Leadership 101 (Redux)

A glance at the website of Sanford Health in South Dakota tells me that this is a large, multi-disciplinary healthcare system focused on both wellness and acute care.  There are 50,000 employees, all looking for wisdom, vision and yes, leadership in this difficult time.

Their CEO made the headlines this week by stating that he had and recovered from COVID, and therefore would not wear a mask. Really?

So, the pundits are all weighing in.  There is no evidence that having the virus ensures immunity, that is still under research.  Most of the commentary is about the efficacy of wearing a mask after recovering from COVID.

But let’s get real here.  This is not an issue of virus or health.  This is not a medical problem (well, it is, but that’s not my point here.)

This is about leadership, plain and simple.

As a leader, you set the example.  Period. You don’t ask anyone to do something you are not willing to do yourself.  Healthcare workers wear these things for a 12-hour shift.  The masks hurt. They impede vision and speech.  They are a pain in the butt.  But they are necessary.  The preponderance of evidence, at this point, says so.

I suspect this same CEO would not allow an unmasked COVID-recovered healthcare worker to attend to patients – that would be criminal negligence.

But back to the point.  Leadership is important.  There are fundamentals of leadership that have been studied and researched ad nauseum.  And they pretty clearly say that an effective leader walks alongside her people.  The fifth principle of United States Marine Corps leadership (and really, they do sort of know how to do the whole leadership thing) is “Set the Example.” Set the standard, and then abide by it.

It isn’t hard to rationalize this simple statement, if you think about it.  Why should someone follow what you say, if you do something different?  I believe that the dictionary would call that hypocrisy?

Leadership today is wobbly. We seem to rationalize behaviors that fly in the face of sound leadership far too easily.

It is time to revisit the fundamentals and recognize that leading means setting the example and following it.

What Progress Have We Made?

The year was 1994, seventeen years after the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 was signed into law. “The Community Reinvestment Act is a United States federal law designed to encourage commercial banks and savings associations to help meet the needs of borrowers in all segments of their communities, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.”

I was in my second civilian job after I left the Marine Corps, working in the Human Resources Department of a large mid-Atlantic bank. I was well-versed in the data-driven process of Affirmative Action, monitoring the bank’s demographic profile compared to demographic availability in the area.  If we were deficit in hiring minorities and/or women, managers set hiring goals. That was fun [she said sarcastically.]

The term Affirmative Action morphed into Diversity because research showed that there was a real business advantage – to the bottom line – to hire employees who mirrored the customer base.  Dr. Roosevelt Thomas grabbed the attention of leaders with a 1990 HBR article From Affirmative Action to Affirming Diversity, where he introduced the concept of cultural inclusion, where employees work best when they are valued and contributing (my paraphrase), followed by several books quantifying the benefits of diversity in the workplace.

Back then, we all thought we were farther along in accepting differences than we actually were.  Consulting firms made stealth videos of the mortgage application process and interview questions, showing the discriminatory questions for blacks.  We showed them to executives to prove the point.  Okay, maybe we’re not as far along as we thought.

That research did generate a significant movement within banking to align with the spirit of the Community Reinvestment Act and training departments geared up to make everyone sensitive to issues of diversity. Recruiters tried to convince hiring managers to think differently by sharing the research about how diversity helps the bottom line.

Everyone in Human Resources was getting on the now-called-Diversity bandwagon.

With that context laid, let me get back to 1994.  I was asked to head the Diversity Initiative for the bank. “Best practice” in diversity was, without a doubt, IBM.   At the time, they were providing an intensive week of diversity awareness training to everyone in a leadership role. My boss knew someone there and grabbed me a guest pass to one of the workshops, so off to NY I went.

The IBM leaders made every effort to include me fully, and the workshop brought out very touching and poignant personal stories.  I shared my stories of being a female Marine in the 1970s with the group which gave me a chance to bond.

It was intense.  I’d never experienced anything like that before, and I became convinced that whoever facilitates such a workshop has got to be very, very good and capable of handling the intensity and emotions.

On the last day, the facilitator had us sit in a circle without tables and asked us to share our thoughts about the week.  I only remember one story.

A black man shared his advice to his son, who was learning to drive.  He said that he told his son that if he were ever stopped by the police, he had to keep his hands on the wheel and ask permission to reach for whatever the police asked for.

