Recognize and Value Diversity

Sunset and beach; people walking on the beach

Lately, news in the US seems to be focused on racial tension. Everywhere you turn is a report, a news story or an article highlighting (and offering the author or news anchor’s view on) racial division. This is NOT one of those articles. If you’re new to LeadStrategic and came here expecting an exposé on “race wars,” I’m afraid you’ll be sadly disappointed. Should you wish to discuss my views on racial conflict, please track me down and offer to buy me a cup of coffee (preferably a strong roast from somewhere in Indonesia or Vietnam) and a scone. We’ll discuss whatever you like, even racial conflict. But my article this week will focus on a different type of diversity. Read on and you’ll see what I mean.

A couple weeks ago, we took a company trip to San Diego. It was fun! A combination of work, fellowship, sightseeing, and team building. We ate good food, took a harbor cruise, laughed at seals in La Jolla and, in general, played tourista. Being from SoCal (or Southern California), if only by birth, I always feel a connection when I’m in SoCal. There’s a part of my psychological make-up that says, “You’re home.” Now I’m not originally from San Diego. I was born in San Bernardino County. Twenty-Nine Palms to be exact. But I lived there twice as a young boy and learned to love everything from the Pacific, to palm trees, to date shakes, to Rainbow sandals, to the Mojave Desert to the laid back West Coast lifestyle. As a kid, we went to the San Diego Zoo and Disneyland. I caught lizards and monitored rattlesnakes and scorpions as they moved in and around our house. I learned to love the sunshine, the Pacific, the beach, and low humidity. We watched 1,000s of Hell’s Angel’s riding the highways around Los Angeles together and saw beautiful sunsets in Joshua Tree National Monument. Spending time in Southern California in the mid to late ‘60s was formative to say the least. The Eagles, Charles Mansfield, USC football, and hippies.

While we were on the company trip, my wife and I celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary (what happened to the time and how’d I get so old!). We took a couple days of vacation at the end of the company trip and went over to Coronado. It was great! We rode the trolley back and forth between the Hotel del Coronado and the Marriott several times a day stopping for breakfast, lunch, and dinner along the main drag. We rode bikes. We watched the sun set. We swam (in the pool as the ocean was too cold!). We talked, relaxed, and caught up. It’s been a busy year (moving from Connecticut to Nebraska, changing roles to a small start-up after 31 years in large public corporations, dealing with the death of my father, and so on).

One evening, my wife and I were walking along the beach and saw some military maneuvers off-shore. The picture above doesn’t show them clearly, but several helicopters and divers were involved. We assumed it involved some type of Navy Seal training. Being divers and from military families, we were somewhat mesmerized. We could see divers going into the water and being hauled out. We watched as the helicopters circled around the drop zone. And we watched the maneuvers as they continued being carried out throughout the late afternoon and, ultimately, at night.

Several things crossed my mind as I watched. One, it was impressive. To see the colorization of the helicopters alone was notable. Two, I kept thinking about how cold the water was. Unlike the waters of the Philippines or Palau, this water was cold! Three, I wondered what it would’ve been like to be a Navy diver, a Seal. After all, I’d grown up around the water. I was a surfer, a diver, and a Junior Olympic swimmer with over 10 gold medals. As a young man, I could run like the wind and swim like a fish. I would’ve been a great Seal. O well, life had other plans.

But the primary thought I had (number Four if you’re still counting) centered around diversity. Not diversity of race, gender, ethnicity, religious views, or diversity of roles specifically, but rather diversity of role. You see I’ve never been in the Navy or spent a day as a Seal, but I’ve spent 17 years of my life on military bases. I’ve never been on one deployment, but my taxes pay for the retirement benefits of veterans (including my father-in-law and, formerly, my dad). I’ve never been through Boot Camp, but I’ve hired countless military veterans from all branches of the military. One starts next week.

For me, diversity adds strength, it adds stability, it adds dimension and it results in a better product, a stronger team, a more robust organization and a more capable country. Regardless of your skin color, ethnicity, gender, vocational role (or any of hundreds of others “categories”), let’s work together to build a stronger country, a better community a higher performing organization. Some heroes serve in military, some in the fire department, and some in corporations. And there are heroes of every race, tribe, gender and age. Let’s appreciate the diversity we have around us. Great leaders recognize and value diversity.

It’s interesting, some of my readers are flag officers in military units around the world, admirals, and generals whom I greatly admire. And they, in turn, respect and admire the work and contribution I’ve made around the world in multiple industries. It’s not a contest or a zero-sum game. Be the best you and don’t try to be someone else. Live your dream. Let’s appreciate the diversity we have around us. Great leaders recognize and value diversity.

Think about those around you this week in other types of organizations. Think about how they’ve positively contributed to your life. At the same time, reflect on how you’ve made an impact on their life. Are you recognizing and valuing diversity?

is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]

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