By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy
Here’s an idea to become more aware of your personal instinctive behavior. Reading time: 3:42
“I’m from the South.
Flirting is part
of my heritage.”
–Blanche, The Golden Girls
Blanche reminds us that our heritage casts a large shadow no matter what role you are playing: lover or leader.
Your heritage shapes your instinctive behavior. And sometimes, a leader can get too comfortable in his or her own skin, and too loose in his or her own tongue.
S/he can inadvertently say something –instinctively, something that rolls off the tongue naturally and innocently– even though it could be offensive to others no matter how customary and non threatening it is to you.
Even Presidents of the United States of America are not immune to the foot-in-mouth disease even if they are unaware how they contracted it and how they are propagating it.
Indeed, our assimilated environment influences the way we talk (accent) and even fosters and nurtures the blind spots we develop in listening and interacting naturally to other like-minded people over time in the same geographic area.
Consider President Harry S Truman. He was born and raised in the South 20 years after the Civil War. Even as president he would privately and inadvertently refer to “niggers,” according to historian David McCullough on page 588 of his biography on Truman.
“On racial matters, Truman had not entirely outgrown his background. Old biases, old habits of speech continued surfacing off-stage as some of his aides and Secret Service agents would later attest. Privately, he could still speak of ‘niggers’ as if that were the way one naturally referred to blacks,” McCullough observed.
Indeed, where you are coming from on an issue or concern can often depend on where you come from. That’s why the most effective leaders recognize how their background, their neighbors, even peers can affect their decision making. They realize their values, their rituals, their customs and their culture can and do affect the way they think and act. And in public they always factor that cultural connection in what they say and do. They know only too well that while you can take the man out of the country it’s nearly impossible to take the country out of the man.
Truman acknowledged his Southern heritage. His said his relatives had fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. He noted he came from a part of Missouri where “Jim Crowism still prevailed.” Truman was referring to segregationist laws mandating Black and White patrons have separate toilet facilities, separate waiting rooms in train and bus stations, and separate entrances to restaurants.
But as president, Truman also embraced his leadership role –directly and deliberately –and regularly made a concerted effort to check his instinctive Missourian behaviors whenever he stepped in the American limelight as the Leader of the Free World.
In fact, as president Truman issued executive orders ending segregation in the military and in federal hiring practices. He became the first president to campaign in predominately black Harlem. And he vigorously fought overt discrimination especially when a group of white Southern Democrats –his peers at one time—wrote a letter asking Truman to slow down his progressive treatment of Blacks. Truman fired back a letter that read in part:
“…my very stomach turned over
when I learned that Negro soldiers,
just back from overseas,
were being dumped out of Army trucks
in Mississippi and beaten.
Whatever my inclinations as a native
of Missouri might have been,
as President, I know this is bad.
I shall fight to end evils like this.”
President Truman, as an effective leader, realized that it takes a specially honed emotional intelligence to be aware of the blinders your heritage can foist on you. As Tricia Rose, the incoming director of Brown University’s Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, cautions: “Good people are very often blind to and support disturbing and discriminatory actions, behaviors and ideas.”
To guard against those blind spots, the most effective leaders heighten their own degree of emotional intelligence to protect themselves from their own DNA –Discrimination Naturally Applied.
Even when they’re flirting.
Beware of your heritage to keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.
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