Happy New Year to all my favorite peeps! I was blessed to have a month off last month as we featured a guest blog from Alisha Jeffers describing the process of developing a brand update for LoCo Think Tank, and tying in The LoCo Experience podcast branding - check it here if you didn’t see it. Alisha joined us in the fall, and brought experience and skill in art and graphic design that we’ve never had on the team before. The more time passes and the more great feedback we get on it, the happier I am with the decision to embrace the rebrand!
It’s Martin Luther King Jr. day here in America as I begin my blog, and my reflections on his work led to my title this month. I was wondering to myself what he would think of the state of things, now some 55 years after his death, and I think he would be disappointed. Not because race relations are in such a poor state - but because we’re doing the right things for the wrong reasons. We’re celebrating diversity more and more; in government offices, and corporate board rooms, and on college campuses - and you can’t even find a TV commercial featuring only fit white people anymore! But…it seems to me that we’re “doing diversity for diversity’s sake” and not granting diversity its true value, found in the fact that we are all created equal - and different!
It has been a particularly busy season in the Bear household since you last heard from me, including a flurry of travel and weekends away, a post-blizzard road trip to ND for Christmas, and a going-away party for our foreign exchange student from 1st semester, Enrico Armanni. And then, because we’re crazy - and it was the right thing to do - we took in another exchange student for 2nd semester! Manuela Vieira was with another family in town, the school and family dynamics weren’t fitting very well, and she was losing her Brazilian connection with my friend Betina and her family moving to Australia…and would we possibly consider doing a back-to-back student exchange experience?
No! was Jill’s answer before she met Manuela, and then 30 minutes later it was “I don’t see how we could say no…” and so here we are, and so far it has been great. She is the daughter of a pair of entrepreneurs - her mother and father both own businesses in the auto parts industry that act as friendly competitors to one another - and so she understands business more than most of our other exchange students have.
Both Manuela and Enrico are dominant Green Type in the Hallos TRIADS framework, meaning they are first and foremost from the social/relational perspective - their first instinct is to love people, and they’re easy for others to love. Enrico is a Green/White, quite similar to my own essential character as a White/Green, and Manuela is a Green/Brown. The White Types are full of ideas and principles and values, and the Brown Types are the integrators - they like to get deep and can understand the complexities of systems in a way others cannot.
In our household, Jill is the most different from the rest I suppose, with a strongly dominant Blue Type, balanced by a bit of Green. She’s our organizer/planner, the payer of bills, the planner of trips, and she makes lists before she goes to the grocery store! A caveat to that last point: I usually do the shopping, because I like to get ideas about what to make based on what’s on sale and of good quality - and I do most of the cooking. When Jill does cook, she follows recipes closely, but when I cook, I search recipes for new ideas and essential ingredients, and then the cooking plays out intuitively.
These same kinds of tendencies play out at the LoCo office, where Deb and I and Alisha are all White/Green or Green/White, and Alma is a Blue/Brown. She’s very organized by nature, and her desire to learn and understand (plus the fact that she’s our digital native) means we can implement new softwares and systems more readily with the balance of her involvement. She collaborates well with Alisha’s visually-inspired strategic planning concepts, migrating them into the trackable format of our online work OS, Monday.com.
Now, of course diversity is not only about our essential characteristics as identified by Hallos or some other system, but also found in the diversity of our backgrounds and experiences. Alisha and I may not seem very different at the outset, given that we’re both 40-something white folks who are outgoing with lots of ideas. But our backgrounds are like night and day: she was raised in Seattle, in the home of a therapist, and she was a professional artist for many years, selling paintings and doing commissioned pieces - and often working in local coffee shops, which are cultural centers themselves. Conversely, my upbringing in rural North Dakota as a farmer’s son was almost bereft of culture - I can’t think of anyone I knew that even painted a picture back then, and my habit of journaling in high school was considered a little weird - and we didn’t even have a coffee shop in the nearest “big town” until I was well into my years in Colorado!
Alma brings a more-different perspective still. Her parents were raised in Mexico City, and moved to California well ahead of Alma’s arrival. They carved out their place in this country as entrepreneurs with English as a second language - a formidable accomplishment. Alma’s household was bilingual, with the tight knit Hispanic community of their church as the centerpiece. She followed the pragmatism of her parent’s example by choosing the kind of educational path that’s most direct for the least investment: five semesters at Front Range Community College (beginning early in her junior year of high school) followed by an online certification in UX Design. She told us that she picked LoCo as a way to follow her interest in marketing and further her education with hands-on experience. Smart move! She’s not on the team so we could check a diversity box, she’s valuable because of the talent and specialized skills she brings that we needed.
I saw a post from the Babylon Bee the other day that cuts right to the core of diversity for diversity’s sake - “Buttigieg Defends Job Performance By Reminding Everyone He’s Gay.” Our Secretary of Transportation has an impressive resume, including post-secondary education at Harvard and Oxford, a season of military service as a Naval Intelligence Officer, and two terms as the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He made a strong run at the Democratic Presidential Primary in 2020, but dropped out and endorsed Joe Biden after Biden won the South Carolina Primary - as did Amy Klobucher - both under heavy pressure from the Democratic establishment NOT to allow Bernie Sanders to become the nominee.
