I've worked to help numerous leaders and teams become stronger together. A key part of my process and framework includes difficult conversations teams need to have in order to bring issues to the light, resolve conflict, become connected and committed and find a way forward together.
I personally know the benefit of difficult conversations. My wife came to me early in our marriage when I was 31 and told me if I didn't change, she was going to leave me. I listened, I changed and became a better man, husband and father. If you read
The Energy Bus
George was based on me.
Seeing how divided our country is right now, it's clear we need to have a difficult conversation about race in America. Instead of being separate teams we need to become one team.
It starts by listening to and understanding those who are frustrated and hurting. This is not just about George Floyd's death. This is about hundreds of years of slavery, systemic racism, prejudice, and inequality in our country that are still very much with us and felt by African Americans daily.
My friend, and head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers,
, has been called countless racial slurs throughout his life. He has been pulled over by the police numerous times for no reason and even had his house burned down. My friend and former Georgia football star
told me how the night before a speaking engagement to an elementary school he was pulled over and had his car searched for no reason. If it happens to college and professional athletes and coaches, imagine how often it happens to other African Americans.
who is a former FBI agent and Federal prosecutor, teaches black NBA players a three-step process of what to do when they get pulled over by the police. The fact that there is a need for this type of training should tell us something.
, who I've known since his playing days at the University of Texas and is now an ESPN analyst, told me that African American parents have to have the "talk" with their kids about what it means to be black in America. "You don't get the benefit of the doubt," he said. "In fact, you have to be extra careful so you won't be accused of something you didn't do." Emmanuel told me that whether he's in an elevator, walking down an empty street or getting out of his car in a white friend's neighborhood being black is always in the back of his mind. He must always intentionally make sure that other people know he's not a threat because they look at him like he is.
I've never walked in his shoes or lived in his skin so I can't possibly feel and fathom what it must feel like but by listening to Emmanuel, Doc, Rennie, Quentin, Derwin Gray and other friends I can feel the heaviness in their heart, understand their struggle, hear the frustration behind their words, see the tears that flow when they talk and learn and grow from our conversations. We can all grow if we listen.
Please know that this is not an attack on police officers. My dad was a NYC police officer. You can honor the overwhelming majority of police officers who selflessly risk their lives each day to protect us and also condemn bad cops who commit evil acts. You can also work to create social justice. It's not either or. You can do all three.
This is about being honest and real about our country's flaws so we can get better. This is about addressing the years of prejudice, racism and inequality in our country that still exists today. Let's not hide from it. Ignoring it will not make it go away. Admitting there is a problem, talking abut it, healing it and growing from it is how we all get better.
Quentin Williams and his organization
, in addition to helping athletes, also trains police departments how to engage and work with communities while also helping communities work with the police. He brings police departments and communities together to become one team and his program is a model that should be implemented throughout the country.
As a society we must create policies and implement solutions that address these systemic issues. Head start programs are a must. Community gardens in inner cities would provide the fruits, vegetables and nourishment for enhanced health and immune systems. We need to spend a lot more on early education programs than we do on prisons. We must work with families who are struggling and must enact criminal justice reform. Currently a small crime puts you into the system and once you are in the system it's hard to get out. This has led to a mass incarceration of African American men who make up a large majority of the prison system. If you want to learn more about this, I encourage you to watch the
13th documentary on Netflix
. It was eye opening for me.
I want to be transparent and tell that this was hard for me to write. It would be a lot easier for me to talk about organizational issues rather than societal issues and not tackle this subject. But then I wouldn't be living up to the leadership books I write. If I can help teams and organizations, I have an obligation to share what I've learned that will hopefully help others have difficult conversations and help our country.
As I write this protests and riots are happening in cities around the country. I know some may want to direct their anger at me for bringing this subject to the light. But let's not take the bait of hate. Let's not let bitterness take root.
The truth is you can be pro law enforcement, believe in the right to protest peacefully while also condemning the rioting, looting and violence that is happening. Again, it's not either or. You can do all three. I support the police. I support social justice initiatives. I support conversations and solutions that will make us all better. I condemn violence of any kind.
If you disagree with any of this let's talk about it and learn and grow together.
Only by having difficult conversations will we become one team working together to create a better future.