Me First

I was oblivious to any racism at my high school in the late 70’s. My experience was on bus rides with the basketball team, as we celebrated winning most of our games – including a state championship our senior year – by loudly playing music by the Commodores, Brick, Parliament, Ohio Players and Brothers Johnson on postgame return trips to school.

I reflected on those times the past two weeks and realized I didn’t live up to how I was raised and my own expectations about equality.

There was the poem someone shared our senior year. It was titled ‘De Black Speckled Banner.’ I passed it along.

There were jokes by others I laughed at that made white people look superior. I retold them.

There were times white friends said something and I knew it was derogatory and I should have spoken up. I kept quiet.

Because of my career journey, I have worked with people who didn’t look and think just like me. Black. Hispanic. Asian. Jew. Muslim. Hindu. Buddhist. Mormon. Atheist. LGBTQ+.

I’ve always believed I am not a racist. That my experiences and the people I met along the way give me a wide and open view of humanity. That living a life based on the teaching of ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ makes me unbiased.

Then… George Floyd.

After many conversations since with my wife and the two adult daughters living with us during these socially distanced times. After reading numerous articles. After watching lots of videos. After looking deep inside and acknowledging white privilege. After considering 400 years of this country’s history.

I looked in the mirror and said, “My silence is racist.”

So I’ve been sharing a lot of links with my white friends. Most of them are open to having dialogue so they, too, can better understand the experiences of those who don’t look like us, weren’t raised like us, haven’t had our same advantages. A couple pushed back and said all the protests are a ‘narrative by the left-leaning media.’ One told me to stop sending him things because he doesn’t want to think about it.

I can’t control how people react. I can’t make people think differently. I can’t change people. However, I can’t remain silent any longer. I will continue to share. Continue to challenge. Continue to move the conversation forward. Perhaps I won’t have any impact on anyone else. I know it will make a difference in me.

The world changed May 25. I am changing too.

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Culture Stars

Celebrities are often criticized for stating their opinions – a majority leaning to one side of the political spectrum – while living lavish lifestyles. “Stick with acting and keep quiet.” “If you don’t like America, move somewhere else.” “I don’t see you out helping the poor; put your money where your mouth is.”

During the past many weeks, though, it’s nice to see famous folks donating their time and talents (and maybe even treasures) to raise money for those impacted by COVID-19, especially health care workers. From Broadway stars singing in unison in their social-distanced homes, to movie stars voicing over pictures from the front lines, to TV stars reprising iconic roles – like Tony Shaloub as ‘Monk’ – so many are trying to be a ray of light during these difficult days.

A personal favorite of ours, Matthew McConaughey, Minister of Culture for the University of Texas, agreed to hold a chat forum on The Athletic last month. Technical difficulties caused it to start a half hour late. While a lot of celebrities would have immediately thrown blame, ‘Hey, I was here… not my fault,’ the Academy Award winner who teaches acting to UT students, typed: “McConaughey here—tardy for class… excuse me—password glitch—what up—let’s jam”

There’s a good chance when we finally come out of this, human nature kicks in and we’re back to our same old habits. On the other hand, perhaps we’ll have new appreciation for each other and the challenges we face together. It would be great if that respect and concern carries over and continues in the new normal.

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New Abnormal

One of the benefits of having several events cancelled during the shutdown – including a return trip to Nigeria – is I attended quite a few Zoom meetings and webinars about what business might look like once the U.S. reopens. I also asked my clients in health care what they’re experiencing. Here are some things I heard:

– The pandemic will transition into an endemic that remains close by… returning intermittently in waves until a vaccine arrives
– People are comfortable working from home… and the office will never be the same; there are more important things to care about than a child making noise or the dog walking into frame
– Transparent communication is essential at all levels of the organization… including frequent updates and checking in with direct reports and peers on how they’re doing, not just work
– A little over two months ago unemployment was at a generational low, now there are 26 million people receiving benefits. When the economy picks up, there will be a lot of talented individuals anxious to get back to doing great things
– While calendars are packed all day with virtual meetings, attendees recognize the need to be efficient and effective… and many are ending five minutes early to give everyone a small break

One client – an executive – told me that he scheduled a meeting for 90 minutes and someone challenged him when it ended 30 minutes early: “Why did you take up that block on my calendar? Someone else could have booked it.” My client answered: “It’s the end of the day, I figured you might appreciate the extra time.” The person responded: “You’re right. It’s 4:30 and I haven’t even eaten lunch. Thank you.”

I saw a LinkedIn post today that suggested skipping the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys next year and holding an awards show for doctors, nurses, EMS and other front-liners who are the real stars among us. I’ll watch that one.

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Peace Offering

“These are the times that try men’s souls.”

The first sentence of Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis, a series of 13 pamphlets – think of them as 18th century blog posts – published soon after the Declaration of Independence. During periods of prosperity those eight words rest in quiet slumber. Then when the next disruption arises, they awaken to remind us to remain strong.

The War of 1812. The Civil War. World War I. The Great Depression. World War II. Vietnam. Watergate. October 1987 crash. September 11. The Great Recession. Traumatic events in our history. Yet, we made it through these darkest of days.

Now we’re faced with the uncertainty of the Coronavirus. People are sick and dying. The stock market is in Bear territory. The Saudis and Russia engaged in a standoff that sent oil prices plunging. A global recession could be on the horizon.

While it’s time to take smart health and financial action, it is not time to lose hope. Talk with your customers and employees. Adjust where you need. Keep the faith.

And consider the next sentence of Paine’s first missive… one you may have never heard: “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

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Mine Games

This month I traveled to Louisiana to work for a day with the U.S. Director of five salt mines. This person grew up in France, lives in Montreal, and spends 48 weeks a year on the road.

These are three lessons learned during my visit:

1) This leader stepped in a while ago on an interim basis as GM of the plant. Twice he brought in someone… and it didn’t work out, yet he avoided the temptation to rush. Sixteen months and a lot of 18-hour days later, the right person appeared. The day after I departed, the leader went back to his ‘regular’ job.

2) I’ve worked for several years with leaders in the Canadian oil sands. That’s heavy-duty stuff. This was my first journey to a salt mine. I interviewed my client’s direct reports for feedback on his leadership style. After three of those I realized ‘mining is mining.’ Safety is placed above all else – including profit. As one person told me: “I’ve worked in 24 mines the past 30 years. This is my first salt mine. The only difference is the product leaves on a conveyor belt instead of a pipeline.” He was a fourth-generation miner and his two boys are now in the industry.

3) King Cakes purchased in Lafayette just before Mardi Gras taste a lot different than the ones we usually get at Kroger.

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