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What the Withdrawal of US Forces From Afghanistan Can Teach Us About Leading Change

image with microphone and lead with that podcast episode title, What the Withdrawal of US Forces From Afghanistan Can Teach Us About Leading Change

In this episode of Lead With That, Ren and Allison explore the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, and the collapse of decades of work and a trillion dollars.

In a matter of days in August, the Taliban captured most of the country just weeks before the US was set to withdraw its last troops. We’re lucky enough to talk about leadership and its implications on international trade, or the stock market, or solar energy. And we have the responsibility to talk about leadership and its implications on society and the world. 

Today we want to look at leadership’s role in forging a better future. What kind of leadership does it take to make this situation any better? Is that even possible? And what are the lessons we can take to be better every day? 

In addition to exploring the importance of supporting women in the workplace, we discuss how it’s crucial to change mindsets and establish commitment in order to create real and sustainable change, and what leaders today can do to lead with that.

Listen now or read the full transcript below. 

Listen to the Podcast

In this episode, Ren and Allison explore what we can learn about leading change and supporting women in the workplace from the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.

Interview Transcript: 

INTRO:

Welcome back to CCL’s podcast, Lead With That, where we talk current events and pop culture. Look at where leadership is happening and what’s happening with leadership.

Ren Washington:

20 years in just a day. With the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, the world witnessed the collapse of decades of work and a trillion dollars. In a matter of days, this August, the Taliban captured most of the country just weeks before the US was set to withdraw its last troops. And here at Lead With That, we’re lucky enough to talk about leadership and its implications on international trade, the stock market, solar energy, but we also have a responsibility to talk about leadership and its implications on society and the world. CCL’s mission is to advance the understanding, practice, and development of leadership for the benefit of society worldwide. Simply put, we strive to make the world a better place through more effective leadership.

And I truly believe effective leadership could make a difference in Afghanistan. It could have in the past, maybe could in the future and situations like it. And today we want to look at leadership’s role in forging a better future. What kind of leadership does it take to make this situation any better? Is that even possible? And what are some of the lessons we can take to be better every day in our own lives? I’m Ren Washington, one of the trainers here at the center, and as usual I’m joined with another partner here at CCL, Allison Barr. Allison, what has been the kinds of difference that you’ve seen leadership make in your life?

Allison Barr:

Well, I do want to acknowledge, and you already said a version of this, that there probably are not exact parallels that we can draw from what’s happening in Afghanistan to our work world. However, it’s a major, major global affair that’s impacting the lives of people in a way that you and I, again, are privileged to not know. However, I do think you and I can have a fruitful discussion around leadership lessons in general. And I have to share with you, in an unrelated conversation I was having with somebody, I didn’t get her permission to share what company she works for. However, what I will say is she recently interviewed for a new job and she was telling me that she made it to the third round and was talking to her future boss.

And he said to her, “I want to provide you with three or four references so that you can talk to people that I’ve managed and hear a little bit about my style and ask some questions that are going to make you feel better about working for me, because leadership is so complex, and everybody has different needs.” Organizations are so complex that I thought that was such a unique move. Have you ever had anyone do that?

Ren Washington:

No. And I’m thinking I was reading about the Taliban’s spokesperson the other day saying that he was going to do exit interviews for all the people that were fleeing, I’m kidding. I didn’t hear that at all. That is, I have not. I do like the idea of someone being hired into an organization to be led by someone, the idea of me interviewing them, or hearing about, and what am I getting myself into? So no, I’ve never had a manager give me references for people they’ve managed. But I also think, when you put references on your CV, do you pick someone who’s going to talk bad about you? So, was it just a hollow gesture?

Allison Barr:

No. However, to give you some more context, her experience at her previous organization was that she had been harassed by her boss.

Ren Washington:

Oh, man.

Allison Barr:

And so I’m certain that she didn’t disclose that, of course, to the company that she was interviewing with. However, Afghanistan made me think about a lot of things and it’s making me think a lot about women, right? And again, there’s no parallel. I listened to a spokesperson who wouldn’t name herself on an NPR interview the other day, and what she said was, “In a matter of seconds”, and I’m quoting her, “In a matter of seconds, the faces of women are erased.” They’re being forced to wear burka as they’re being forced to cover their faces. They have to be escorted in public by a man, and they’re not allowed in education.

