Wednesday, November 30, 2016
By James Sartain
Categories: Intention, Leadership

By now you have probably viewed the viral Amazon video of a Priest and Imam having a cup of tea.  After sharing their daily challenges of leading a group of followers, each took note of the physical discomfort that the other was experiencing from kneeling for much of the day.  In a modern day Gift of the Magi (with a better ending as both got something they needed), both religious leaders unknowingly sent each other the same gift–a pair of knee pads. Why does this 1 minute and 20 seconds commercial matter?  And why should it matter to leaders?

It reminds leaders of their obligation to teach us how we are alike rather than how we differ. Today’s leaders must be culturally responsive because, as Daniel Friedman noted over a decade ago, the world is now flat. No wall can contain culture. We now live and work in a connected network filled with people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, faiths, and traditions. The video elegantly demonstrates that by focusing on what we have in common, we can change the tone and focus of conversations about how we differ.  Leaders must demonstrate the power of this idea to their followers. Maya Angelou’s poem, Human Family includes the verse: “I note the obvious differences between each sort and type, but we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” If leaders don’t carry this message, who will?

The video demonstrates one of the critical elements of making transformational change. Dr. John Kotter, Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at Harvard Business school, and subject matter expert in leading change, has written about specific ways to ensure that transformational efforts are successful. In his various books on leadership, Kotter described how most leaders rely almost exclusively on the traditional “analysis-think-change” method for introducing the need for change. This method involves giving people a bunch of data to look at, followed by a period of time to think about the data, and then to go and act on that data by becoming involved in a transformational initiative. How often have we been compelled to action based on a spreadsheet? Even the more data-driven among us often need something more to engage and commit to a significant change effort.

According to Kotter, we respond better to messaging that reflects a “See-Feel-Change” approach. In this approach, people are shown a highly resonate example or story that suggests the power of, or the need for, change. When we see or hear this impactful story, it engages our emotions (the “Feel” part of the equation) and we are then compelled to act differently.

This is the beauty of the Amazon clip. Without a word of dialogue, the commercial visualizes the power that can happen when two men of divergent religious faiths can come together and have a cup of tea. They laugh, talk, and hug in the 1.20 second video. Their interactions are in marked contrast to the prevailing sentiment of the day where religious faiths have become a source of division rather than unity. Both leaders and the religions they represent demonstrate the power of friendship to move beyond the boundaries and barriers often found in our diversity. Good leaders do this type of bridge building daily. They find ways to leverage diversity for the betterment of the entire enterprise and they create see-feel-change examples to lead others to do the same.

Leaders have the responsibility to be present and show presence in uncertain times. Given the precarious political times we are in, there is a need for leaders who demonstrate grace and acceptance, who connect the heart–and not just the mind, and who continually raise the bar for how we should live and work with each other. The mantle of leadership comes the mandate that we must be better versions of ourselves and to be a reminder to those that follow us that we can be better, that we can DO better. Leaders must demonstrate the importance of reaching out (across the political aisle, across the conference table, across the world) to others no matter how different. After all, not only are our employees vastly different from one another, so too are our clients and the consumers of our products. There is a financial incentive to be welcoming to all cultures and not just a humanistic, moral, or ethical one.

With the prevailing scripts of the day more concerned with what makes us different and why we should hate or fear that difference, a small video from Amazon reminds us of the power of the positive message. What we need now, more than ever, are positive stories to counter the bad and positive leaders to share those stories that connect with their constituents. Thank you Amazon for reminding us of the impact of demonstrating who we really are or aspire to be. Hopefully this is only the beginning of a trend of sharing stories, videos, and even commercials that remind us of the power of peace, community, and connection.


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