By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy
Here’s an idea to enhance diversity in your thinking. Reading time: 3:56
It was a working lunch. The vice president saw a teaching opportunity as she held her fork like a conductor’s baton over his tomato and alfalfa sprouts salad.
“Take a good look at the alfalfa sprouts crawling in, around and through this salad,” the vice president told her staff. “Not very appetizing. No wonder that straw-like fiber is more often fed to dairy cows, beef cattle and horses.”
She paused, then looked around the conference table and allowed the conundrum to settle in and asked: “So why am I eating it?” The vice president noted she likes the crunchy texture that offsets the soft tomatoes which she called “a little diversity for the taste buds.” But even more pertinent, she said alfalfa is one of the most nourishing greens on earth. It has more percentage of protein than beef.
“And why?” the vice president wondered. Again she paused for a dramatic affect and then added: “Because its roots reach deeper into the soil than any other herb. At least 10-20 feet and even at times up to 100 feet. “
The vice president then sharpened her focus and her teaching point for her team on the significance of pairing this crunchy, deep-rooted, protein-rich alfalfa with a soft tomato. “It takes a deep root system to utilize all the different nutrients in the soil to produce a quality salad like this,” said the vice president. “What if we could extend our roots deeper throughout our organization to leverage even more and different nutrients to produce even greater quality work like this alfalfa and tomato salad?”
She and her team discussed initiatives to probe their roots even deeper to find new ways to connect to other nutrients in their proverbial soil. They thought of ideas to grow their team and ultimately their company with other life-sustaining, diverse relationships that would force them to reach out beyond their comfort zones to explore a different and more viable quality of life with and for others.
Yet that recognition of diversity—that others are different from us—is a hard sell. Just like eating alfalfa sprouts the first time is a hard sell. It’s an acquired taste. It just doesn’t look appetizing. No wonder eating straw–eating alfalfa sprouts –doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Until someone paired it with a softer, brighter, more appetizing red tomato. That diversity made all the difference in producing even greater quality.
Yet most of us aren’t willing to try eating straw (alfalfa) for the first time. Someone has to coax us to try something new. We are too eager to do what comes naturally. And we easily project ourselves onto others and deny them their individuality–and our diversity– even when painting their likeness. We often paint them in our image, at least that’s how Colin Powell sees it.
The former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, notes he has received dozens of portraits of himself done by various artists all over the world. “It has always fascinated me that the way artists paint my face is a near-sure giveaway of where they came from,” Powell observed in his book It Worked for Me. “An artist cannot avoid adding his culture to your image.”
In his portrait by a famous Japanese painter, Powell says his face bears a striking resemblance to Admiral Yamamoto and his portrait from Egypt looks a bit like Hosni Mubarak. “The one from Romania kind of makes me into Dracula,” Powell said. “The artist from the Detroit NAACP didn’t think I looked black enough, so he broadened my nose and thickened my lips.”
How can leaders guard against that kind of ethnocentric behavior? Do something different that makes a difference. Try eating an alfalfa sprouts salad every now and then. Plant your diversity roots deeper.
Then you’ll take more than a “straw” vote on your commitment to deep-rooted diversity.
Champion diversity to keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.
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