Real Leadership And Diversity

Today I presented at a working lunch. Though I didn't state it as such, the topic was leadership and diversity. A dime a dozen, I know–these talks about leadership and diversity are everywhere, reducing their value to nearly zero. But let me tell you about this. It was different.

My historical topic was Theodore Roosevelt's exploration of the River of Doubt in 1913-1914. On this trip, which lasted from January 1914 to May 1914, Roosevelt served as a co-leader of the expedition. His counterpart was Colonel Candido Rondon, a noted Brazilian explorer and military officer.

Roosevelt was not geared to diversity. He embraced an ideology of American superiority and his own superiority. Nevertheless, he served as a junior commander on the trip and recognized the tremendous effectiveness of Rondon. By trip's end, Roosevelt expressed strong admiration for local residents and natives, their accomplishments and abilities. He bowed to Rondon's vital role in the expedition on the River of Doubt. He showed respect for Rondon.

Though neither leader spoke the other's language, though they had vastly different views of the mission of the trip, though they held sharply contrasting opinions of native peoples, though their pasts as well as their futures were far apart, Roosevelt and Rondon found common purpose, mutual respect, and reinforcing roles in their time together. The two men endured an amazing array of experiences on the River of Doubt. Despair, death, setbacks, hard choices, the thought of giving up.

Talk with me about the use of this story in opening up a new approach to diversity and leadership.