Dr. King, and Sitting in Difficult Truths

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a chance each year to reflect and take action on the work that still needs to be done for racial equality. While Dr. King is rightfully held up as a legendary and inspirational figure, this often results in him being seen as a more-than-human icon, memorialized in carefully chosen inoffensive “I have a dream” quotes taken out of context. Often ignored, or intentionally discounted, is just how revolutionary Dr. King was, which brought excitement and hope to many, while also bringing fear and anger to others. Also overlooked is how Dr. King, during his lifetime, was vilified by the press and the FBI (including an anonymous letter confirmed to have been sent by the FBI widely interpreted as urging Dr. King to commit suicide). Even the public perception of Dr. King was less than favorable at times. It might seem surprising now, but shortly before his assassination, a Harris poll showed a 75% public disapproval rating for Dr. King (I will note that I have been unable to find demographic breakdowns for this poll).

In the workplace, we sometimes encounter difficult truths – about our business, about our teams, or even about ourselves (last week we talked about “paying attention to the cracks”). This may come from clients, but it often comes internally, from a colleague, a manager, or a teammate. Sometimes it comes in performance reviews, when you’ve had a chance to steel yourself ahead of time and engaged in self-reflection ahead of time. But sometimes it comes during team meetings, or over email. If a truth is difficult to hear, or difficult to reconcile, and creates tension and work for you or your team, it can feel disheartening or painful, but ultimately helpful. But if the same person repeatedly challenges the status quo and brings up challenges that feel revolutionary, it can be exhausting, and might result in that person being ignored, vilified, or discounted. Do you have colleagues (or people from other parts of your life) for whom you would give a 75% disapproval rating now? How might that change years or decades from now, once those people are no longer in your day-to-day life? How might you reflect on those ideas then? And which will you wish you had acted on?

This week’s tip:

Listen to the challenges and criticism that come your way, as an individual, a team, and an organization:

  1. As an organization. Keep your ears and eyes open for the challenges and criticisms that employees and/or clients say about your organization. What are the systemic issues that need addressing? What is your role in affecting change?
  2. As a team. If you meet with each team member regularly, check in with them one-on-one about group dynamics. What is working or not working for them? Do they feel their voice is heard? Can they authentically contribute to the work of the group?
  3. As an individual. What have you heard recently from a teammate or colleague or manager that felt personally challenging in some way? Have you taken time to reflect on that? Are there things to learn from what they’ve told you? If so, have you learned them?

Try this out this week, and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group! We’d love to hear from you.

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Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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