This past Monday, our country celebrated a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and his work on the advancement of civil rights based on nonviolent civil disobedience. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches, which was a series of protests in Alabama to demonstrate the desire of African-Americans to exercise their constitutional right to vote. These marches helped lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965—also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
In one of the most famous speeches in American history, Dr. King said, “I still have a dream, a dream deeply rooted in the American dream—0ne day this nation will rise up and live up to its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
Fifty years later, our country is vastly different and more progressive than it was during the civil rights movement. However, our country is still plagued with racism, sexism, and classism.
This week, I was able to attend SGR’s Creating a Learning Organization Conference on Trust-Building Strategies to Inspire Committed Teams. During the introduction for the conference, Ron Holifield, CEO for SGR, said, “It is difficult to build trust if you don’t understand the other person. People have a different frame of reference and different life experiences than I do…but, you cannot build trust without a basic understanding.”
Our organizations and our communities are comprised of people from all different “walks of life.” From different races, different socio-economic backgrounds, different religions, our backgrounds are all unique. Not everyone had happy and healthy childhoods. Not everyone has plenty of food and clothes. Not everyone knows when the next paycheck is coming. So, what may be normal for someone is completely abnormal for someone else. Yet, these differences comprise our organizations, our communities, and our country. We need to embrace these differences and build trust around them.
At the conference, Jennifer Fadden, city manager for the City of Colleyville, said, “People support what they help create.” As local government leaders, it is our responsibility to remember that our government was created by the people and for the people. All of the people.
To do so, ask yourself, do the policy makers in your community represent the statistics in your community? While this may be an election issue, you can review the application process for appointed positions to see if you can reach other socioeconomic groups. Additionally, are you asking your community for assistance in making local government decisions? It can be as simple as focus groups with children and parents for the re-design of playground equipment or as complex as a community-wide, multifaceted process for updating the community’s master plan.
Internally, are you asking for assistance in developing employee benefits? Do you know what problems your employees encounter using your health insurance? Are you using teams to make decisions? Cross-functional teams can be an intentional means of raising the bar on strategy. If you are addressing a customer service problem or creating a capital plan process, team members from different departments, at different levels in the organization can build a plan in which the organization supports—because they helped to build it.
You have an opportunity to build trust—in your organization and in your community. Racism, sexism, and classism will not disappear overnight, but use your leadership every day to continue the progress of ensuring our government is for the people.
“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. IF you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Executive Search Manager