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Leading Across Race: So Simple You Won’t Do It!

WARNING: This article is not for the timid. It is for those that take leadership seriously. The concept of leading effectively across race, gender, culture and ethnicity is for the elite leader.

Race the “hot button subject,” the “elephant in the room,” the subject that requires never-ending “dialogue” and no action beyond having another conference. Regardless of what industry you are in, what level of leadership you are currently occupying, public or private sector, now hear this—All people deserve good leadership.

Leading effectively across race is simple. So simple many leaders will not do it. I learned as a young Marine, take the complicated and work hard to keep it simple. In the case of effective leadership across race, I note many take the simple and turn it into astrophysics.

Leading across race for most organizations means employing an army of diversity experts. They are managing diversity. Managing diversity is reactive. It is reacting to complaints. It is responding to requirements from federal and state agencies. This popular methodology provides the executive suite with a warm fuzzy sense of security. The peace of mind from the ability to counter the potential legal action from an employee with a real or perceived foul and safe from federal or state regulatory investigations.

This may sound counter-intuitive, if you are managing diversity, you have a problem.

Effectively leading across race requires five actions from those in leadership positions. Yes, you read that correctly—five actions. The actions are:

  1. Know yourself
  2. Stop being afraid
  3. Apply the rules/policies/regulations to all—no exceptions
  4. Have empathy, not sympathy
  5. Learn to communicate across the spectrum—level four communications

This paper could become a small book; in fact, I am working on a book – “Elite Leadership: Leading Across Race, Gender and Culture.”

To keep this short and useful, I will briefly address the first action. Future articles will touch on the remaining four.

Know Yourself

Knowing yourself, sounds too simple an action, of course, we all know ourselves. That would be a wrong assumption. I am sure most psychiatrists will agree and most assuredly the Marine Corps agrees. The Marine Corps agrees so much so that knowing yourself is one of the first leadership principles taught to each Marine: “Know yourself; seek self-improvement.”

What do you know about yourself? What are your strengths? What are your achievements? What makes you smile? What are your goals? What does success look like for you?

I recommend you take some time and answer the questions above. It is a good exercise. I suspect you will learn some things about yourself you did not realize. I can see the smile on your face as you complete the exercise.

Did I say complete the exercise? It is not done. Now, answer the following questions.

What tasks are distasteful for you to accomplish? What makes you anxious? What are you not good at doing? When you use or used derogatory comments towards a person of a different race, how did it make you feel? When you use a derogatory comment in the private confines of your home how did it make you feel?

Last part of the drill, think of a person you know and think highly of that is a member of the race that you have defamed. Does your comment or belief fit that person?

I am not a psychologist, or anthropologist or any “ist.” I am a leader. I have been in leadership positions and taught people how to lead most of my adult life, and this is the takeaway—ALL people deserve outstanding leadership. Sound leadership resolves issues before they start.

The purpose of this drill is to bring to light that preconceived beliefs about any race of people is wrong. Each person has their strengths and weaknesses. Those strengths and weaknesses are not race based.

One of the great mistakes made is the belief that behavior is somehow linked to race. That too is another great mistake of many in leadership positions. I will address more on this particular subject in a later writing.

Part of being an outstanding leader for everyone means taking the time to know those you lead. Will you like everyone you lead? That is a plus for becoming an exceptional leader but not a requirement to lead. The requirement is to respect those you lead. Many want-to-be leaders mistakenly demand respect before they give respect. We have all seen that type of leader and they come in all races, ethnicities, genders and cultures.

Knowing yourself first is imperative. Those you lead will get to know you from your actions. Who you are will always come out. It is a good idea to introduce you to yourself first.

Particularly important, know your biases. Don’t think you have no biases; we all do to one degree or another. We are human, raised by humans and as such we are victims of our upbringing. Exceptional leaders understand this nuance and take the time to know themselves and consciously work to retool that subconscious conditioning into conscious, positive action.

I can and should go deeper into this “know yourself” action, however, for the sake of keeping your attention and keeping this short I will stop here.


Issues surrounding race are uncomfortable. All people deserve good leadership. It requires more than dialogue. Elite leaders take the difficult and complex and work hard to make it simple. There are five actions required to lead effectively across race. It is so simple most of you won’t do it.

If you are an ELITE LEADER or want to become one, contact me and let’s get started!

© 2015 by John Boggs all rights reserved.