Don’t Lose Heart
Thinking about leadership and what kind of a leader I have been and am currently today, and what has been modeled to me is causing me to take pause. There seems to be a theme for the awareness of globalization and how it affects leadership – good and bad. This is true for our business. We deal with products globally and, Lord willing, we will most likely deal with the leaders of those global companies.
But, at the crux of leadership conversations and books and articles that one reads, what is the heart of a leader? What makes an effective leader? Who are they surrounding themselves with (books and people)? For me, as a woman of color, before I can even think about answering those questions, I have been forced by society to think about how I am viewed (i.e. biracial Asian female) as soon as I enter into a room. Years ago, my father said, “You have two strikes against you. You’re a woman and you’re a minority, so you’re going to have to work twice as hard.”
“Surveys of upper-level American managers find that almost half of women of color and close to one-third of white women cite a lack of influential mentors as a major barrier to advancement” (380). I didn’t choose this, but just as all of us have many intersections, mine are just different. As the majority shareholder of a certified, California state small business that sells to state institutions I am now lofted to a new position where my intersection of minority female brings potential extra points. It’s ironic, yes? But is it?
“The global organizations themselves want both an extended family of relationships that can endure and a seat at the policy table for matters affecting their ability to do business in the future. So the institutional work of leaders extends outside the enterprise” (580). This is where I find myself thriving. In a sea of policy and rhetoric, I care about the ripple effect our company can have for generations to come. Our primary customers are prisons. As an advocate of organic food and how it connects to the brain and gut, I immediately told my business partner that we need to figure out a way to inject this into policy change in Sacramento. God answered that prayer because just this year a drastic menu change went into place for all prisons to what is referred to as heart-healthy.
Digging deeper, however, how can we have a greater effect on inmates who are transitioning back into society? These are the questions that we ask at our weekly staff meetings. Most inmates come from food desert neighborhoods. A documentary I watched recently highlighted a woman who lives in one of these neighborhoods. Every week she gets up early on Saturday and Sunday morning and drives to the produce mart in Los Angeles to purchase organic fruits and vegetables. She then drives back to her neighborhood, puts up a pop-up tent and sells that produce to her neighbors. Not only do I want to partner with her, but I also want to be her. She exemplifies the gospel on a variety of levels.
I never want to sell out my heart. Perhaps I will never master “systems thinking, initiative-taking, persuasion and diplomacy” (605), but I hope that God will always show us how to have heart. I completely understand that businesses need accountants and rule followers, but we desperately need leaders who care about the ripple effect of their company from the smallest to largest details. Micromanagement never serves the “good” of the company because at the root of micro is fear (201).
Years ago, I worked for the American Red Cross. I had moved from corporate America to a global nonprofit. There were times when I saw the best of this nonprofit and how its policy of offering a VISA card (loaded with a calculated amount) to a family who had just endured traumatic disaster so they could go purchase new items for a new home restored dignity. I also witnessed the unfortunate egos of some of the leaders, and in recent years the organization has come under scrutiny for their mismanagement of finances. The heart of Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, has lost its way. She apparently had an incredible devotion to helping others. What began from her heart seems to have become mismanaged.
I am reminded by her story and of many other female leaders as inspiration for me to not lose heart as I help guide our company. Again, I am quite aware that our company cannot move forward without some guidelines, but it is vitally important for us to continue thinking about who and how this affects others without becoming too paranoid.
Nohria, Nitin, and Rakesh Khurana. Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice: a Harvard Business School Centennial Colloquium. Harvard Business School Publishing, 2010.
14 responses to “Don’t Lose Heart”
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You strike me as a level-headed, thoughtful leader. You are metered in your responses and constructive in your critiques. I’m glad you have “bonus points” and are able to speak into broken system in fresh and new ways. Your community is better for it.
What are some of the challenges you face as a bi-racial woman in a leadership role? How have those challenges been formative for you over the years of leading in various capacities?
