As we celebrate the contributions of women this month, my thoughts go to a woman who made a positive impact on me at a time when I most needed the inspiration. The interaction reminded me of the power that comes from connecting with fellow humans, and how fortunate we are to have the freedom to gather and engage with each other. Read on to learn more about the remarkable Grace Nelson.
Unite and Strengthen
We the People of the United States are privileged to be a part of this great society. We are a nation of individuals from different backgrounds, experiences, and cultures. Therein lies our strength. But those differences can also divide.
Leaders of character search for ways to unite and strengthen their workforce. They foster inclusive workplaces in which employees are encouraged to seek the truth about both sides of an issue through respectful conversation. Employees must honor each other by seeking to understand, not undermine the other person’s perspective. They should strive to see implicit decency in those around them instead of presuming implicit bias. As the saying goes, you’ll find what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for bias, you’ll find it. If you instead choose to look for decency, you’ll find that. Our choices are ours to make, and I choose decency every time, as I hope others will do for me.
In an increasingly divided society that seems ever more prone to incivility, it can be hard to compromise and find common ground. But leading with character means doing just that. I learned a lifelong lesson in civility and respect one day from where I least expected to find it.
Words of Wisdom
When I was a senior executive in the U.S. Coast Guard, we held a high-level conference in Washington, D.C., that brought in the senior-most leaders from across the Service. Our invited speakers were prominent leaders in their fields. One of our keynotes was to have been delivered by Bill Nelson, then a U.S. senator and currently serving as Administrator of NASA. We were all looking forward to hearing from an influential member of Congress. At the last minute, we received word that Senator Nelson had a schedule conflict and had to decline. We were surprised to learn that his wife, Mrs. Grace Nelson, would address us instead.
I have to admit, my first reaction was one of disappointment that we would not have the benefit of the Senator’s perspective and insights. Mrs. Nelson wasn’t in a government position, so I wondered what value she’d be able to offer. Did I ever underestimate her! As it turns out, she captivated the audience with a wellspring of wisdom. Listening to her speak, I couldn’t help but think how this woman, whose name was Grace, was filled with amazing grace.
Mrs. Nelson’s heartfelt talk centered on the individual’s responsibility to improve civil discourse in our democratic process. Her message served as a welcome respite in an agenda filled with briefings on tough and divisive topics like budget cuts and politics. Mrs. Nelson advised us that although it’s inevitable there will be times when we don’t agree with what someone else says or does, we can choose how to react. Instead of taking offense at the slightest provocation, Mrs. Nelson sagely advised the audience to “choose to live unoffended.”
I found her words simply elegant. They resonated to me as words to live by in both my personal and professional dealings. I posted her quote near my desk to serve as a daily reminder to lead with character by choosing to react with dignity in the face of adversity – to put my emotions behind me and choose to live unoffended.
Look in the mirror. Do you listen to someone with an opposing view and seek to understand, not undermine their position?
Please join me next time for more on Leading with Character.
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