As impressive as Mayor Pete’s resume is - there is virtually no qualifying experience for the job of Secretary of Transportation. His term has seen multiple crises, from supply chain tangles and ports overflowing to air travel disruptions and a near-strike from railroad workers. He’s been criticized by both Democrats and Republicans, and hasn’t helped himself through his actions - he took a two month paternity leave during the worst of the supply chain challenges, and even took a “long-planned personal trip” to Portugal during White House negotiations to avert a strike with rail workers unions. Now, I understand that political rivals often get cabinet posts, but perhaps a role a little more suited to his experience would have been wiser…maybe a new department and position - Secretary of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion maybe? (sarcasm warning!)
Another example of diversity for diversity’s sake on a national stage is Joe Biden’s nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson for the Supreme Court vacancy opened by the departure of Stephen Breyer. I’m glad that we have another woman on the Supreme Court, it’s an important part of having a diverse body. And, I’m glad that she’s a black woman - for the same reason. But Biden’s commitment to nominate a black woman for the vacancy, long before any interviews were conducted and before any candidates were screened - was ignorant and counterproductive to the principles of equality. Ketanji deserved to think that she was the best and most qualified candidate available for the post, and America deserved to think that too - and it’s possible that she was! However, Biden took those opportunities away by indicating the necessary qualifications well ahead of the selection. He should have just done it - if nominating a black woman was his intent - and not said it ahead of time. I’m sure she’s a fine woman, and I hope she’ll be a long-serving and fair-minded member of the court - but Biden applied an asterisk to her nomination that will be with her forever in the eyes of many.
All of these kinds of decisions are made individually - by someone, or perhaps by small committees. When you make a hire, or select a candidate from among several for a promotion, I think it’s great to lean in toward diversity. If you’ve got two similarly qualified candidates, and one is a woman, or a person of color - or both - great! Lean toward that candidate, and be proud of the fact that you’re helping to tip the scales toward a person whom another chooser might lean away from. But it’s not fair to the protected class individual to give them absolute preference despite lesser qualifications - and it’s not fair to your business, or government office, or society at large. It will only lead to lesser outcomes, greater divisions, and a disincentive to work hard and become well-qualified for the roles that this person seeks in the future. That is not the kind of society and individual that MLK was referring to when he declared - “I have a dream”.
Back to the home team here at headquarters: from an outside perspective, one might question how I justified choosing a female teenager of clearly Hispanic roots over other qualified candidates when I hired Alma. I would respond by sharing another important element of my background as a banker. After 15 years of sitting down with many hopeful business-owners seeking loans, I had the chance to hone my ability to identify inner drive, talent and potential beyond the external appearances of age, dress and resume. What I heard from Alma in her interview cut through the noise to say this young woman is a professional with integrity and drive. This is what I want to cultivate on my team. In the year and a half since that interview, she has proven that impression to be correct. I’m hopeful she’ll be an integral part of our team for many years to come, as we learn as much from her perspective as she does from our experience.
And now finally, on to a section of today’s blog I’ve been dreading. As you can tell, I put my heart and soul into my community and, in many ways I consider our teammates, members and facilitators to be family. What makes a family is the diversity of personalities and backgrounds, and the way we all come together to reconcile those to work together daily. With family, it can be too easy to take each other for granted and assume they know how much we appreciate them and love them. Then one day the unthinkable happens and we lose someone too soon.
It happened this month - we lost one of our own and I’ve been grieving her departure daily. Emily Kincaid was a Founding Member of our Next Level II chapter, of which I’ve been a member for the last 20 months or so. She went in for a relatively routine procedure this fall, and they found her full of cancer. They hit it hard and she suffered through a lot of pain - and they couldn’t stop the spread. She passed within 90 days of diagnosis.
I say this about many of my members, but in this case, and especially today - she was my favorite. She’d been called upon by peer group after peer group, and none of them fit right until we connected on LinkedIn, and then for a phone call, and every conversation we ever had was so uplifting, so energizing, so connected - that I just can’t even describe it. Those of you who knew Emily probably are nodding your heads right now - she had a special way about her.
Emily left behind a young son, Walker, and a new husband, Dominic, and many hundreds of people who loved, treasured, and respected her. She was not created equal - she was powerful and confident and smart and humble and funny and beautiful beyond normal human measure! She was a shooting star, and though I mourn her departure I am forever grateful to have been a part of her journey. She shared that journey with me on Episode 48 of The LoCo Experience podcast, and if you take the time to give it a listen you’ll be inspired and entertained and wowed by her character and personality just like I was when we first met - and every time we interacted.
Nothing I can write or say or do will bring Emily back, but her spirit lives on in all those she touched, and I’m so glad I can hear her voice anytime I wish. The best I can do to honor her memory is to practice shining a light on those around me as she did, letting them know how much I care and not assuming they already know it. I ask that you consider doing the same. Please shower her husband and son and their family with your prayers, take care of yourselves and each other, and show and share your love everywhere you go in the weeks ahead - in honor of her amazing and too-short time in this world.
Oh, to see a shooting star!
So bright, so brief, so fair.
With burn so bright she can’t go far,
Her stardust fills the air.
It’s a glorious vision to see,
Even finer a person to meet,
She showers each corner with light,
And too soon was taken from sight.
But just like the cosmic dust,
Is encased within each of us,
So too is she part of us all,
And though we grieve her fall,
We find joy amidst all of our pain,
To know we may see her again.