So again, this is not the same at all, but it did get me thinking about women in the workplace, and my friend’s experience was something that she didn’t want to repeat again. And so the ability to talk to other women, which she did, probably did set her at ease a little bit. So to answer your question, no, we would not give references who are going to say, that Ren Washington’s a real jerk. We wouldn’t do that, but we probably will give references of people who are going to be honest. Right?

Ren Washington:

I hope so. And maybe those people close to us see some of the positives that we bring in less of the shadow, which is some of what I want to talk about today, around the Taliban and how quickly they were able to regain control and some of their appeal. But something you just said is interesting, because you were talking about the face of women being erased in a matter of moments, and some of the restrictions that were certainly a way of life pre-2001 Taliban. And I was just reading a transcript from the Taliban spokesperson the other day, who was getting pressed by this international reporter, and he was asking some of the same questions around, what are women’s experience going to be? Can we expect any punishment or reprisal? Will they be able to continue to work?

And the spokesperson said, yes, they will be safe. There will be no reprisal. There’ll be allowed to work. There’ll be allowed to comment. And then apparently to the rule around them being able to go outside, or go to work without a male companion was also being lifted. And the person said to her, as long as they follow her job, he said, he kept doing that, but it seemed in releasing their comments that there was a shift in behavior. And now, I guess, one, do we believe that? But two, are these the kind of shifts that make the Taliban more palatable?

Allison Barr:

No.

Ren Washington:

No. Yes. All right. Well, what do you mean, no?

Allison Barr:

And I apologize in advance to portray such a strong stance, this is my opinion, not CCL’s opinion, right? Okay. So what you highlight there is something that’s crucial to an organization. So I want to touch on that just briefly, which is trust, right? Trust is crucial for an organization to succeed. So, that aside, what’s interesting about what you’ve said is that the spokeswoman who’s in this NPR article is too afraid to be named, she’s too afraid to even name who she is. And so who are we going to believe in this context? Right? And that’s up for debate, but the Taliban has a history of treating women in the ways that you mentioned they’re not going to anymore.

What is their loyalty to the US to tell us what we want? They don’t have any responsibility to tell us what they’re going to do. They don’t have any loyalty, that I know of, at least, to us, to be honest. Is this a way for them to get the US out of their hair, so to speak? I don’t know, but I have a lot of doubt in my mind that the Taliban is now this inclusive organization that’s going to treat women with equality all of a sudden.

Ren Washington:

Right. It is a hard pill to swallow. And I agree with you. When I read that I can’t help, but say, well, come on, come on now, guy, let’s be real, but it does bring me to is, I think, some of the first organizational takeaways, or some of the takeaways that we can do in our daily lives is, that thing makes me think of two things. One, when you’ve got a history of behavior, it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of proof and evidence for me to believe that you are going to behave differently. And so when we work with tons of leaders, or middle managers, who come into an organization and we are the harbingers of change, right? We’re coming in there and we’re saying, the organization is committed to change, and we’re examples of it. They want you to take risks. They want to open up lines of communication. They want you to give them feedback and people look around the room like, are you freaking kidding me? No chance. I don’t believe that for a second.

And it just reminds me, when we do this work, how it’s measured, it’s intentional. And when people want to shift their leadership behaviors, or behave differently in team environments, it doesn’t happen overnight. And we’re not crazy for pausing and saying, well, wait a minute. Am I supposed to believe you?

Allison Barr:

Yeah. Consistency is key, right? And in terms of Afghanistan, we’re talking about human rights issues. And my hope is that organizations in the US are not faced with human rights issues, and at the same time where my attention landed is, okay, what do we need to do around women’s leadership and equality at the workplace? Not just women, but in order to do that, we have to look at history. And do you know what’s being celebrated in the US today?

Ren Washington:

I feel like a miserable bad person.

Allison Barr:

I didn’t know this. Don’t worry.

Ren Washington:

All right. Now I feel like a suddenly better person.

