I have a client who has become a fast-friend over the past two years since he’s lived in West Michigan. He really likes what we are doing at Leading by DESIGN and agrees with us that West Michigan could be the hotbed of great leadership in the country. It’s really good to have this affirmation from someone who’s not from here and has lived in many corners of the country.
Recently, however, he asked me some challenging questions that he suspects relate to our mission:
- What role does diversity play in this vision of becoming the Silicon Valley of leadership?
- What has West Michigan done in the past and what is it currently doing with the diversity challenge that faces our country?
- What role should Leading by DESIGN and its alumni have in making it different?
These are great questions, and partly because they came from such a good person who I like, they stick in me with extra goo.
What he didn’t know when he asked me these questions is that understanding the diversity challenge in the U.S. had been a passion of mine, starting in fifth grade when the all-white basketball team I was on started playing all African-American teams in the Lansing YMCA leagues. My interest only grew as I later went on to play for Lansing Sexton as one of only two white guys on the team.
During those years I was confronted up close and personal with the cultural and social similarities and differences between my usual community and the communities the other players came from. These experiences shaped some beliefs in me that we should be given equal opportunities. Of course, some of you right now might be saying “no dah, Einstein.”
Later in life, my faith took shape and that just reinforced this belief that we are all the same, regardless of color. My faith claims that all people are made in the image of God. ALL PEOPLE.
My passion for understanding what is real about the diversity challenge, and what isn’t, but is just someone’s hype about it, continued on all the way through my forties. This desire to truly understand the diversity dynamics took up some real mindshare and energy through those forty years. Then, somewhere along the way, I grew weary of trying to understand all the realities of this great challenge and what to do about it.
While I never stopped thinking it wasn’t an important challenge, I just grew weary of all the talk and debate about what was the real truth and how to really make a difference. After disengaging it for many years in my fifties, I learned that as a white male, I have the choice of whether to wrestle with the issue or not. And a couple of black friends helped me see that they don’t have that same choice. They are forced to live with the realities of the challenge whether they want to engage it or not. It’s thrust in their face pretty regularly.
It’s clear now that I’m in my sixties, this passion for fairness and understanding our diversity challenge is arising in me again.
Next month, I’ll be writing two postings again (my turn is always on the first and second Monday of each month… at least for now). In these two postings I will share more thoughts on this topic including some long held beliefs about diversity and also some recent insights and commitments I plan to make in 2019. I hope you’ll be curious to find out what they are.
In the meantime, I invite you to start clarifying some of your own beliefs and values as they relate to diversity.Do you believe it is real? Should it matter more in West Michigan if we are to be the best leaders in the nation? Is there something we should be teaching about it in LEAD 365? Should we be challenging you alumni to deal with it?
If you read this far, thanks! I hope you’ll also read my postings next month.
In the meantime, be great this week!