Leadership Traps and How to Discuss Racism

June 9, 2020 by  Chris Erwin

Last Tuesday we wrote Leadership Principles During Crisis: How to Steer to Better Times. The blog post was in response to civil unrest resulting from racism and violence against Black Americans, catalyzed by the death of George Floyd.

We called for strong leadership to “steer our country, corporations, and communities to needed change and better times. To awareness and knowledge about systemic racism. To safe spaces for civil discourse and collaboration. To action that can make a difference. To the enfranchisement of black Americans.To racial unity.”

That post was easy to write.

Inspiration came quickly. No other topics were considered. Energy buzzed through our writing team.

The same is not true today.

No singular topic compels us. We lack focus. We have more questions than answers, angles.

How best to continue the discussion around racism in America? And what our business community can do about it? Is it wrong to write about anything else? Is it wrong to NOT write about anything else?

Our team reflected on these questions….they are not the roadblock to our writing. We are.


The problem is a need for clarity. The obvious choices in a moment where everything is high stakes. Highly sensitive, highly charged. Well, that need is a trap. A trap that paralyzes. Demotivates.

These are destructive forces for us at RockWater, and for business leaders and teams. Those who wield power and influence must now be ready and eager.

But, this week might find many in our business community stalling. Lost and disorientated in a year of economic and societal turbulence. Under great expectations for action and change. Navigating unclear lines of right and wrong, and social media mudslinging. Discord among leaders, employees, owners. The mud weighs heavy.

So how to unstick ourselves? How to set a path forward?

Like we noted in our last Tuesday Take, admit your reality. Leaders and teams must have confidence in admitting confusion and frustration. Self doubt and intimidation.

How the majority of us aren’t aware of the systemic racism and violence in our communities, our businesses. Even ourselves. How imperfect we are. How we don’t know the right future business decisions to make, nor how to fix the past. How much work is needed, and how daunting an effort it will be.

So, we harness these questions and feelings.

We share them with our teams, our leaders, our communities. With Black Americans. We use these questions and feelings to recruit learning. To seek help while we’re confused and paralyzed in self-doubt. To deepen bonds and strengthen weak ties across our communities that ignorance once prevented.

To start answering these big questions as best we all can.

To not focusing solely on the What (a singular action), but on the How that fuels ongoing cycles of learning, action, and iteration. And being ok with inevitable mistakes. Because sustainable change is hard. Yet there is no other option. It is morally right and business smart.

To that end, below are recent RockWater moves and thoughts in the spirit of progress. Overall, we commit to be the best version of ourselves. And to be as supportive as possible for all of you during our collective journey forward.


  • Donated to City Surf Project. Teaches underserved youth life skills via surfing

  • Our MBA intern Mahum Jamal created Prism. Showcases stories of being ‘othered’

  • Donated to Campaign Zero. Research-based policy recommendations to end police violence like #8cantwait

  • Used newsletter and blog to inspire good leadership principles during crisis. And continuing to write often.

  • Listened. Researched. Asked for help. Followed many new social accounts.

  • Searching for a black-owned restaurant for our next LA networking dinner. Open to all recommendations.

  • Sharing honestly with my team last week during a moment of weakness and disillusionment last Friday morning.

Ping us here at anytime. We love to hear from our readers.

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