Diversity: Leaders Not Labels

The 21st century is a performance-based culture. What matters is how people are able to interact and produce results. As the world becomes more global and technology brings us closer together, our environment has become more diverse. The 21st century demands that you have a vision of your future unclouded by your past.

The pace of change is faster than anytime in history, and we must transform with it. Your transformation from a follower — or someone’s label — to a leader in this competitive climate is a must. We are moving into an ownership society where we must become more accountable for how we are viewed and defined. The pathway to freedom is realizing progress begins with you. Today, you must learn how to break out of the box that keeps you from growing to your full potential, and change the way you think about your possibilities. You must move from your history to your imagination. When we focus on performance and strive toward excellence in our lives we shed the relevance of external labels based on race, gender, age, ethnicity, lifestyle or physical ability, and we free ourselves to proactively live our lives.

International commerce really doesn’t care about race, creed, gender or lifestyle. Its main concerns are survival, profitability and control of its destiny. Diversity is ultimately about our role in moving civilization forward and freeing ourselves to forge alliances we’ll find beneficial and profitable as we navigate through our changing world. In many ways, the expanded global marketplace is an equalizer. It offers advantages to people of all backgrounds. It puts them on a level playing field. The type of person who will succeed in this new work environment is someone who can transcend race and build relationships — someone with a spirit of cooperation who is tolerant of others. It will require people who think before they react and who understand the consequences of their actions. It calls for self-respecting people who feel good about where they came from and don’t apologize for who they are. And it calls for people who will continue to grow and develop and who will bring value to themselves and those they represent.

To succeed in the 21st century, you must:
Invest in yourself.
See beyond the labels.
ee yourself as a citizen of the world.

When you reach that point, you find yourself able to excel and create opportunities and to focus on what you can do, as opposed to what you can’t do. You create more opportunities and build momentum for constructive growth. You are able to reinvent yourself every day and organize your life around the world, instead of just allowing the world to organize itself around you. You are leading instead of being led. You are willingly expanding your horizons and becoming flexible enough to continue to grow.

I encourage you to explore different cultures and their experiences to help you understand that everyone has had their own challenges and issues. You see that the process for growth and transformation are the same for everyone, and hard work, sacrifice, talent and self-motivation are the tools for the future.

You start by taking more control of your life and becoming more accountable to yourself. When you attain this, you will be self-owned, and that’s an achievement you can always savor because you earned it through your hard work and unique talents.

Stedman Graham is chairman and CEO of S. Graham and Associates, a management and marketing consulting firm based in Chicago. He is the author of 10 books, including two New York Times Best Sellers. His latest book is Diversity: Leaders Not Labels — A New Plan for the 21st Century.


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