Kendall Norris is the chief executive officer for Global Leadership Forum (GLF). The forum’s mission is to, with the aid of its partners, inspire young African Americans in science, technology, engineering, the arts and math (STEAM), as well as help older individuals get the experience in these fields to advance to senior positions.
The famed French historian, diplomat, and politician Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) captured what he recognized as a peculiar spirit within Americans in 1840 with the following quote:
“Americans are a peculiar people…If, in a local community, a citizen becomes aware of a human need that is not met; he thereupon discusses the situation with his neighbors. Suddenly a committee comes into existence. The committee thereupon begins to operate on behalf of the need, and a new community function is established. It is like watching a miracle.”
In today’s America, which is filled with political vitriol and division, we seem as far away from the idea of neighbors helping neighbors as we are from the year 1840.
However, self-interest and division were also as far away as 1840 when, earlier this month, leaders from the organizations that currently make up the Global Leadership Forum (BDPA, BWISE, Career Communications Group, Information Technology Senior Management Forum, National Academy Foundation, and NPower) gathered in St. Louis, MO, for a day-long think tank/workshop session.
The business at hand was to come together as a group to collectively determine how best to go about accomplishing what Mr. de Tocqueville mused about Americans from his journeys: How do we deliberately and methodically work together to achieve greater results than we can individually?
The idea is easily comprehensible. If you have ever played or watched team sports, it is a beautiful thing when you witness a group of individuals that have a game plan, everyone understands their role within the plan, and then they all go out and execute that plan; it has been proven time and again that a team operating under that premise has a greater chance at winning, regardless of the odds. A few great upsets come to mind, where highly overmatched and underestimated teams overcame great odds to win.
• The New York Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in 1969.
• The USA won the gold medal over the Soviets in ice hockey at the 1980 Olympics.
• The Villanova Wildcats men’s basketball team defeated the mighty Georgetown Hoyas to win the 1985 NCAA Championship.
There are many more examples, but if you witnessed any of these victories, you saw how working as one cohesive unit can overcome some of the greatest odds.
Some would say you witnessed miracles. My question is, were these REALLY upsets or miracles? Or was it the result of having a great game plan, everyone understanding the common goal, and all the players doing their part of achieving the desired outcome?
While the idea of working collaboratively to solve complex social problems and create sustainable change is easily comprehensible, it is far from easy to achieve. Because these problems affect us all, so too are the solutions all of ours to define and implement.
Regardless of which perspective you view the social problems that plague our communities from—business, public policy, education, nonprofit, or concerned citizen—creating economic opportunities for all works in all our best interests.
For that reason, these great leaders came together this month to start the necessary process of creating a cross-sector coalition that can make repeatable, lasting change more than just a dream but a reality.
By coming together to put in the work required to craft the plan, develop the roles and responsibilities, ensure the right players are on the team, and define the goals and help each other execute them, this team is stating that we are not waiting and hoping for miracles.
This team is stating that we are prepared to lead boldly and to create the desired future state for the individuals and communities we serve. Those early Americans that Mr. de Tocqueville observed as a peculiar bunch did not wait for miracles to happen. They came together and made the miracles!