1. They are change adaptive
2. They are willing to put relationships at risk
3. They are comfortable being judgmental
Change adaptive people understand that all change involves loss. Good or bad, change is a process of identifying and coming to terms with the give-ups that accompany the gains implicit in any change (even if the gains involve simply holding on to what you’ve got). The pace of change, in our time, is not only brutally fast (and continuing to accelerate), it is forcing a lowering of expectations, at all levels of the culture, that most people alive today, have never experienced. I cannot remember a time when I have seen so many people, from so many different walks of life and socioeconomic strata, consciously lowering their expectations and re-ordering their priorities.
If this is what people believe who “get it,” how do we know when people are not “getting it?” This is critical information in building a culture that will not only survive this economic crisis, but will thrive in its aftermath. There are a number of criteria which I have come to call “The Big Three.” When the following behaviors are being exhibited, people aren’t getting it:
1. You change the way you are, when you’re around someone
2. You give people feedback and they tell you why you’re wrong
3. You have the same conversation over and over and over again
If you feel like you can’t be yourself around a person you work with, and you need them to make some changes in what they’re doing, there’s a misconnect between how they see themselves and how the prevailing culture sees them. And this usually means that an unacknowledged special deal has been struck, which is destructive for everyone involved, and for the company as a whole.
There are no “minority groups” in America. There are only groups that have succeeded and there are groups that have failed. If we truly had “minority groups,” we’d have affirmative action programs for Orthodox Jews – that’s a true minority.
The model for success in our culture has always been, and continues to be set, by middle and upper middle class white folks. If you want to be successful, you act like them, or you learn how to deal with them.
Maintaining your “cultural integrity” is the road to poverty. As in business, staying the way you’ve always been will guarantee you what you’ve always gotten. Culture is an evolving concept, dominated by change.
If you want to succeed, you better know the difference between values and rituals. Values are time immemorial principles that speak to the kind of world that one wants to live in. They are culturally neutral, people neutral, and situationally neutral. They apply to everyone and everything, and can evolve out of a myriad of backgrounds and cultures. Rituals are habits and learned behaviors that fit a specific time and place, and bring certain predictability to everyday life.
Success is all about assimilation; and assimilation is a prolonged process of loss. It is a loss of the rituals we grew up with; the habits that gave us great comfort because of their familiarity. It is not, and should never be, a loss of core values. It is, in fact, a discovery of those values in a context that, initially, may seem foreign and strange. Any society that has effectively shared its benefits with the majority of its citizens has required assimilation to a clearly understood norm. Whether or not we recognize it, that’s what we mean when we refer to the United States as a “melting pot.” Those societies that have failed to provide for their people (and have, in fact, brutalized and dehumanized them) are uniformly committed to segmentation and tribalism. You don’t need to be a cultural anthropologist to see this.
Successful people understand, mostly on an intuitive level, how to grieve. And they have integrated the grieving process into the repertoire of their skill sets. They long ago realized that to gain the benefits of the society they find themselves in, they would have to pay a price – they would have to sustain some losses. Over the course of three decades, I have worked with many successful African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and other “minorities.” To a person, they have all had to identify and decide to leave behind parts of who they were, in order to become who they would like to be.
“Minorities” have struggled and continue to struggle in business, because they choose to hold onto habits, mannerisms, and ritualized behaviors that either puzzle or offend customers and clients. I have worked for many years with managers, executives, and business owners, in a myriad of industries, from Fortune 50 companies to family businesses of twenty people. And during those years, in hundreds of organizations, I have come across a handful of true bigots – individuals who discounted and dismissed people because of their race, gender, religion, or ethnicity. The rest were quite willing to give all comers the opportunity, given their willingness to act in a manner that was compatible with the values, norms, and language of the organization and its clientele. These employers didn’t always like everyone they hired, nor did they want to be their best friends. But they were willing to invest time, money, and other resources in their training and development. And after this investment, the return has been and continues to be, predominantly disappointing and poor. The vast majority of “minority” individuals who go thru this process choose not to use what they were taught, or go right out and use it in a manner that puts off the clientele.
My grandfather was an Orthodox Jew. He went to temple every morning before he caught the bus to go to his job in the center of the city. His religion infused his life. He and my grandmother respected and observed the Sabbath, kept a kosher home, and lived a very modest life. He never learned how to drive, and never desired to own a car. He spoke English at work and to his grandchildren, but he was most comfortable speaking Yiddish. He saw much horror in his youth and experienced much loss and suffering in his life. And he never remembered a time when there wasn’t a virulent anti-Semitism.
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