done something once they feel like they now are justified, and then you point out, “Actually, you need more x.” You jump into why x needs to show up, and there’s a little bit of a defensiveness as a leader. Am I in the right neighborhood on that? Can you clarify that for us?

Dr. Cherry
Yeah. So what we want with leadership agility is we want the leader to be okay with being vulnerable, recognizing that there is a possibility that maybe–perhaps they don’t know, they didn’t do it intentionally. So we’re going to give them credit for tha, but they need to be vulnerable. They need to know that there’s a chance that they could have done something differently, and they have to kind of stop and look in the mirror and, you know, look around and, you know, what I kind of say in my book, “Stop, look, and listen.” And that comes from fragility. You have to be willing to be vulnerable. And so if my ego is so big that I’m saying, “No, no, no, that is not true, that is not what I’ve done,” then nothing changes. And so that’s why leaders fundamentally need coaches. They need coaches because they don’t need to be–you don’t want leaders to be fragile everywhere, you know? You don’t want every leader to stand up and just break out and start crying, but what you do really want is leaders behind the curtain to cry, to be fragile, to learn, to discover, to recover, so that they can be their best selves. And so when we’re getting to that leadership fragility part, it’s helping them to be vulnerable, to recognize where there is a chance for growth, where there’s a possibility. We’re not saying, “You are a bad person,” what we’re saying is that you did some great stuff, and now that that cloak or that coat of moral licensing is what you’re wearing, and there is some more good work for you to do. And that’s the point with the fragility. You’ve got to be willing to think about it and to really be fragile enough to rebuild and remold yourself.

Neil
You know, what I love about this, Dr. Cherry, is that leaders are trying to be great leaders. You know, we just assume everybody’s trying their best. And we know that their best can be better. This notion of leadership fragility feels to me [?] in a world where leaders, for instance, around topics of race and gender, and those sorts of things in the workplace, are very sensitive, and nobody–like, nobody wants to be called a racist, but people might take pause and say, “Hey, this is about your leadership, and there’s this notion called leadership fragility.” That even feels a little bit better to me right now, as I sit here and I put myself in the shoes of anybody that’s privileged or has been marginalized or anybody that does this type of work. It feels a little bit more accessible than white fragility.

Dr. Cherry
Yes. Yeah, and see, the thing about leadership fragility is it’s like this safe space. We’re creating a safe, brave space for people to come in and do an assessment. And it’s not just, you know, Myers Briggs or [?]. You know, we do those but, but let’s really assess. Are you walking the talk, talking the talk? I mean, what is it that’s really going on? And why–and particularly around 360s… you know, my brain just went somewhere else when I said that, because when I think about leaders in 360s, I have had more people want to debate me about the 360. And I’m saying, “I’m your coach. I did complete the 360. Other people did.” And so what if we look at it from a leadership fragility place? And that is how can you be vulnerable? How can you be open? And how can you look at this and say, “How can I make sure that nobody else ever says this about me again?”

Neil
No matter what it is, no matter the topic.

Dr. Cherry
No matter what it is. In that safe space of coaching, it gives us that permission to really look and start to be fragile and understand that we are better leaders when we listen, when we stop and when we really look around, because we can keep going. We can keep going and keep believing that we have a moral license. But, you know, I don’t think that it helps us be the great leaders that we were really brought on this earth to be. I could have stopped marching in the first grade.

Neil
I’m done with this. My legs are tired. Yeah. I am curious about how leaders you work with respond to the notion of moral license when you have to name it and say “This is what I see.”

Dr. Cherry
Yeah. So one of the greatest things about my clients is we have a relationship. So we have rapport. And I will never come to a leader before they’re ready. Remember Paul Masson? “I will sell no wine before its time.” When I was young–and I did coaching in 1998. They’d probably call me a kickback coach. I might have just told you stuff. But now it’s really–coaching for me is very strategic, and it’s very much about, you know, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear, and making sure that I create that safe space so that I can deliver the information so that when they hear it they can almost complete the sentence. And that’s what happens. So when I start talking about, you know, “Here’s what I’m seeing, here’s what I’m noticing, what do you think?” They can chime in, they can start to say, “You know what, as much as I want to tell you you’re wrong, as much as I want to tell you that’s not true, there might be some truth to it.” And I think that is, you know, what the gift of coaching gives you. It’s not what. Sometimes it’s just how and it’s when.

