Getting Outside Your Comfort


With apologies to those who understandably desire to have Martin Luther King Day be strictly about the end of racism, racial bias and prejudice, I offer slightly broader thoughts and raise somewhat unorthodox questions today.

Barack and Hillary have walked a trail blazed by Shirley Chisholm, Reverends Jackson and Sharpton, Alan Keyes, and Pat Schroeder. This time a woman and an African American are on the center of that well-worn trail and one is going to be nominated for President of the United States. How cool is that? What a milestone for our country. I don’t think this moment would have come so soon (granted it’s 220 years since the Constitution’s passage) had it not been for Dr. King’s leadership in throwing open the doors to equal opportunity. Although he led for African Americans, he and those who marched along side him opened doors for everyone.

Saturday night I was with a couple great friends who happen to be African American in what was a largely white club, and I found myself thinking things like this:

  • It’s a common experience for my friends to be in predominantly white settings, and wouldn’t it be good if more white people routinely found themselves in predominantly African American clubs, churches, and neighborhoods. Might they lead differently, more sensitively, and with more fact-based understanding than they do now?
  • Women fought – generally without meeting (public) violence to gain access to the public domains of business and politics. They are prospering there, magnificently comfortable and effective in their roles. But to what degree have we men embraced the worlds that (women’s efforts for equality) opened up for us? How much better are we at nurturing, empathizing, and making things run smoothly at home? How much better might we men be if we read more, talked more, listened more about how to develop strong relationships with our women and our kids? And how much better we would be for ourselves if we spent more time getting to know what used to be “women’s worlds?”
  • How much of the time do we make our kids and our staffs come to us, get with our agenda, or aim to meet our targets? What if we spent a little more time in their cubicles, sitting with them as they play their games, asking what success looks like for them? I suspect we’d lead much better.*

When Dr. King said “I have a dream . . . that the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will sit down together at the table of brotherhood,” I wonder whether he thought that meal would so often take place at a table in the white man’s home. I think by getting out of our comfort zone and fully embracing the reality of others’ experiences you can more effectively

Lead with your best self!


* My favorite chapter in my book is the one on diversity. If today’s RFL seemed interesting, next time you’re at your local bookstore you might want to skim Everyday Leadership or buy it online here.