Michael Sam – What Most People Missed

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I’m proud to be a Mizzou fan.  Even getting spanked outplayed outlasted by Auburn in the SEC title game was a pretty great moment.  But the coverage this week of SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam coming out?  Even more so.

Yes I’m proud that he’s a Tiger.  And yes I’m proud that the school and program have produced a young man willing to step up share who he is.  And yes I’m proud that he chose to do so before the NFL combine, knowing it could impact his draft position and his contract.  But that’s not what I’m really proud of.  What I’m really proud of is that he came out to his team at the start of the season.  Months ago.  And not only did it not cause any problems, but it also did not get any coverage.

No leaks.

No ugly incidents.

No turmoil.

Just a team.

It would have been easy in this season of Tiger football for someone to make an innocent remark that gets picked up by the press.  It would have been understandable if someone on the team decided to make a big show of their own homophobia and ignorance.  It would have been commonplace for Sam to keep his mouth shut and go through the season quietly, then let his teammates wonder later why he didn’t trust them enough to be honest about who he was.  But it was his trust in his teammates, their solidarity and support, and the way in which they acted as a team that is not only remarkable, but has been mostly missed (though not completely) in the coverage of this story.

We’ve all been members of teams, some of which we trusted, and some we didn’t.  The impact on our performance is noticeable, especially our long term engagement and productivity.  When we are surrounded by those we trust, who work to make our lives easier, and whom we know we can depend on day in and day out, we are better.  What’s more, we are programmed for reciprocity, so our inclination is to return trust and helpfulness.  This can snowball into an amazing cycle of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men (and women) if we let it.  I’ve been part of teams that defied all expectations of productivity and tenure, all because they truly enjoyed working together.  (As an aside, how together was this team?  Sam came out to his teammates in August.  He came out to his parents in January.)

It doesn’t always work that way, of course.  A breakdown of trust can sink a team faster than unrealistic expectations, a poor leader, or cement loafers.  I’ve seen teams that should succeed fail simply because of that lack of trust.  If the Tigers weren’t acting as a unit, this season could have quickly gone from SEC East Champion to complete disarray.  Credit to Gary Pinkel, the coaching staff, the university, and the young men who served as locker room leaders for not letting this happen.  It’s a great example of teamwork and togetherness overcoming adversity to succeed.

I won’t pretend to understand the burden carried by someone who has to hide who they are every day.  But I hope that this at least gives them comfort in the thought that coming out is not an event that you go through alone.  There are people around you that will support and uphold you.  Having a strong team can make even the biggest of mountains a molehill.

(And yes, I’ve heard the comments about “I don’t care if he’s gay, it shouldn’t be a big deal.”  You’re right.  It shouldn’t be.  But it is.  Let’s make it so in a positive light.  Because there are plenty of people out there who will take a opposing view, and do so very vocally.  These young men deserve all the positive reinforcement we can muster.)

 

What’s Missing From Diversity

It’s one of the most popular topics in the workplace.  Either you have a lot of resources being put toward diversity (A policy! A program! A diversity officer!) or you think you are already diverse and want to shout it from the rooftops (Metrics! Team photos! Recruiting strategies!).  And that’s great.  I don’t know many people who are willing to speak out against diversity.  Yes, there are some unintended consequences if not handled properly, but I think we can give organizations the benefit of the doubt in most cases.

What troubles me about diversity, though, is what we so often leave out.  Let’s think for a second about what generally falls into the “diversity” arena:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation

All very traditional topics, and all traits that define who we are.  And all fairly easy to measure.  But there are so many other things that we never really talk about, and that are a little tougher to quantify, such as:

  • Personality
  • Work style
  • Learning style
  • Learning capacity
  • Drive

Ugly list, huh?  But they sure do more to define who you are, in my opinion, than the color of your skin.

A team that represents the all the colors of the rainbow isn’t necessarily a diverse team.  And a team made up of three sets of triplets could be one of the most diverse you’ve ever seen.  Diversity is about finding out looking for the bet talent, figuring out how people think, work and succeed, and then putting them in a position to best utilize those skills so that everyone gets ahead.

Kinda sounds like the foundation of good management to me.

MLK Day

I’m proud that so many offices are closed today.  I’m even more proud that the one I work in has been closed for MLK Day for 30 years.  It is a benefit that the local union negotiated far in advance of “official” holiday status.

While America may be relatively young compared to our friends around the world, we have a string of holidays that are either too old to be important to our youth (Columbus Day?), too trivial to matter (Groundhogs Day?),  important commercialized (Thanksgiving), or religious holidays that may not apply to you (Xmas, Easter).

I am proud of MLK Day.  It is easy to explain, it is relevant, and the message of equality still rings true today.  In a world where we are still fighting through implementing the DADT repeal, it is important to remember what we, as a nation, faced just a few decades ago.  It matters that there was such vitriol towards a peaceful man.  It matters that he gave his life for his beliefs.

If you’ve never been, plan a trip to Memphis.  Visit the National Civil Right Museum.  See where MLK was assassinated.  Read the story.  Remember why it is important.  This is our history, our identity, our sins laid bare, and our hope that we can move forward.

HR likes to talk about equality (though we call it diversity and inclusion).  This is our day of remembrance.

Happy birthday, doc.  And thanks.

Diversity vs. Inclusion

Worked with a team last week to brainstorm policies that promote inclusion. The discussion went in an unexpected (but very interesting) direction. But the question we first dealt with was the difference between inclusion and diversity.

Diversity is generally seen as compliance with US requirements along the lines of Affirmative Action Planning, or about making sure you recruit and hire people of different backgrounds and ethnicity.

Inclusion, as we discussed it, is more about making sure all those disparate and “diverse” individuals are turned into a truly blended workforce, and are able to work together as a unit. On a macro scale, it is about everyone understanding the direction of the company and how each business unit contributes. At a more micro level, its about how each individual plays a role in getting there.

How does your organization define diversity and/or inclusion? Are you making progress on both fronts, or do regulatory requirements alone drive your actions?

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