Every time I begin the process of writing a monthly message that is hopefully authentic, relevant and meaningful, I fill with fear. Inevitably the fear is displaced by the intention of being vulnerable, making a difference, stretching my mind, and once again creating words and stories that express human beings at their best.
As part of this month's prep, I searched my treasure trove of experiences, instances, readings, and moments for the inspiring ones, for the ones that stand out. While doing so, it occurred to me that I am in a very fortunate position; the people with whom I work and affiliate engage with a desire to be their best.
Each person shows up wanting to be better, curious about what it takes to improve, eager to learn new skills, humble to share experiences of utter joy and unbearable pain, identifying and embracing his/her own unique strengths and areas of development.
Yet, the bifurcation, isolation and separatism between the do-gooder and villain is looming larger than ever. The polarization of the righteous is great and a norm of growing hate is under way. It's especially easy to see it and be on the side lines being right about it. It's safer, more comfortable, and convenient to deny it and/or hope that someone else is dealing with it.
"Culture is what happens when they think no one is watching", claimed Stephen Frost, a globally recognized diversity, inclusion and leadership expert at a recent speaking engagement with the Federal Reserve's Philadelphia office.
In spite of the constant bombardment of horrific news about natural disasters, terrorism, death and destruction from drug related incidents and hate headlines, we persist. We seek to aspire toward a profound, happy and connected society.
It is what we do that matters. While dashing off to soccer games, packing lunches, carving pumpkins, posting cherished moments, cramming to meet the deadlines, and delivering your best presentation ever; it is incumbent upon you to take the plunge. You are the minority in a majority culture. Challenge the norms, shake up the mediocrity, and bring a relentless curiosity to what you are adapting to at home, in your workplace, community and with yourself.
I continue to be amazed by great leaders because they, too often, are in a room afraid to say the wrong thing, act the wrong way; be misunderstood; or be the nudge. Yet, they go for it. This takes courage, demands the fortitude to stand alone, requires care and discipline, and is sometimes messy.
So what can we do to break down the enemy lines? How do we forge greater unity and solidarity? What is the work we can do to better strengthen ourselves and our environments?
Build a sustained effort. Growth and behavioral change happen by incremental, disciplined and repetitive action.
Understand yourself. Seek to understand others. Listen to connect. Catch your assumptions, beliefs and judgements of yourself and others and question them. Discover the commonalities and appreciate the differences.
Create opportunities for shared experiences - shared joy and shared pain. Be together at funerals, football games, musical performances, soccer games, travel excursions, break bread together.
Seek diversity - join, hire and spend time with people who look, act and are different from you. The business case is clear. Attract, recruit, hire and promote diversity. You and your business will out-think, out-innovate, and out-perform every time.
A leader recently posed the question, "what grounds for optimism and hope do we have when youth are taking their own lives and the lives of others, when hate is on the rise, when it's more difficult than ever to feel safe and when stress levels are off the charts?"
Every day I witness leaders winning. They are making a concerted effort to quiet the noise and attune themselves to the hard work outlined above and that's, what makes it possible. YOU make it possible.
Brown, Brene, PhD, LMSW. Braving The Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. Random House, New York 2017.