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What Leaders are Learning

Leaders Are Aware

Leaders Are Aware

Leadership Spokane is committed to the truism that leaders always learn. This past week, the adult Leadership Spokane Class of 2016 focused on the importance of diversity in leadership…not just diversity of ethnicity, but diversity of age, sex, sexual orientation, ability and ultimately diversity of thought. Diversity defined is simply “difference” and leaders need to be adept in leveraging differences while simultaneously building a team. What was powerful about the leadership day was how the small group of leaders on the day (Scan team) brought both the servant Leaders Lend a Handleadership characteristic of “awareness” to the forefront and simultaneously emphasized the other nine servant leadership characteristics. Indeed, in a time when the topic of diversity brings division and controversy to many news stories, the Class of 2016 was able to bring “balance” to the day. The final speakers, Kitara Johnson (Class of 2008) and Dr. Chrissy Davis Jones (Class of 2015), ended the day with openness and candor emphasizing how labels bring disunity. For them, diversity is a strength. For me, this concept that diversity equals unity seems paradoxical but it is a necessary understanding for servant leaders to be stronger leaders.
Robert Greenleaf understood that the diversity characteristic of awareness brings unease: “Awareness is not a giver of solace – it is just the opposite. It is a disturber and an awakener. Able leaders are usually sharply awake and reasonably disturbed. They are not seekers after solace. They have their own inner serenity.” Leaders able to adapt to uncertainty, embrace it and provide calmness are best able to bring cohesion and move their team ahead. One of this nation’s best leaders, President Abraham Lincoln, did this best through storytelling. Whether speaking on difficult topics of slavery or Civil War, Lincoln would use folksy stories he gained in his early years as a traveling lawyer to bring unity and humor to the room, and most importantly, to bring a sense of ease. Not all leaders have this unique ability to story tell, but all leaders can strive for the unity “Ole Abe” showed…at the end of the brutal Civil War, asked what his favorite song was, he quipped the South’s national song… “Dixie!”
Lincoln always showed respect to his friends and enemies alike helping model a culture of acceptance. An August 13, 1997 article entitled “Leadership and Developing Diversity and Inclusion” recommend other ways to embrace diversity:
◦ Develop an atmosphere that is safe for all employees to ask for help.
◦ Actively seek information from people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures.
◦ Include people who are different than you in informal gatherings such as lunch, coffee breaks, and spur of the moment meetings.
◦ Create a team spirit where every member feels a part of.
The final ingredient to embracing diversity is having the right attitude. Changing peoples’ attitudes is never easy, but it is the ultimate ingredient to success. A 1980 study by Wells and Petty measured students’ attitudes to change tuition based on head motions they are asked to make. Those students who listened to arguments to raise student tuitions on headphones while shaking their heading in an affirmative motion were much more supportive of raising tuitions. Those students who negatively shook their heads (i.e. back and forth) were less predisposed to raise tuitions. Attitude is everything, and being proactive in an organization embracing diversity is the first step to create lasting positive change.
What was remarkable about Leadership Spokane’s class on diversity was the overt attitude of the class to be positive on making change. From standing ovations for a classmate’s heartfelt testimonial to a series of role playing speeches where our leaders identified with diverse groups, the Class of 2016 embraced awareness. Our class of 54 adult leaders are certainly not monolithic in thought but they do understand that nodding in agreement for embracing diversity is the right place to start. Mark London, Class of 2016, finished the day challenging us all: “Walk into the river and change the current.” Our leaders are aware and thus they are strong.
Diversity: the art of thinking independently together. ~ Malcolm Forbes