Neil
How and when. Yeah, that is so beautiful. And so my heart at this moment goes to managers and associates and, you know, not high-level leaders who are in organizations and they’re a person of color, they’re Black, they’re, you know, whatever, and they’re noticing some things about the people around them or the people who lead them, and they notice, maybe, perhaps instinctively or intuitively, that they’re noticing a bit of this moral license showing up. Then they’re noticing a bit of leadership agility showing up in those that they look to for leadership, and they want to have a conversation. They want to have a productive conversation. What would you say they need to do? And the reason I’m going here is because they may or may not have the structure and the beauty that exists inside a coaching relationship, they may not have had the time to design that relationship and to build that trust to do what you and I can do when we work with leaders to bring up these sensitive topics. But they’re out there every day going into work, and they’re working alongside or working in service of folks who maybe think they have a moral license or they’re–you see some behaviors that look like leadership fragility? What would you say to them? What do they need to do?

Dr. Cherry
So I want to start off by saying, first of all, they’re already paying a high emotional tax for being there, right? And they’re seeing it happen over and over again. So it’s like, in addition to Uncle Sam getting a cut out of my check, I’m paying a very high emotional tax. And so one of the things that I say and I never say things for agreement, and it’s important that I say it. I prefer actually disagreement more than an agreement because I don’t even agree with myself. So I might have a theory today, and I’ll read another theory that contradicts it. Because I think that the greatest thing we can do is learn. But what I’m thinking today is, if you think about a bank account, if I asked you right now, you know, to give me a check, to write me a check personally, for a million dollars, you may or may not be able to do it. But if I give you enough time to make some deposits, I’m sure that you’ll be able to do it. And I think that that’s called idiosyncratic points in psychology. We have to make deposits in people. And so when we’re looking at people thinking about their moral license, it’s important that we also are looking at ourselves, and recognizing that there’s some things we’ve done, whatever. And the second thing we want to do is to come from a place of love. And I talked about, you know, the corporate love and with love we want to deposit into first, so we gotta–you can’t just go to the bank and start withdrawing money first if you don’t have an account, so you can’t just walk up to a leader or manager and say, “Hey, here’s where you’re making all of these mistakes, ” because what happens with the leadership fragility at that point, their amygdala will become hijacked, and then you’ll really see some things you did not want to see. Because–and you’re wondering why. “I’m just trying to help.” Yes, you might have been trying to help, but people like people who are one like themselves and who also understand them. So that means we have to make deposits, and you make deposits by saying, “Hey, Neil, I really like the way that you show up. I really noticed those things.” And so it’s like that feedback sandwich, we’ve got to give people positive information first, build that relationship, and then withdraw, write a check. And so you know, people might say, “I don’t have that type of time, I’m already paying a high tax,” and you are, but if you don’t take the time, it’s not gonna work out for you.

Neil
I love that you said that, because I was just gonna ask, like, they’re paying an emotional tax every day. So even though they’re paying that tax every day, they’re gonna have to make some deposits over time and live with that emotional tax.

Dr. Cherry
But see, making those deposits is actually what changes that emotional tax. Right? So it lowers your tax. So it’s I’m seeing a situation and the situation is out of control, how do we change it? Well, you change yourself, and how do I change myself? I build a relationship with this person. And so once you build a relationship with a person, we know direct experience is what changes everything in the world. So it’s in group out group, always them and us, but once I have a relationship, oh, it’s a mess. Right? And that makes it–that changes the entire situation. And so believe it or not, the tax that you’re paying starts to go down. And now you can have an ally with someone who was, you know, doing something that might have been very harmful to you.

Neil
Yeah, yeah. No, I love that. It is similar to gratitude, you know, if you spread it, it comes back in spades and dividends, right? So it’s sort of, you know, loving that person over there in spite of what you might be perceiving, and it will come back to you in love over time more and more. I love that you mentioned allyship, and I don’t remember when it was now, but I did a episode, I don’t know, two or three episodes ago, around allyship, and my key point there was you must be in relationship. You can’t just declare this and do that. These good deeds, you actually need to be in relationship with somebody for allyship to be real, for allyship to become sticky. Or for me to care enough, I have to be in relationship with you. And coming from a place of love, making those deposits reduces the emotional tax that we pay, but it also brings people closer, moving them away from that moral license that they hold, and coming into relationship and perhaps doing some productive relational work going forward.

Dr. Cherry
Yeah. And so one thing I wanted to pick up on–and this is one of my favorite things to think about. If you don’t have a ship, you just have relation. You just have ally, you know? But what we really need is a ship to help us come over, you know? It’s like we want to have a bridge, we’re trying to figure how to get them over, and so you get allyship when you build a way to connect, and so we need to help people, and that’s what we as coaches are trying to do. We’re trying to help people recognize that the ship is just as important as whatever it is you’re trying to do. If there is no ship, you only have relation, and that’s what you really want. We want allyship, we want a relationship. We want everything that’s going to bring about the connection. And so sometimes we just don’t have enough in the connection part. And that’s the hard work, and that’s where we also have to work with our leaders to be more fragile, meaning to be more receptive to understand that you may have more skills than, you know, some of the people that you’re coming in contact with. So when they come to you, let’s see how vulnerable you can be, rather than letting your ego be fragile. That’s not what we want.

