dr ben carson leadership wisdomLast week I had the chance to see Dr. Ben Carson speak at an event. For clarity, this was a faith-based event, not a political one. I have seen the movie Gifted Hands twice (highly recommended!), and I was excited to hear some of his story in his own words. I picked up four pieces of wisdom on leading people and wanted to share those insights here.

Defining Diversity

Diversity is not a unanimity of speech or thought. It’s a respect for the differences around us.

We don’t all have to believe and say the same things to be diverse. What we must do, though, is respect others. Everyone is different from you in some way, even if it’s in terms of what music they listen to, what foods they like, etc. Respect those differences and the larger ones that still can permeate workplace decisions (color, gender, etc.)

Leading Technical People

Sometimes when leading technical people you won’t understand 100% of what they do. What is important, however, is to make them realize you appreciate and support them anyway. Carson’s mother made him read books and write reports for her to critique. The kicker? She couldn’t read.

She knew the importance of reading for learning growth and knew the skill was important enough to emphasize. She would highlight the papers and ask questions to help them realize that she cared about the assignments.

Motivating Others

At one point early in his career Carson was appointed supervisor of a road cleanup crew. The problem, he said, was that the crew wasn’t interested in doing any work! They were paid by the hour with a goal of 100 bags per day, so he negotiated with the team to pick up 100 bags for eight hours of pay plus any time saved. For instance, if they picked up the 100 bags of trash in six hours, they were paid for eight hours of work and got to go home early.

He said that his crew quickly became the most productive and others couldn’t understand how his team was doing more work than the others in less time.

How to Be Successful

Mr. Carson finished his remarks with this powerful quote:

Success is using your God-given talents to elevate other people.

I firmly agree. We all have unique skills, abilities, and talents. We should look for opportunities where our greatest passion meets our greatest strength and make the world better. It wouldn’t make much sense for me to try to build homes for people–that’s not my skill set. But planning a charity race? I am all over it. What’s your talent and how can you use it to elevate others?

I work for a government contractor in the defense industry. We have a large number of veterans working for us, so I am always looking for ways to understand them better. Recently I received a review copy of this book, and I was really excited to dig in. As usual, I read with an eye on the corporate culture aspects, and I thought the author, Emily King, did a great job of addressing those. Here are my top 4 “Aha!” moments while reading Field Tested-Recruiting, Managing, and Retaining Veterans.

#1 Put yourself in their shoes

This was the single best explanation for how a veteran must feel when they join the private sector that I’ve ever come across. Basically, the author asks you to imagine that you take a job in a private employer and work there  for twenty years. Then, you retire from that company and go to work for the military. Imagine the chaos and difficulty of trying to navigate the landscape of an entirely different organization and culture. That is how veterans feel when they come to work for us after completing a military career. Continue reading

When I was ten my baseball career went to heck. It was like someone threw a switch between my previously awesome self and my new terrible self.

I couldn’t hit. My throws were off. Neither I, my parents, nor my coach could figure out what the issue was.

Then I found out I needed glasses.

It was like a miracle to be able to see clearly again. When people ask me why I didn’t get glasses sooner I reply that at the time I thought everyone saw that way.

That’s a powerful message in more than one way, so I’ll say it again. I thought everyone saw the same way I did.

Before you assume something about a person, take a moment to reflect. Maybe you see things one way and just can’t understand why someone else doesn’t see as “clearly” as you.

Backgrounds, culture, and other factors can dramatically influence how someone behaves or responds to situations. Be conscious of that. You will be a better leader, employee, and friend for it.

This post isn’t here to make you feel like you’ve done something wrong. I need the reminder just as much as anyone else that we’re all different and that can be a powerful tool if we use it well.