Allison Barr:

… I saw it on social media somewhere. It’s the hundred and first anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted white women to vote. And I underline white women because no black woman was given access to vote during that year. And so while most of us might be wondering what any of this has to do with the workplace, or Afghanistan, it does show us that historically the frame of reference for women’s rights was through white women alone. And I think that narrative needs to shift as well. And so when I think about women in Afghanistan, some of the musings I have heard on the interwebs, the streets of the interwebs, are, well, they should be grateful. Well, why? They’re not being treated equal. Grateful for what?

Ren Washington:

Yeah. In this argument, what are they to be grateful for?

Allison Barr:

I almost don’t even want to say it, Ren, this was one back and forth that I saw on the streets of Twitter, was that, well, they’re not being murdered. Okay. That is great news, I suppose.

Ren Washington:

Yes. Thank goodness.

Allison Barr:

Right.

Ren Washington:

And you mentioned this again, and I think we’ll probably say this caveat a few times, that I’m not comparing the human rights, the civil justice, the humanitarian issues that are happening in Afghanistan and have happened. I’m not trying to draw a direct comparison to the workspace, but when I do hear some of those reflections of, well, you should just count yourself lucky. I don’t think it’s restricted only to marginalized groups. One of the worst leaders I’ve ever had in my life routinely managed by saying to everyone and looking at us, honestly, that you’re lucky to have a job. Don’t press your luck. I’ll just get another one of you. And I know that that experience is not unique to me. A lot of leadership, a lot of people look at those they hire as expendable. I think we saw some of that in our conversation the last time we were together.

Allison Barr:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ren Washington:

And so maybe there is another parallel, though I know there’s much more to discuss around the marginalization of women and the context of maybe just a little glimpse of freedom before maybe these doors shut, but it also reminds me too, of leadership that looks around maybe at their women, or marginalized groups, and say, you should be lucky. 20 years ago we wouldn’t even have an ERG for you, or 20 years ago there wouldn’t even be an opportunity for you to say any of these things. We would just fire you and bring someone in who’s more complicit, or more compliant.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. How’s that for a power move, right? That’s a safety cue, but that’s like, I won’t get too much into it, but that’s psychology 101. That’s a safety cue to not only just marginalize groups, but that’s a threat, right? That is a passive aggressive threat.

Ren Washington:

The statement of, you’re lucky, or you should count yourself lucky.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. Lucky you have a job.

Ren Washington:

Yeah.

Allison Barr:

Okay.

Ren Washington:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Allison Barr:

Okay. You’re lucky you have a job boss, right?

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Let’s double click on that for a moment, as we say, you’re having a reflection about that. Let’s tap into some of your exasperation, why is that a wrong thing to say as a leader in a leadership?

Allison Barr:

Well, if you think back to that experience, tell me how the environment was like for you.

Ren Washington:

In my personal environment, I desperately needed the work. I was living almost paycheck to paycheck in that, it was a service industry job, so I wasn’t even have paychecks, it was just cash. And I felt a desperation that couldn’t, even if I wanted to challenge that sentiment, which I knew was misplaced, I felt like he was right, because I needed the work. So I felt disempowered. I felt frustrated.

Allison Barr:

Right. Absolutely. So it is a power move. Some people might call that gaslighting. It’s a way for me to make you responsible for your situation, and make you responsible for the treatment that you’re ensuing. So whether or not that manager’s behavior was misplaced, I think that’s what you said, it probably was. Right? It’s probably coming from that doesn’t matter, that’s irrelevant. That is not a way to conduct yourself as a leader, because it creates an environment in which people not only feel less than, but also feel that this is right. This is fair treatment. This is actually, okay, I’m out of line here. Not my boss who’s threatening me.

Ren Washington:

Right. Conditioning.

Allison Barr:

Conditioning. Yes, absolutely.

Ren Washington:

Well, and so maybe that’s a natural segue to some of what I’m curious about with, when I said to you, and I said to our team, we’re doing our war room planning, we’re talking about episodes. And I said, let’s talk about Afghanistan. And as we set up top, it’s been, I think we all know how intense the news year has been. And I think we’ve run a pretty solid job of trying to find things that we could talk about that maybe aren’t so heavy, like I think some of this conversation, but when I think about it, I thought too, well, without any judgment on any decisions that were made exterior to Afghanistan, look into Afghanistan and the people present there, the power of the Taliban, and reflect on why 20 years of effort doesn’t work. So before we ask any other question, what do you think, Allison? Why more than 20 years, a trillion dollars, why didn’t it work?

