Lessons from a Debate
I was only a kid. For some reason, I found myself with adults much of the time. Never one to shy away from controversy (that is still true), I overheard a conversation and jumped right into a debate. Opinionated, full of facts, and seemingly knowing the answers, I launched into my arguments. I don’t even recall what they were and only vaguely remember the subject.
One of the women in the room listened carefully. She said nothing but looked at me intently. Then, midway through my debate, she stopped me and told her story.
“You know, when I was your age, we didn’t have much, didn’t know where the next meal was coming from.”
For several minutes, I listened to her perspective. She wasn’t my race, and I don’t think my religion either. We were decades apart in age. I wasn’t worried about food.
And somehow, across the divide, she reached me. Her story had me shifting on my feet, back and forth, bouncing on the back of my heels, uncomfortable.
And yet I held my own argument (I’m still like that, too).
She smiled. We both seemed to realize that neither of us was right, that there was a third option where we could both agree (though this option, I must admit was far closer to her initial view than my own). I remember laughing with her after even though the details of the debate itself are murky.
She did shift my opinion, yes, but she did something much more than that. She taught me a powerful lesson, one that is with me still.
She taught me the power of diversity.
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” -Audre Lorde
No, not only because we were from different races. The reason it impacted me was because different experiences and thinking strengthens us. Listening to those who think like me is an echo chamber. Gathering opinions and facts from multiple sources is powerful. Even if we don’t develop the ‘third option,’ I become aware of alternatives. I eliminate blind spots. Or I may change my point of view completely.
That’s learning. That’s leadership.
Leadership is not one-way. It’s a dialogue with information flowing freely up, down, and sideways. Inherent in good leadership is respect which implies listening.
“If your voice is heard, you feel valued—even if you don’t get your way.” -Skip Prichard
Servant Leadership and Diversity
Servant leadership is a topic that I have written and spoken about all over the world. It’s a form of leadership that is service-oriented and focused on others.
One of the most popular posts on Leadership Insights is the 9 Qualities of a Servant Leader, written years ago. On the Aim Higher podcast, we’ll talk about the nine qualities of the servant leader.
Undoubtedly, you’ve deduced that the first quality is simply this: value diverse opinions.
My panel and I talk about why that’s such an important trait in a leader. Why listening and really hearing different ideas and viewpoints is essential for success. And we discuss some really good, specific tools you can employ in your leadership journey.
Or Listen on iTunes by clicking here.
“It is the responsibility of good leaders to tease out diverse perspectives. It is not responsible to make decisions without understanding all angles of an issue.” -Tammi Spayde
“Leaders can encourage diversity of opinion by starting with questions before offering an opinion.” -Jennifer Collins
“A clear goal means that diversity can drive towards success, rather than working against you.” -Drew Bordas
“The man who never alters his opinions is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.” -William Blake