I was appalled.

And then I went back to my home and my job.  While the man’s comment stayed in my brain somewhere, I didn’t give it much further thought.

Interesting that CNN ran an article on June 2 about Magic Johnson still having “the talk” with his sons.  I’m somewhat embarrassed that I let myself think things were better.

I started this post with “the year was 1994.”  Did you get that?  Almost three decades ago!

Do we really understand the significance of having thought everything was better for three decades only to find out that it hasn’t changed?

Where do we go from here?

I don’t know.  We have become so divided in our expressed beliefs and we talk with others to convince them that we are right, not to try to understand their perspective.

On the television show Ozark, Laura Linney’s character blew up at an attorney representing her daughter’s request for emancipation.  Later her husband made a comment about her being angry.  She replied, “I’m not angry, I’m right.”

It seems as if so many of us are in the same place – right.  A few weeks ago, I posted about having it both ways with a clever animal meme about how everyone has a different perspective.

If everyone has a different perspective, how can everyone be right?

We need to go deeper

I have recently talked with friends and family who think differently and asked questions about why they believe as they do.  I want to understand why they think the way they do, because perhaps I may learn something which may influence my own perspective.

What I find is that most folks – friends and even family – don’t seem to want to go deeper. They are very happy to answer my questions about why they have a certain point of view, but when I make a statement or ask a question that doesn’t fit, the conversation seems to get stuck.  Sometimes they revert to their original statement (or share an article that proves their point), or they change the subject, or they use the good ole “we can agree to disagree.”

What purpose do protests serve?

Many of us are expressing our right to protest the absolute travesty that happened in Minneapolis.  In some ways, we are more aligned than ever about wanting change.  I love the heartwarming expressions of horror at what happened, and the need to “do something.”

Protests have worked in the past to raise awareness and effect change.  They have forced legislation that protects our citizens.  We have a lot of legislation aimed at protecting others.  I just filled out 20 pages of affidavits to volunteer at a women’s shelter.  Each page was prompted by a legislative act aimed at making sure I was of good character.

Is legislation what we really need?

It is a start.  But we need change. Real change.

Legislation mandates behavior and that is a good thing.

But the intent of the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act, forty-three years later, hasn’t effected real change. Nor has the “alphabet soup” of legislation on everything from equal pay to equal rights.

After my experiment asking friends and family about their positions, I wondered if perhaps the reason that the dialogue didn’t really go anywhere is because we really don’t want to change. We’re right, and therefore there is no need to change our perspective.

Or perhaps it is not about being right, but about being comfortable?

Are we as far apart as it seems?

My husband published an article yesterday about the “blue wall of silence” that historically but informally mandates police protecting their own. That is noble. Police face hardships most of us would run from.

But a good thing can be overdone, and he recent tragedy in Minneapolis is a travesty of justice. Too many powerful people looked the other way.

What if we looked at things from a deeper view.  We post “black lives matter” or “blue lives matter,” but I’m pretty sure we all truly believe that all lives matter.  I don’t think we are as far apart as our FaceBook memes would suggest.

It’s about respect

I received a few emails from friends who are, let’s just say, positioned.  They contained lists of police officers killed during the same two weeks as the  protests for George Floyd have been going on.

It feels as if they are telling me that, if I stand on the side of “black lives matter,” then I don’t care about police lives. That is not true for me, or probably for most people.

Talking is harder

Talking about all of this is hard, time-consuming and scary.  Perhaps that’s why we don’t have the deeper conversations that might lead us to common ground.  We just don’t want to find it.

Perhaps the lessons of COVID-19 are apropos here – we certainly are all in this together.

I don’t think we’re all that far apart in terms of what we want – lives of peace, freedom and prosperity.

Just think what we could do with that energy if it were redirected toward real change.

Let’s talk.  And then let’s do something.

Are we willing to let down our own convictions just a little and perhaps see something new?

If you REALLY want to open your mind, read “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism” by Robin D’Angelo.


Photo credit: I made it to demonstrate how many acts we have complied with for so long without changing the spirit of equality in the country.

Leadership in Tough Times – the Rest of the Story

In early April I wrote about a popular and upscale waterfront restaurant, and the leadership qualities I have seen since we’ve lived around the corner.