Allison Barr:

I wish I knew the answer to that. And it’s so complex. And I think one thing to keep in mind is that, well, first of all, this was a military and government operation, and 99% of us are not going to be privy to the entire story. It’s just, we might know 1% of it if we’re lucky. And we can speculate, and it’s very unfair to do that, because sometimes, and likely a lot of those decisions were made and none of us are going to have that full context of the decision.

So, people are criticizing Joe Biden, people are criticizing Donald Trump, people were criticizing Reagan. The point is, is to your point, this is 20 years’ worth of effort and leadership change in the process and cultural change likely in Afghanistan, in the process. And what was interesting that Joe Biden said, which I’m, again, paraphrasing here, is that, “No matter when we left, it was going to be a disaster.” It’s not like you could leave there given the circumstances and have a bow tied on it. It was a messy situation. And so there’s no way that it could be a clean break, so to speak.

Ren Washington:

And it makes me think, what’s happening in leadership for 20 years of efforts for it to have been as messy as situation today as it was in 2001?

Allison Barr:

Right.

Ren Washington:

Now, maybe that’s hyperbole and I’m exaggerating, but I was talking with my stepson today. We were just talking about it and talking about the episode coming up and what’s happening in Afghanistan, and he’s in social studies and they’re going to DC this year. And he was saying, he’s trying to stay up on the news, because he wants to be aware of things. And he made a statement of, well, how we lost the war in Afghanistan, or how he made the statement that, the Taliban are really bad people. Right? And I said, well, losing the war, I don’t know if it’s that simple, because technically there was at one point in our lives, we saw the mission was accomplished.

Allison Barr:

Right.

Ren Washington:

It’s like the whole change in transition conversation we have where change is the thing that happens at the beginning, transition is the thing that gets here. And so, maybe it was like the long entrenched thing didn’t really work out in our favor. And I think some of it was that ambiguity, that gray area of the Taliban and their goodness, or badness. And I’m not trying to put any moral judgment on there, and believe me listener and Allison, I’m staunchly against the Taliban and any kind of culture, or community, or environment, or organization that would be designed to demean and diminish and punish and pain other people. And yet I think too part of their appeal has been better the devil you know. The Taliban has created infrastructure in Afghanistan in places where there is no infrastructure. They dig wells for people. They provide schooling for people. They give people food. All of these things that the Afghan government was unable to do for so long, the Taliban was filling in gaps. And so I think, well, geez, how heavy a lever is that for leadership? Apparently heavy enough if in 20 years nothing changed.

Allison Barr:

I want to back up to what you said a moment ago, which is the Taliban is providing, in effect that’s what you’re saying, they’re providing resources for people. That in itself is conditional.

Ren Washington:

Yes.

Allison Barr:

And so we’re looking at one side of the coin, right? And again, we’ll never know, I can only process and have critical thinking through the information that I receive, which is through the news, because there’s no other way for me to know, I’m not in the military. I don’t live in Afghanistan. So it’s conditional, it’s conditional upon whether you agree to a religious rite. It’s conditional based upon whether or not you agree and behave as less than. For the years that the Taliban was in control, women were not allowed in education. So I’m not going to pat them on the back for providing a well, when it’s, you can have some water if you do what I say, that’s different.

Ren Washington:

Well, that gets me thinking too then, let’s see, what’s the organizational takeaway here for leadership? Conditional leadership, the leadership that says, I’ll support you as long as you do X, Y, or Z. And I think when we talk about influence, especially influence or authority, or we talk about how to get teams motivated, I think that you can, ultimately, we aim for commitment. How can we get teams enthusiastically bought into it? Some of the things that we just might get compliance, people willing to commit and comply. And then at worse we get resistance. And I would have told you last week maybe, maybe not, last month, that no, that you need to pull other levels to get real commitment. You can’t have conditional leadership, because it doesn’t work. It won’t last. And then I look at Afghanistan and say, well, then why is it working? Why has it persisted?

Allison Barr:

What is working? Tell me what’s working there.

Ren Washington:

Well, that’s very interesting. Well, I think what’s working is that the power structure has found its way back into the vacuum.

Allison Barr:

Ah, got you.

