Women’s History Month, 2019, opens on a world in flux. The #MeToo Movement is in mid-swing, providing a voice to long-silenced victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, financial and human rights experts search aggressively for ways to close the gender pay gap, and for the first time since its initial proposal in 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment—guaranteeing equal rights to women under the United States Constitution—could be passed into law.
In spite of this, the World Economic Forum predicts it could still take another 100 years before we close the equality gap between men and women. Are we bound by this dire prediction? The example set by one of our nation’s most important leaders, Eleanor Roosevelt, challenges us to believe we’re not.
Speaking in practical terms, however, believing in change is only half the battle. How do we, as leaders, facilitate this change we imagine? Again, Eleanor Roosevelt offers timeless leadership advice:
March 8, 2019 marked the 108th International Women’s Day, and while we have much to celebrate, we still have much to work toward. We, as leaders, can be instrumental in changing this, but only if we lead with courage.
At a time when navigating the changing waters of social reform can lead to confusion, the example of successful, historical leadership serves as a beacon. Eleanor Roosevelt often said, “Courage can be as contagious as fear,” and her human rights victories, both large and small, show us the forward change one determined leader can make in the lives of many.
Are you wondering how to lead your organization toward a fairer, more balanced workplace? Let us help! Our unique approach to leadership training harnesses the power of experiential learning to teach time-proven leadership methods that get results. Let us share more leadership lessons from Eleanor Roosevelt in a workshop or staff retreat. You bring the team members, and we’ll create an immersive learning program, linking timeless historical examples with your individual workplace issues.
According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 49% of U.S. citizens believe the state of moral values in America is “poor,” and nearly 75% believe our moral values are “getting worse.” In the business world, a recent study by LRN, a giant in ethics and corporate leadership education, found that only 23% of employees believe their managers are moral leaders, and only 17% say their leaders would defend someone unfairly treated in the workplace.
In spite of these numbers, 60% of those polled stated their leadership directly asks for and expects their loyalty. An effective leader should understand loyalty must be earned. But what does it take to earn your peoples’ trust?
To build relationships of trust, a leader needs not just personal morality but must communicate and model strong moral courage. In today’s complex, shifting social environment, who can be this example? Perhaps a leader from our nation’s past can be a beacon.
It is July 5, 1852, in Rochester, New York, and a crowd of more than 600 white abolitionists has come to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The speaker is a young Frederick Douglass, 34 years old, tall with broad shoulders and a thick mane of dark hair. Douglass wears an iron expression as he stands and faces the room. He begins humbly, stating his nervousness at addressing such an assembly, and reflecting on the history of the United States and its promise of freedom for all. It isn’t long, however, before his true message becomes apparent.
Fellow citizens, pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?… I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us…
This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn…
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless.
Imagine being in that crowd, on the other side of that biting oratory. Imagine being told all of your beliefs mean nothing if you simply hold them in silence.
Today, we recognize this speech as one of the most eloquent and influential rebukes of slavery in our national history. On July 5, 1852, it was an enormous risk, taken by a young man fueled by moral courage.
We can learn a lot from his example. At a time when we are navigating complex, shifting issues such as gender equity, privacy rights, and racial bias, employees are looking to their leaders for answers. We can learn from Douglass and speak bravely across the gap created by long-held silence.
We, as leaders, have the unique opportunity to help build the new normal in the workplace. Studies show that employees are seventeen times more likely to follow leaders who not only take a firm stand on moral issues but are willing to talk about their reasons for doing so. Such open leadership inspires loyalty and begins to build a strong backbone of morality that can be copied throughout the organization.
Are you wondering how to start this process within your own organization? Let us help. Our unique approach to leadership training harnesses the power of experiential learning to teach proven leadership methods that get results. Let us share the Frederick Douglass story in a leadership workshop or staff retreat. You bring the team members, and we’ll create a tailored, immersive learning program, linking timeless historical examples with your workplace issues.
SHARE YOUR STORY!
An effective leader understands that open dialogue is essential in elevating the moral consciousness of a company and increasing employee loyalty. What are some constructive ways we can cultivate a safe, respectful forum for such conversations to take place? What have you tried? Please share your stories with us.
To many Americans, the word “compromise” has become synonymous with the word “lose.” Historically speaking, this line of thinking is new. In fact, without our Founding Fathers’ willingness to embrace compromise and all it entails—openness and respect for another’s viewpoint, willingness to make concessions toward a shared, common goal, and a deep understanding that an “all or nothing” mindset threatens everyone’s interests—our government would not exist, as we know it.
It’s a sweltering Philadelphia summer in 1787, and 55 men in full dress and periwigs are crammed into the old Pennsylvania State House to frame a newer, stronger United States government. As they had determined, early on, to keep the meetings private, the windows are nailed shut, the doors closed against the breeze outside, and temperatures, tensions and tempers are high.
SCENE AT THE SIGNING OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES / HOWARD CHANDLER CHRISTY / 1940 / PUBLIC DOMAIN
The larger states propose the Virginia Plan, a bicameral legislature, with membership in both houses allocated to each state proportional to its population. The smaller states put forth the New Jersey Plan, arguing for a single house legislature with each state represented equally within its body.
Nobody can agree. The larger states defend their position, stating because they contribute proportionally more to the nation’s defensive and financial resources, they are entitled to proportionally greater representation in its legislature. The smaller states argue the perpetual union originally envisioned only functions when each state is given equal voice. As the weeks pass, the debates devolve into arguments. Alexander Hamilton accuses the small states of seeking “power, not liberty,” and Gunning Bedford, Jr. famously threatens on behalf of the small states to, “find some foreign ally of more honor and good faith...” Delegates from both sides vow to reject any document that does not give them their way.
And this is where the story turns. Into this deadlock, Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth propose what is now known as the Great Compromise—essentially, a marriage of the Virginia (large state) and New Jersey (small state) Plans—which would establish a dual system comprised of both proportional and equal state representation. At first, the delegates are uncertain, and most are inclined to pass on the idea. Then, elder statesman, Ben Franklin, rises to give them a simple story with a new perspective. “When a broad table is to be made,” he says, “and the edges of the planks do not fit, the artist takes a little from both and makes a good joint. In like manner here, both sides must part with some of their demands, in order that they may join in some accommodating proposition.”
Soon, both sides agree, and the angry stalemate that threatened to derail the writing of the United States Constitution dissolves into a productive union, working together to frame our government as we know it.
We take this governmental structure for granted, now, but for our Constitutional Framers, it required enormous cooperation and a willingness to focus on the common goal—a strong, functional United States government—over each side’s independent desires.
We can learn a lot from this example. The workplace is shifting. More often than not, advancement and change within corporate structure is team driven. As leaders, it is extremely important for us to lead others toward shared, core goals, and also help our teams resolve problems arising from different perspectives without destructive conflict. We don’t have all the answers, but if we lead with open minds and open ears, we can create forward change.
How do you begin to guide your team toward compromise? First, listen to all sides, then use simple metaphors to give perspective, and share these examples from successful leaders. Ronald Reagan told his aides on many occasions, “I’d rather get 80 percent of what I want than go over the cliff with my flag flying,” and Lin Manuel Miranda, summing up compromise in one of the most-loved pieces from Hamilton, wrote:
The Connecticut Compromise / Bradley Stevens / 2006 / U.S. Senate Collection
Two Virginians and an immigrant walk into a room
Diametrically opposed – Foes!
They emerge with a compromise
Having opened doors that were previously closed – Bros!
Let’s not be so determined to be right that we miss an opportunity to be successful.