They weathered Hurricanes Matthew and Irma and came out stronger. They quickly responded to the pandemic by establishing a takeout service.  But they didn’t just devise a takeout service – they intentionally created the same “upscale” experience as their restaurant.

They had online ordering, gave customers a roll of TP 😊, and packaged the food in eco-friendly containers with everything one would need to replicate their dining experience at home.

And they talked to their customers.  They kept us well informed about the safety measures they implemented and educated us.  My April 4 post reflected on two leadership qualities that I saw in their first communication that arrived in our take-out bag, hand-written.  Their authenticity and their vulnerability offered a powerful example of how simple gestures can be powerful messages.

They continue to provide insight into leadership, and I will share their leadership example of setting expectations.  But first, I want to tell a story about their reopening.

Back to Normal

In one of our take-out bags, there was a hand-written letter inviting those of us who frequented their take-out service to a new “club” as a thank you for our loyalty and business.  How cool!  They invited us to respond in email if we wanted to be included and, of course, we said “Yes.”

Soon after we received an email inviting us to their “soft” opening.  I had immediate visions of putting on makeup, dressing in something other than jammies, and sipping wine while watching the boats sail by.

Their email was very clear about the safety measures they’d put in place, and what we, as diners should expect.

I liked that. I gave me comfort that they were taking this seriously.  We were excited last night to head over to the “soft” opening.

We had a great dinner and watched the sailboats go by with a cool Chardonnay in our hands.

A New Normal

What follows about our experience has nothing to do with Caps; it is simply a reflection on my reaction to the experience, which was…different.  Caps was perfect.

This morning, I told my husband it seemed a little surreal, like an apocalyptic sci-fi movie.  The restaurant itself hadn’t changed – it was as beautiful as ever and all of the boats lined up for their take-out were stunning backdrops to the setting.

I see people in masks now everywhere, but it startled me to see everyone at the restaurant – services, hosts, owners – in masks.  It shouldn’t have, but it did.

They set up sanitizing stations throughout the restaurant so that we could see that it was happening. But the aroma was more of Lysol than garlic.

They did a good job of changing gloves before moving to new tables – just like they teach in healthcare.  But having spent a short time in healthcare, that was the image in my mind.

The table were indeed 6 feet apart. I didn’t think that would seem strange, but it did.

Other than that?  It was delightful and a welcome occasion to be somewhere other than the kitchen table.

Had they not been clear about what to expect, I would have been disappointed in the experience.  Instead, I was thankful for it.


The email we received initially clouded the “temperature” thing – it inferred they would take temperatures but didn’t actually say it.

So with today being the official re-opening, yesterday they posted a picture on FaceBook of thermometers and large bottles of disinfectant.  Good.  I am better with clarity than inference.

The response to the post was overwhelmingly positive….except for one individual who felt that was invasive and a threat to her civil liberties.  I responded that she was free to not go.  The comment disappeared from FB.

But…she sent me a private note saying, “I won’t visit any place that does that to people.  We live in a free country and people are acting like this is a communist country.”  Wow.

But the good news is, she really doesn’t have to go.

Application to Leadership

After decades in corporate America watching leaders minimize problems and communicate in a “cloudy” way because they didn’t want to offend or scare, I have come to the conclusion that is a fool’s game.

A job candidate walks in the door for an interview and sizes up the lay of the land.  They accept the job offer based on expectations, be that their schedule, their boss or the resources available to them to do the job.

If the actual job doesn’t live up to the expectations, they see it. If it doesn’t meet their expectations over time, they leave.

Why would a leader cloud the challenges of the job and paint rosy expectations?  That’s a good question and one I’ve never really understood.

I’ve asked and been told that they didn’t want to scare the candidate.  Really?  I want someone who sees a good challenge and wants to overcome.

Setting clear expectations is the only way to know if the candidate you are considering is a fit for the job. If you lay it out – the good, the bad and the ugly – and they stay – you probably have someone who will thrive.  If not, they have the option to leave, and that saves you a whole bunch of stress.

Clear expectations are Important

Whether interviewing a job candidate, or communicating with a customer, let them know what to expect.  That way, you preserve the integrity of who you are, and those you are communicating with can join you or opt out.

Either way, it’s a win.

Thank you to the owners and staff at Caps.  You have demonstrated leadership in tough times at the highest level and we are so thankful to have been part of your re-opening.