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Saturday, February 4, 2023
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Leading with Character: Recognizing Talent

Shell collecting reminded me that if I can appreciate the diversity of each shell and see the best in it despite its flaws, then I can do the same with people.

I recently returned from a weeklong vacation along the eastern seaboard of Florida. Walking the beach at dawn is among my favorite activities. The sunrises are spectacular, presaged by a slow radiance of color that rises above the horizon and serves as a perfect backdrop for the gulls that fly past in stark silhouette. Energetic little sandpipers dot the shoreline. With short legs moving so fast they’re no more than a blur beneath the adorable little body, they race the incoming waves in search of a morning meal. The rhythmic sound of the surf rolling in, crashing on shore, then receding is mesmerizing.

Appreciating Imperfection

Taking in all the grandeur of the early morning, I feel renewed in spirit and filled with appreciation of what nature has to offer. My footsteps are light and quick on the hard-packed sand. I’m delighted to find the pounding surf has thrown up shells, leaving them stranded along the wrack line – waiting to be discovered by a beachcomber like me. But very few of the shells are whole and perfect, like the ones you’d find in an oceanfront shop.

The shells I select are rough and tumbled by the sea and sand. Some have roundish holes indicating they’d been penetrated while alive and eaten by a predator. Others are mere skeletons of the creatures they used to be – a spiral where there was once a full whelk. My eye catches a captivating color here, an unusual shape there. I select shells that are individually interesting, but that also complement each other as a collection. At home, when I wash the shells and lay them out on a white towel, I’m thrilled with the perfectly stunning pattern they create.

Appreciating Diversity

The shells remind me of people and teams I’ve worked with. Seldom has an individual or team been perfect. Like shells, people have been shaped and formed by rough seas and tough times. They’re all got unique features. The whelks I collected, for instance, although from the same family of shell, are vastly different. Some have thicker shells, some are smaller, and they sport different patterns and markings. I didn’t bother collecting two shells that looked the same; I wanted a collection that looked better together than did any individual specimen.

Attracting and Retaining the Best People

This shell collecting experience reminded me that if I can appreciate the diversity of each shell and see the best in it despite its flaws, then I can do the same with people. Leaders of character who want to attract and retain a high-performing workforce must recognize talent. They should look for the best in everything and everyone. Too often, though, we can’t see past the flaws to the potential of how a person might perform individually or as part of a diverse team. We need to train ourselves and those we lead to appreciate people who may not fit our vision of perfection; to look for the best in everyone. I believe if we look for and expect the very best, we’ll get exactly that. If we see the beauty, not the faults, we’ll find treasure where we might least expect it.

Look in the mirror. Are you modeling the way to a better workforce and workplace environment by looking for the best in everyone?

Please join me again next time for more on Leading with Character.

If you enjoyed this post, please visit my website where you can buy my book, Breaking Ice & Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters, and sign up for my mailing list: https://sandrastosz.com/book/breaking-ice-and-breaking-glass/

Sandra L. Stosz
Vice Admiral Stosz, a Homeland Security Today editorial board member, started out in the U.S. Coast Guard as an ensign serving on polar icebreakers, conducting national security missions from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Her 40-year career is filled with leadership lessons gleaned while breaking ice and breaking glass as the first woman to command an icebreaker on the Great Lakes and to lead a U.S. armed forces service academy. She finished her career as the first woman assigned as Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, directing one of the Coast Guard’s largest enterprises. She has lectured widely on leadership, and has been featured on CSPAN and other media outlets. In 2012, Newsweek’s “The Daily Beast” named Vice Admiral Stosz to their list of 150 Women who Shake the World. Proceeds from “Breaking Ice and Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters” will be donated to the US Coast Guard Academy James M. Loy Institute for Leadership.

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