Neil
Wow, that’s brilliant. Now I have an image in my head, that dash, that connection, that bridge between you and me, you and I, we need that ship. It’s like Co-Active. I do Co-Active work, and there’s a dash between the Co and the Active, and when you really study Co-Active–because it’s a sort of a buzzword now–the dash has meaning and life in it. They go together. They’re not separate. You can’t just be co-, and you can’t just be active. The dash is the bridge between the two. So I love that this ship brings allyship alive and takes us both on a journey.

Dr. Cherry
Yeah, so I do Co-Active coaching as well, and I think that, you know, for sure, some of the experiences that I have with Co-Active can definitely be credited with my not being always in my head and moving through my heart. And so that’s a part of the ship, like, you need a ship to help you to pass from your head to your heart. And that’s where we need to be. We need to help leaders understand, you know, we have a head for a powerful reason. We have a heart. And then how do we use our hands in a way just to connect it all?

Neil
Yeah, head, heart and hands. Our body. It’s embodied. I love that. Oh, man. I hope you all are hearing this. Head and heart. A lot of leaders get stuck in their head. Even some coaches just coach at the head. You need the head and the heart. So Dr. Cherry, we could go on forever. I actually don’t know how long we’ve been talking now. But to wrap it up, I want to–I mean, there were so many beautiful nuggets in there, and I took some notes for myself, but what are one or two tips that you might give people or practices that you might share? Or leaders, executives, or, you know, non-senior folks in organizations to look out for to avoid falling into this trap of grabbing that moral license?

Dr. Cherry
Yes. I want to go to the head, the heart and the hands, because most leaders and really most people, we’re always thinking from the head. Like, the head is the most logical thing, and then the hands are all about what we’re going to do. We’re no longer human beings, we’re always human doings. But what we forget is the heart, and that is the connection. And if you think about the heart and remembering how to let the God in you see the God in the other person, you know, the whole “Namaste,” all of that. Just really starting to think about connection. I really think that it changes who you’re working with. And so moral licensing is something that is many times at the unconscious level, so it’s not that you’re going to necessarily be able to be the person who’s going to fix it, right? But when you use your heart, and you come from a place of heart, you will be able to help that person to identify it. You know, any time we bring the heart into the equation, we think about the heart to heart resuscitation. It enables us to create change. And so yes, the theories are important. Yes, your hands are important. But recognizing that heart piece is what we really need if we’re going to change the whole idea, the concept of how moral licensing is operating in organizations. And the second part of that is the leaders have got to be willing to be fragile.

Neil
I think that’s where we ought to end. And that’s so beautiful, head, heart and hands. That’s the tip. Also, don’t get into a trap of not bringing the heart into the conversation and into the work.

Dr. Cherry
And I want to say this. I wrote a book called Move Out of Your Own Way. My entire book is about the ship that I had to build, going from my head to my heart, because I was a know-it-all. I knew everything. I knew all of these theories. I didn’t know I was cold and aloof, I couldn’t connect to people, and it was because I was always theory, do, theory, do. And if you’re theory, do, and not theory, love, do, you know, do, love, theory, you’re going to be missing something. And so we got to move and make sure that we’re incorporating strategies that allow our whole brain and hearts to really, really work.

Neil
Move Out of Your Own Way authored by Dr. Cherry.

Dr. Cherry
Yes.

Neil
Thank you for spending time with me today. I hope you will come back in the future and do another episode. This was a beautiful conversation and I really hope and I think our audience will love it. Thank you.

Dr. Cherry
Yes, thank you.

Neil
That was Dr. Cherry. You can connect with her on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/n/DrCherryC. Leaders need to be vigilant to avoid adopting moral licensing, especially leaders who claim to be inclusive. One task or good deed does not make one an inclusive leader, and it does not justify future exclusive behaviors. Persistence and a consistent body of work over time, a lifetime, demonstrates inclusion. Repeated inclusive behaviors open the opportunity for leadership growth. And as Dr. Cherry brilliantly put it, handing in your moral license requires more than your head and your hands. It requires bridging the two with heart – head, heart and hands. Enlisting the heart requires leadership fragility. It requires leaders to be vulnerable in trusted relationships to support growth and range. If you didn’t hear it, Dr. Cherry says that is why leaders and executives need coaches where they can develop trusted and professional relationships to do this work. And if you’re not a senior leader but need to have sensitive conversations with those in leading roles, spending time making deposits in the relationship before having the conversations is crucial if you want things to go well. Beginning next week, I will be running an experiment to deliver content faster and in consumable chunks. I’d love to hear back from you with your feedback on it. Thank you again for listening. You can find me on LinkedIn at NEdwards07 or on Instagram at Neil_Edwards_Coaching. I look forward to you coming back for more.

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