My “Single Story” of Bias

I called a big software company yesterday for support. I had just purchased a new subscription for software and could not figure out for the life of me how to set it up.  So by the time I had a chance to speak with a real person I was frazzled and frustrated.

To make matters worse, the support person pronounced my name incorrectly so I promptly correctly him. He quickly apologized. I had a very difficult time understanding his accent as he tried to walk me through the steps to resolve my issue and get me started. I was having a hard time following his instructions. So as is natural, he started speaking louder as if I was hard of hearing.  I said, you don’t have to raise your voice, I can hear you but I don’t understand you.  As it turns out, he admitted that he was having trouble with my southern accent also.  What?

I asked the young man where he was from and he replied, “the United Kingdom”.  Then I asked again, “Where are you from originally?”.  Shyly he responded, Ghana.  The young man was from Ghana, a country in West Africa with a population of 25 million.  His name was Emmanuel.

At that moment  I was aware of our shared humanity. I call these moments “oh shit” awareness moments. I realized that we were both doing our best in a challenging situation.  And in that moment, I was reminded of a Nigerian novelest, who has written an important piece about the danger of a single story.  It is a Ted talk that is well worth your time:  https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en 

I told Emmanuel about the wonderful novelist, Chimamanda Adichie who was very funny and bright.  I suggested he listen to her talk. When I admitted that I was expressing my bias towards him, Emmanuel  softened.  He admitted that he was doing his best to help me. I told Emmanuel that I appreciated how patient he was being with me, and I was sorry that I had been difficult because I was so frustrated.

Chimamnanda translated means “God can never fail” and Emmanuel translated means “God with us”.  I am blessed by an important lesson from 2 different people from 2 very different countries in Africa. What a lovely gift that I can take with me to consider how I express my bias and how I want to change.

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Your Leadership Story

Our leadership stories shape who we are and how we respond to situations in the day-to-day actions and decisions of leading. In his book, The Leadership Contract, author Vince Molinaro reminded me that leaders are made not born.  In other words, we are shaped as leaders by our history of life experiences.  So those experiences that tested our resolve and strengthened our resilience make us better leaders. Reflecting on and understanding our  experiences help to shape our story.  (2016)

So what is my story and why do I need one?  Most of us are leaders in some time or place in our lives and will have a story about how we got there. According to Molinaro, the first step is to reflect on our personal experiences when we were at our best and when we were tested or faced adversity.   From those reflections, we will begin to identify common themes of where we demonstrated toughness or resilience, and where we were proud of how we demonstrated ethical behavior or a decision that made a positive impact. The emerging story can give us some clarity about who we are and why we lead the way we do.  The final step is to tell the story to those whom we lead because it is a powerful way to connect and allow others to know us at a deeper more human level.

What’s your story?

(2016) The Leadership Contract, Vince Molinaro

Experiencing History

This trip home has been a reminder of family history. Our history grounds us and helps us understand who we are, and helps explain our values and beliefs.  This trip back to Charlotte, NC, Winston Salem, NC and up through Chillicothe, Ohio has been a fascinating reflection of the past and how it shapes us.

Walking around the family farm that reflects 5 generations, I was bathed in memories of summers spent gardening with my grandmother,  selling watermelons, rocking on the front porch with my grandfather, and swinging in the hammock while singing songs with my great aunt. I walked around what is left of the old barn and found pieces of rusty horse drawn plows that I watched my grandfather put to use. My great, great grandfather, Reese Blakeney left the farm and joined the Piedmont Rough Riders to protect his family’s land by defending North Carolina’s states rights in the Civil War.

Visiting my mother in Winston Salem, I walked the streets where she attended a women’s school that dates back to 1766. Salem College has a rich history that supported the education of women as valued members of society at a time when the average women was illiterate. An education was an opportunity for only the most wealthy.

Today, Mike and I will visit historic Chillicothe, the first capital city of Ohio- more his history than mine. We plan to stop at a local coffee house that has an exhibit reflecting local artist that have been contributing to the community for several generations.

Reconnecting with family and visiting familiar places has been fascinating and fun, but also a reminder that the richness of our personal history shapes our character and our values.

Women Supporting Women: A Smart Thing

I recently read a powerful quote written by Hillary Clinton in, Women in the World Today which is a publication of global women’s issues.  She says,

“At the State Department, we believe elevating the status of women and girls in their societies is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do. Women and girls are often a community’s greatest untapped resource, which makes investing in them a powerful and effective way to promote international development and our diplomatic agenda.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State

We strongly believe this statement also applies at the local and national level.  Lynne and I are committed to the importance of women supporting women to be our community’s tapped resource.  We are curious to know what other women think and want to invite you to participate in a conversation on this topic.  Join us September 18 for the Goddess Collective in the Artworks Building at 6:00 pm.

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