Ren Washington:

And so something is enabling that. Maybe it’s like you said, there’s a lot of complexities. Have you ever read The Kite Runner?

Allison Barr:

Yes, years ago. Years ago.

Ren Washington:

Yeah, years ago, me too, me too. All right. Well, they want a dated reference. Man, we’re topical people, I tell you.

Allison Barr:

Gen Z is going to be like, what are these people talking about?

Ren Washington:

They’re like is that the catch 22? By the way, Joseph Heller made up the term catch 22 for that book, isn’t that interesting?

Allison Barr:

Fun fact.

Ren Washington:

Yes. Fun fact. I think what’s working is that the power has made its way back into a vacuum. And there may be a lot of different explanations about why that is. But when I think about sustained commitment to change, when the narrative, we’re the liberator, we’re here to save you and if it doesn’t work, what is an organization’s motivation? Maybe to revisit our conversation the last time we were together, to change their means and habits when, yeah, there might be a little bit of a rebellion or a foreign occupation for a while, but once they’re gone, we’re just going to go back to the way we were. Once the news cameras stopped rolling is the local 218 going to still win the victories they did in Kansas? It’s hard to say. So I think that’s a good question. What’s working? The leadership vacuum cannot be filled. And I guess what’s missing in other leadership that the Taliban’s leadership is so prominent.

Allison Barr:

Is Taliban leadership to you.

Ren Washington:

What is Taliban leadership to me?

Allison Barr:

No. Is Taliban an example of leadership?

Ren Washington:

Wow, is it an example of leadership?

Allison Barr:

As we define it, right? Leadership is a social process.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. There’s six guys talking about what they want to do. Okay, fine. No, do I think that, it’s not good leadership, but in the true sense of someone, there’s an organization that is calling the shots in the least by force, in the most, by having some pretty staunch followers support. Now whether it’s corruption or belief, 20 years of work falling apart in a couple of days, something’s happening there. So as is my patented way, I didn’t really give you an answer there, but you’re welcome.

Allison Barr:

Yes. This is Ren in a nutshell folks. I’m just teasing you. It’s one of your best qualities.

Ren Washington:

No, no at all.

Allison Barr:

So, you keep referencing 20 years of work down the drain and this is a headline, I’ll speak for myself. That’s a headline that I see every time I log onto the internet, it’s a headline, right? We do not know that. And that’s something that I want to keep in mind. You know how media decides to create their opinion pieces does not mean that, that’s what is happening. Our original intent in going to Afghanistan 20 years ago is very different than it is today. And my disclaimer here is that I’m referencing a five star general who I heard on a podcast. This is one person’s perspective, right?

So here’s a general, however, and he has been in Afghanistan for however many years. I don’t remember, but his perspective was we never should have been there in the first time. We’re in Afghanistan building roads. Most of the people don’t have cars. Most of the people in Afghanistan don’t know how to drive if they do have cars. We don’t know what we were doing there in the first place. And so I think, if we can draw an organizational conclusion to that, it is sometimes companies get so far away from their mission or their purpose, that one change in leadership derails the whole thing, but it’s an opportunity to look at what we were trying to do in the first place.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Maybe you get so far away from your mission that once that leader is gone and he’s calling these random shots and everyone else looks around and says, wait, what are we supposed to be doing? As opposed to, if everyone is maybe a little bit more clear on that, then it doesn’t just take the one leader that shakes up the whole thing, there’s more people who have that responsibility.

Allison Barr:

Right. And you mentioned a variation of commitment. Again, at CCL, we talk about leadership in terms of direction, alignment, and commitment being the outcomes.

Ren Washington:

Yeah.

Allison Barr:

And when you have forced commitment, that’s not the same. That is not commitment. That’s threat. And surely when you prey on people who don’t have rights, they don’t have a choice. What are you supposed to do when there are men with machine guns who… it’s very different. That’s not leadership as I know it. Forced commitment.

Ren Washington:

All right. That, and actually forced commitment sounds like a lot of leadership as I know it.

Allison Barr:

Oh, tell me more.

