I am the mother of three young adults—one Gen Zer and two Millennials. My young adults are each intelligent, strong-minded individuals with equally strong convictions. As you can imagine, we’ve had a lot of conversations since the murder of George Floyd last month.  I’ve taught them over the years that high-level leaders do not shy away from difficult conversations. Today, I can tell you each are leaders in their own right, and I can also tell you they’ve learned THAT lesson well.
Over the past three weeks, I’ve had many difficult conversations. The murder of George Floyd sparked a slew of conversations on race and racial injustice. Many of these conversations involved helping others process the events as leaders and, more importantly, as followers of Jesus. I’ve listened to friends confess, ask for forgiveness, and repent. I’ve had conversations with leaders asking what they can or should do as individuals, leaders of organizations, parents—as humans.
Some of my friends leading non-profits and ministries seized the opportunity to have the “race” conversation. I commended each for their leadership and for their courage. I encouraged my friends to use this opportunity to enter that challenging space, to be transparent about feeling uncomfortable, and to show vulnerability by acknowledging that they don’t have all the answers. I reminded many of them of the value of being an empathetic learner in this moment. This really has the potential to build trust faster than a one-day team building workshop.
According to Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, trust is the foundational behavior of a high performing team. If we are going to have the level of difficult conversations this day calls for, we will only do so with people we trust and in environments where trust exists.
You see, I believe we lead one conversation at a time, and sometimes, it will be a difficult conversation.  In her book, Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time, Susan Scott declares: “the conversation is the relationship.”  She implies that the stakes of some conversations are high. “Our work, our relationships, and our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time. While no single conversation is guaranteed to transform a company, a relationship, or a life, any single conversation canSpeak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person. It could be. Participate as if it matters. It does.”
Let’s not miss the opportunity to offer those we lead the life-affirming gift of speaking and listening as if it was the most important conversation we will ever have. This moment is ripe with opportunity.
The opportunity…
…to lean in to the sometimes difficult work of leading.
…to have a conversation with God about matters of race and bias when it comes to our heart.
 …to have a conversation about the life experiences of a colleague or acquaintance who is not like you.
…to have a conversation with an executive or board member about diversity and inclusion, or the lack of it, in your organization.
Go ahead, you can do it. Remember, high-level leaders do not shy away from difficult conversations. The conversation is the relationship.

Annette Cutino
Advance Leadership