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Inclusivity: Listen, Learn and Then Lead

By: John Sampson on June 16th, 2020

This time of civil unrest and national discord launched by the outrage and deep sadness over the tragic and senseless killing of George Floyd is a mandate for reflection, introspection and action. I am sure others may have confronted as I have, a wide range of emotions and passions as the events of the past weeks unfolded. 

Despite our differences and cultural roots, we must act united as U.S. citizens to defend our black citizens as well as all citizens. Let us never forget the soul of our allegiance, “liberty and justice for all.”  Inherent to the American experience has been an ongoing striving to advance and protect the cause of liberty and justice for all.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Repeatedly, sifting through multiple media reports, analyses and the clanging of social media, it is difficult to discern truth and reality from the many opinions and views published.  It is critical for us to understand what happened, why it happened and what it means for us as a nation. 

Closer to home, how might we respond as a region of 11 counties, 16 cities and almost 800,000 residents? 

I know that I do not have all of the answers. I am also sure that I do not understand the relational dynamics which must be understood if we are to contribute to a lasting change in our attitudes and perceptions of diversity, inclusion and equality. Despite not having all of the answers, I believe that there is much that we can do as leaders and individuals to advance the cause of liberty and justice for all.

In 2018, the Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana (YLNI) published a pledge to inclusivity under the leadership of Stephanie Veit, then president of YLNI.  To their credit, YLNI is determined to change the narrative of our region towards building an authentic reputation as welcoming, inclusive and engaging. YLNI is to be commended for their leadership on this important subject.

“We believe diversity of thought, background, experience and people drive innovation. We promote an environment that is welcoming and conducive to the success of all. It is through our inclusive culture that we can attract the best employees, empower our customers and help our communities achieve great things.”

During a Regional Opportunities Council meeting attended by about 100 regional leaders of Northeast Indiana, I signed the YLNI pledge on behalf of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. My signing was not arbitrary in any way. The Regional Partnership team considered the pledge carefully through a series of meetings reflecting on our own internal value, “Be Inclusive”.  I remind myself that signing a pledge is not action; it is merely a commitment to act. The value of any pledge is in the fulfillment not in the commitment.

Personally, I have questioned if my signing of the YLNI pledge was considered all too lightly. Was I anxious to put a stake in the ground for the Regional Partnership without considering what must change for us and our region when pledging to lead and act in the future? My promise was well-intended and yet, there remains more we can do together to fulfill the pledge.

Of the many statements published over the past few days, one stood out to me, “Listen, learn and lead.” While we admit to not having all of the answers, we are absolutely committed to doing our part to listen to the diversity of thoughts, learn from others’ experiences and lead in our networks as we convene, confront and collaborate across this very diverse region.

I have also considered routinely about what it means to make the commitment of our talent brand, Make It Your Own, to visitors and the skilled and diverse workforce essential to our economic future.  We can ill-afford to project this message and not deliver on the commitment that others, without discrimination, can choose to make a life and their living here. The very foundation of this brand promise must be real, authentic and speak to the true character of our communities.

As a Gallup strengths-based organization, the Regional Partnership team has strived for many years to increase the engagement of all team members. We have affirmed repeatedly that Gallup’s commitment to engaging the best in one another by developing our strengths, has made us a stronger team and better equipped us to produce results.  In Gallup’s book, “It’s the Manager”, Jim Clifton and Jim Harter cite three fundamental beliefs necessary to achieve and promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace:

  • “Treat me with respect.”
  • “Value me for my strengths.”
  • “Leaders will do what is right.”

As Clifton and Harter suggest, regardless of how I might feel or think as a leader, our team members will form their own perceptions of our commitment to values based on our actions, not just our words or pledges. In our places of employment, assuring that these principles are in place and supported consistently is another way that we can all contribute together to assure we respect and embrace diversity in the workplace and our communities.

While I cannot fix all that stands before us in our struggle together in the uniquely American pledge to liberty and justice for all, I can do my part and encourage others to do theirs as well. I remain convinced that working together, we can have a tremendous positive impact that matters in the lives of others. I am certain the Regional Partnership team and our stakeholders are expecting us to lead action to do what is right in these difficult but critical times. 

As we have stated directly in the vision statement for the region, the challenges before us will not be resolved by any one of us, but by our commitment to work together across borders real and perceived. We can and must take the time to listen, learn and then lead. Without question, the economic viability of this region has at its foundation our pledge to liberty and justice for all.

Listen, learn and lead.  I pledge to do my part.

Onward.