The authentic, human-centered leaders are starting to emerge from the chaos and uncertainty of the last few months. The ones who are pausing to evaluate the systemic racism in their organization. The ones who are giving flexibility to employees who are managing at-home work with children, with daycares and schools closed. The new leaders embrace the reality that “business as usual” is evolving by the moment.

These leaders are listening. They are not taking up airspace, but rather, pausing and asking questions. These leaders are bringing others to the forefront to talk about their experiences and reflecting on their own behavior and biases. 

For example, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar told employees that racism is a problem for the entire organization. He has publicly vowed to listen to employees of color as well as “lead with empathy and action in this moment.”

These human-centered leaders are not silent. They are having difficult conversations, acknowledging their vulnerability, and listening to understand and evolve. They are acting based on what they hear. 

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said the company’s new mission, “to power an inclusive future for all,” means that, as a company, it is not silent against injustices. Cisco will diversify its leadership ranks while building a sustained approach to dismantle racism within the company.

To create a human-centered work environment where all voices are heard, valued, and appreciated, listening must become a required skill for every leader, up and down the organization. Truly listening is the genuine absorption of what someone else is communicating.

To actively listen, distractions must be set aside. To fully understand what the other person is saying, mind chatter cannot get in the way. Taking a deep breath before you talk is a simple way to quiet the mind.

Leadership is about listening to understand, not to judge. By actively listening, leaders are indirectly saying, “You are worthy” and “I care about what you think.” Listening creates a sense of belonging and connection, both of which are required for organizations to evolve during this period of radical change.

Active listening is a necessary component of every meaningful conversation. Leaders must listen to their counterparts and their team members. It is when we listen and reflect that change happens and strategies will evolve to systematically address racism.