Ren Washington:

Maybe not good leadership, but not to keep on referencing our episode. If you haven’t checked out the episode from the last time we were together, folks, we talked a little bit around flexible work and some of the implications of those people who don’t have the opportunity. And so there’s a lot of forced commitment, and remember I was talking and you said, “Do these organizations care, or are they concerned about working too many people?” And I think that’s rooted in this idea of maybe the shrug emoji from the Taliban, or other groups that are like too bad. You don’t have any other choice.

Allison Barr:

Right. I agree with you on that. And so long as if we’re looking at the US, so long as we have people in poverty, we are going to have people to work jobs in which the environment is unsafe, or the pay is below the rate in which you can even pay your rent, or buy a meal for your family. And in the last episode, again, I’ll just keep on with the trend here of referencing our last episode.

I believe they, I’m air quoting, they won a 4% raise over the course of a few years, which is actually a loss when you incorporate inflation, that’s a loss, that’s not a win, but if you’re preying on people who perhaps don’t have an education, or the money to pay for a lawyer to fight that, yes, they were unionized, but there’s only so much that they can do. So it’s a losing battle.

Ren Washington:

And as I’m seeing the losing battle in Afghanistan, and maybe that’s what I keep highlighting around, what’s working, is that on the other side of that loss there’s a winner, and it’s this entrenched Taliban ethos, or structure, or infrastructure, whatever it is that enabled them to help dismantle the systems that we tried to put into place. And so maybe who knows the 20 years are down the drain or not, I think we’ll see if any of these women who have been in government maintain, or remain in government. However, maybe that’s a sign of that 20 years wasn’t lost, that the fact that women in Afghanistan, or people who are marginalized were able to do things they never were able to do under the Taliban, or maybe as our Taliban friend spokesperson in the beginning said, no, women will be allowed to work, or they’ll be allowed to walk around outside. Who knows? Maybe that is a sign of evolution or growth.

And I can only hope as leaders, as people in and around the world, as we think around leadership in organizations, our role in doing the small things to make a big difference. I don’t think all these efforts were in vain, because some things have really shifted. And I do think that just because there’s a power vacuum and some organizations, or people who are really good at taking advantage of disadvantaged people in bad situations, I have to believe that they’re not always going to win.

Allison Barr:

They’re not always going to win. Yeah, that’s interesting. I can’t help, but think, we have to be able to understand and respect the lived experiences of others and what our responsibility is now to that culture is, I don’t know the answer to that as a country, right? I don’t have the answer to that. However, if the majority of women are saying, that’s not true what you’re hearing, Ren. I am terrified to say my name because I will get murdered by way of stoning. I am prone to believe that person. And in the workplace, when we’re able to understand and respect lived experiences of those in marginalized groups, then we can progress, not by with all the love my hearts, hearing from someone who’s not a woman sharing the experiences of a woman.

Ren Washington:

It makes me think of how some of that’s not in my control. And let me tell you what I mean. I was working with someone and they were telling me an experience they had with their client team that they were a part of, and it was equity and diversity work. And there was a person in this team who was in a leadership position who just did not see the value in it, and did not pursue the efforts. Not too recently, or not too long ago, that person who was in a leadership role was no longer, and someone else who had a belief in the efforts was on the team. And now the efforts have been reignited, recommitted. And it just makes me wonder, what happens when that person’s out?

Allison Barr:

Right.

Ren Washington:

What do we have to do for the team to make them still want to commit to the ideas, or the work, or the effort, or what’s the social process of leadership where just because a single leader leaves that we can’t keep up the good things that are happening? I don’t know if there’s an answer in Afghanistan, I think, I’m sorry to say there isn’t not one, we tried, at least for the past 20 years. And so I’m humbled in these moments, despite my belief in that idea of personal agency and empowerment, and is that sometimes despite one’s best efforts, they are left holding the short end of the stick. And then maybe in that, I think we can still fight the good fight because I think small things can still make a big difference but.

Allison Barr:

Indeed it is complex, right? It is so complex. And the organizational environment in the United States when there’s change of leadership, it’s gray. We can’t even make one probably congruent conclusion that’s going to apply to every organization, because it depends, in true CCL form, everything depends on the environment. What else is going on? What is your mission? What was this leader like that the new leader’s not like that you’re craving, right? Direction, alignment, commitment. It’s all about realigning when you get a new leader. And that is very, very complicated. You mentioned fighting the good fight, which good fight do you mean?

