These challenges come in the form of personal struggles, business uncertainty and historically unspoken ones like racism. As we’ve seen with the pandemic, navigating these struggles requires us to come together in new ways—as employees, families, neighborhoods, states, countries and ultimately the world.
Our country, the United States of America, was built on a premise of unifying, not dividing. However, today we are in an intense “100% agree or 100% reject” society where we often choose to listen or engage with only those who share our views, and we vehemently chastise those who don’t. We have lost our way, and it’s time for each of us to find our own path to course correct.
The simple answer, if there actually was one, is to commit to lead with respect. Respect for all others—not just the ones who look like you, or who read the same blogs as you. Respect, no matter what neighborhood someone lives in, where they go to pray or what news channel they watch. You don’t need to agree, but rather understand their world may be different than yours and work to understand those differences. My challenge to myself and others … whether it’s leading a team or a one-on-one discussion, choose to lead with an open mind, understanding and respect.
I believe strongly that "all men (and women) are created equal." This statement is no casual afterthought. It’s the core underlying principle of the U.S. Declaration of Independence penned 244 years ago. While we fight intensely for our Second Amendment right to bear arms (which I own myself) and our First Amendment right to free speech (which some may say I use too much), we too often fail as a nation to practice what we proclaim to be one of our most fundamental truths – that all men are actually created equal and should be treated as equals.
I have been blessed. In my work life, 60 percent of my team are amazing women and 40 percent outstanding men. But I, too, still have work to do to build a team that actually looks more like America. My family has been honored to have more than 34 foster children as part of our family over the last 13 years, giving us the opportunity to learn from children of every religious belief, color and economic status. My wife and I are also blessed with four amazing adult children of our own. While our white Irish heritage means my children grew up without the daily challenges facing so many families of color, we tried to raise them with a deep awareness and acceptance of others. As they are leaving home and getting married, my family has grown (so far) to include two wonderful daughters-in-law of Mexican and Laotian heritage, and a beautiful Irish/Mexican granddaughter. I am very proud that my grandchildren will reflect the diversity of America.
I am confident that my children and grandchildren will be part of the change that will drive a new level of momentum. I am encouraged that our largest population (Millennials) have a stronger voice than I (and others like me) dared to have. They have a deeper conviction of what is right, and the courage to be the change they envision. They are farther away from the bigotry and racism that our grandparents, parents and even my generation lived and accepted. I know we are in good hands.
However, that doesn’t mean that my generation is off the hook. We have a responsibility to do what we can now to ensure the country and world will continue to evolve. I speak out not only because it is my right as an American, but also my duty as a leader. Leaders, especially us old white guys, must lead from a different place, to help create a (long overdue) springboard of change for the next generation. I choose to lead toward a nation, and a world, that values unity and equality. I choose respect.