Thanks for the kind words. I would like to say hallelujah for the “bonus points” but I hope you understand that it is a very, very odd feeling for a system to give those extra points when I should be viewed on the same playing level as anyone else.
1. What are some of the challenges you face as a bi-racial woman in a leadership role?
Being seeing, heard and taken seriously without having to get loud and be a b**ch, which never works well for me.
2. How have those challenges been formative for you over the years of leading in various capacities?
I don’t know if becoming a survivor is a good formative trait, but it has definitely been something that has become a part of who I am.
Your entire article was about the heart of a leader. Louder than your very poignant writing/argument was that your heart showed up in the piece. Thank you.
Do you think there are general attributes of the heart of an excellent, justice/equity minded leader? And how would you suggest these are formed/enhanced/deepened in the life of these leaders?
Thank you for the thoughtful words. Leading with my heart haunts me at night.
What I have been hearing from God most recently is, “Keep your eyes on Me.” The moment we step out of the boat and a storm arises is when we have to stay focused. The storms will be there.
Also, I strongly believe that having wise mentors speak into your life is helpful. It comes down to asking the question — what kinds of people do I want to surround myself with? Who will help me stay focused? It takes a village when you’re a child and it continues to take a village until we die.
You stated “Years ago, my father said, “You have two strikes against you. You’re a woman and you’re a minority, so you’re going to have to work twice as hard.” I had a similar discussion with my 3 daughter. I then let them know that God made them female for a purpose and that they could learn to influence people and policies from whatever level they were at at the time. I am ever so proud and pleased with each one. Even though they all live very different lives and aspire to very different goals they have all become to be effective leaders in the environment in which they live. They all have the heart of a leader whether they ever hold a position or not.
That’s awesome! It sounds like you have been an amazing father and have helped your daughters realize that they can become who they want to.
Please know that my father’s words were not hurtful to me. He was a science, PhD geek with a huge heart for humanity, but mainly for his daughter. He sometimes was blunt with his words, but never harsh. In fact, what he modeled for me through his actions and life still have a profound effect on my life today.
You’re demonstrating that leadership comes in many forms. So many people plow through life without any awareness (or concern) about the “ripple effect” or impact of their actions on others. By simply raising the question, you show that leadership can be both determined and compassionate.
Thank you, my friend.
“So many people plow through life without any awareness (or concern) about the “ripple effect” or impact of their actions on others.”
I knew this, but it makes me sad that someone is confirming this.
Leadership is a call to serve. However, it does not matter who you are in the community. God uses us according to the need. Thanks for the insights
” However, it does not matter who you are in the community.” I wish this were the reality.
“God uses us according to the need.” This is. I believe this.
Its true. That is why God himself raises us for his glory. I believe He is communicating to me each day. Looking forward to him
Thanks and be blessed
You cite the lack of mentors for especially women of color. In a white-male dominated landscape of leaders, do you think that the “me too” movement and fear of potential false claims will demotivate men from mentoring women in their field?
There are more and more mentors coming available for women of color, but being biracial presents its own issues with mentors. A woman who is 100% Asian will not identify with my issues or possibly care unless she has biracial children. Part of that is because I am also viewed as “not Asian enough.” A woman who is 100% anything else (most likely Caucasian) won’t give me the time of day or definitely won’t understand my issues completely (they can certainly sympathize) unless they have biracial Asian children. My therapist fits this category. She is Caucasian married to a Korean man with two children. I probably scare the crap out of her — ha ha ha. But she is not a mentor.
I am actually on the older end of the spectrum for being biracial Korean so I tend to mentor younger, biracial men and women AND younger, American-born Asian men and women.
I’m not sure what white males and the “me too” movement have to do with my post. Explain please?
I have heard that some men are so scared of being falsely accused of sexual harassment that they are largely distancing themselves from women, especially younger women. This diminishes the amount of appropriate mentoring going on across gender.