Ren Washington:

That if you are in that particular instance saying, if you’re a woman in Afghanistan who ran for office and have the position to keep on trying to change the world, and to keep on being the change you wish to see in the world. It can be hard to do those things in the face of impending doom like you say, where I can’t even vocalize my name, and maybe it doesn’t show up as teaching, or running actively in office, but I hope that there’s people who are still committed to doing the hard, good work, because that’s the work that’s going to make a difference.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. And I think when we talk about leadership as this social process, as we do, my point of view on that is that it has to include allyship. And we know that when allyship is a norm at the workplace, everybody benefits literally, the entire organization benefits. So, where do you start with that? That’s a whole other podcast.

Ren Washington:

Yes. Yes.

Allison Barr:

… beliefs influence behavior, right? And if we think about the Taliban, their belief sets are influencing their behavior. Again, not a fair comparison at all, but at an individual level, your beliefs about women are whatever they are, and then your behavior is a derivative from that, right? So it’s the same thing, I think the first step in allyship is to really investigate deeply and bravely investigate, not only your own identity, but the belief systems that you hold about women, women of color, trans women, black men, people who are not like you and people who are not like me, I have to understand and respect their identity is not a one dimensional and understand that people have different experiences than me based on their identity.

Allison Barr:

And again, history, whether we’re looking at Afghanistan, or the United States, history, again, I’m not putting those two in the same category by the way, but history will tell us if there are times when there are decisions made for women about women in a humanitarian way, or a workplace way, either way, without women in the space. And so I think a good leadership lesson is, if you’re looking to support women at the workplace, or those who are not like you, you need to have them in the conversation with you and don’t speak for them.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Maybe leave with that.

Allison Barr:

Yeah.

Ren Washington:

I love those ideas. And I was thinking too, some of what you said earlier was around the mindsets that we have to shift, and my major takeaway around all this is, or, well, you may not have said that exactly, but you alluded to, I think the idea that we’ve got to change the way people think about the work that we’re doing, or the way that we interact with people, or the way that we treat other people. And when I look at Afghanistan, I see that no mindsets were changed. Very few mindsets were changed in the past 20 years, or in the very least mindsets that needed to be changed weren’t changed.

Allison Barr:

Right.

Ren Washington:

And so when we’re in an organization and you’re leading a team, or you’re trying to be engaged in that active process of leadership, or you have a leader who’s trying to get you to do something and you’re just an individual contributor, it’s how do we change the mindset? Because if we just address symptoms, things that show up because of the mindset, the beliefs that impact my behaviors, like you were saying, then I’m just might be addressing some things on the downstream, but not addressing what’s happening upstream. So for me as a leader, my takeaway for this time, and as we keep going, is how can you actively engage in changing the mindsets? Policy, conversation, all of these things that we tried to do may have worked, may have got compliance for a little bit, but had a lot of resistance. There was no commitment because as soon as it was over the structures that we put in place fell apart.

So maybe with a mind shift change, that’s the message. As a leader or an organization, when you’re trying to do these things, if you’re not going to change the mindsets, the moment you stop looking over someone’s shoulder, maybe it just falls apart.

Allison Barr:

Perhaps. Again, a very complex topic.

Ren Washington:

Yes. I know.

Ren Washington:

Did we solve it?

Allison Barr:

Yeah. I think we did. Right? I think we solved it. Yes. Another great conversation, Ren, you’ve given me a lot to think about, I really enjoy talking to you and dissecting these really complicated topics. So thanks for taking the time.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. I appreciate it, it was good to talk.

Allison Barr:

And as always, a special thank you to our listeners and to Ryan and the team behind the scenes who make the podcast happen. To our listeners, you can find our show notes and our link to the podcast on ccl.org. Don’t forget to subscribe while you’re there. And if you’re feeling feisty, you can leave us a five star review.

Ren Washington:

I like it.

Allison Barr:

A little teaser to those of you who are on LinkedIn, make sure you follow us on LinkedIn. Ren and I are going to be doing a LinkedIn live in the next four to six weeks-ish. And we would love to see you there and have a chat with you via LinkedIn. So go follow us and we’ll look forward to catching up next time. Thanks everyone.

Ren Washington:

Thanks everyone. We’ll see you next time. Thanks Allison.

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