Neil uses Relationship Systems Intelligence to illustrate why we cannot expect predominantly white corporate cultures to be more Black. In this episode he outlines what to expect and how to respond to racial aggression through a systems-informed lens. He shares benefits of becoming a system-oriented leader through developing Relationship Systems Intelligence.
Neil (00:11): 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. Here, I offer deep insights and practical tips for work and life.
(00:35): Expecting blackness is unreasonable. Expecting any other cultural coloring from a system dominated by white cultural coloring is unreasonable. For those of you who have listened for a while, you already know I›m an organizational systems coach, but there›s always a first-time listener. One of the things I do is train and examine others who want to learn, practice, or lead through a system-oriented lens. Developing these skills increases, relationship systems, intelligence, RSI for short. It›s not just for coaches, it›s for leaders who want to develop and lead with systems intelligence, a level up from emotional and social intelligence. RSI is likely one of the greatest currencies a leader can have in this emerging future of stakeholder capitalism, ESG, and a general environment of diminishing trust and rapid change. So by the time I›m done today, you will have heard about one dimension of RSI and how it relates to your experience at a majority white workplace.
(01:42): You will hopefully, one, understand why it is unreasonable to expect blackness in a predominantly white workplace. Two, learn how to respond from a systems-oriented point of view that is less likely to trigger whiteness. And in doing so, increase your capability and your capacity to effectively dismantle white supremacy, one relationship at a time. And three, add to your toolbox to increase your resilience while navigating the daily minefield of racial aggressions.
(02:16): So the problem we all face is race is a factor. Which, although I›m not a scholar by any means is what critical race theory is essentially telling us. Race is a factor. Yes, we are all one human race. We know that intellectually, but a group of people historically did a pretty good job of diming us into a set of false, racialized, constructs that are reproduced systemically, producing privileges for some and producing harm for others. It shows up in the workplace with remarkable consistency. RSI is a solution that will help increase your awareness or your understanding of what›s going on around you. Being more capable of responding through and from a systems-oriented perspective, rather than a who did what to whom individual perspective.
(03:10): So what does RSI have to do with blackness, whiteness, and any other color of wash? RSI has three dimensions, five principles and seven meta skills. I›m using one dimension for today. It is called geography. Think about geography as the physical, psychological, emotional, and social makeup of who we are internally and externally as individuals and as systems. Geography is how a system expresses its diversity, or lack thereof. Nonetheless, diversity is diversity. It›s just, what›s there. What›s present, and what is being expressed through it.
(03:52): If a system, a corporate culture say, is predominantly physically white-skinned and predominantly white in its psychological, emotional, and social constructions, then it will systematically express predominantly white as historically constructed. It can›t be any other way. Until white supremacy is dismantled. It is unreasonable to expect any other expression, especially when there, there are people who want things to stay the same. They want to maintain the status quo and have things stay as they are.
(04:31): The idea is not to produce blackness, brownness, or gender less, but to produce justice. There›s nothing to get upset about. It is simply more important to understand the problem and the work that needs to be done to solve it. So while you›re at work and you run into one of those landmines of racialized aggression, I›ll ask you to pause before reacting. Maybe take a extra intentional breath, or count of five, whatever, and remind yourself that what you are hearing or experiencing is the voice of the system. The geography of the system expressing itself.
(05:12): You might then say something like, Hmm, I think I›m noticing parts of our system or culture showing up in this conversation, that›s not what we want. Can we talk about that? More often than not, you›ll get an invitation to go further into what you mean. This is where you start with I statements, and we and us statements. I statements because you want to express your experience. We and us statements because you want to express what›s in the system. It gives others the opportunity to take responsibility for their own behavior, rather than defending themselves from the metaphorical bullet you fired at them.
(05:50): It is not 100% bulletproof, no pun intended, but it is far better than the unproductive back and forth of blame and criticism. This takes practice folks. Adding to your toolbox, the dimension of geography, as a way a system expresses its diversity, and speaking from the voice of the system will help you navigate systemic racism at work, improve your resilience, increase your RSI, and elevate your value as a leader in your company.
(06:21): A deeper dive into RSI and geography also expands capability to work across differences by delving into understanding aspects of yourself, developing appreciation of differences through curiosity. And learning the skills to become a practically fluent inclusive leader.
(06:41): I want to leave you with four quotes today. Four. «Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things. Seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots», Peter Senge. Second one. «No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate. And if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart, than its opposite». That›s Nelson Mandela.
(07:23): Third quote, «We don›t want to see targets burning. We want to see the system that sets up for the systemic racism burned to the ground», Killer Mike. Last one, «George Floyd›s murder is not only an outrage. It is the latest manifestation of a system that callously devalues the lives of black people. Our struggle is, and always has been about justice, not justice on paper, but real justice in the real lives of real people», Senator Bernie Sanders.
(07:57): Take whatever lands for you and use it as a structure to remember. Discard the rest.
(08:12): Thank you for listening to this episode of The Leadership Range. If you enjoyed the episode, I invite you to peruse the others for more great conversations. If you know someone you think ought to be on the podcast, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To connect with me you can find me on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/nedwards07. I look forward to you joining in for more conversations, each Monday on The Leadership Range.