At one of my stops in my career, I was in charge of a major project. Senior management brought in someone else to “co-lead.” I was sick of senior management not appreciating everything that I had done. I wanted out of the project.

One day, a Vice President sat me down for an one-on-one and said, “Alice, I grew up with all brothers.”
I replied “OK.”
He said, “We would fight over dinner but at the end we were brothers”
“OK.” I am puzzled and thinking what the heck does this have to do with me.
Then, he continued, “I went to work as a construction worker. You know what we did?”
“We dropped f-bombs at each other and then went out for beers after work.”
“OK, I am now not understanding where you are going with this.”
“The point is Alice is that you must learn to work with people who are not like you. I am most likely not going to change. Many people are not going to change. You need to learn how to manage people who do not have the same background or the same upbringing. When you figure that out, you will know how to manage and how to lead.”

I thought, “whoa, he’s right.” I come from a very middle class suburban home of two federal government workers outside of Washington, DC. I am in California with people who come from a very diverse set of experiences. If I can reach people in their spaces, I can influence and get the projects done.

Interesting, later that day when I repeated the conversation to a colleague, he said “Girl, you are high maintenance.” I laughed as I realized that I am starting my lessons already. I need explanations and others do not care.

That conversation changed my career path. In fact, I became extremely good friends with the “co-lead”and have led many successful projects.

So we discuss diversity in many ways in this country. But we are more different than we think. We need to learn how to communicate by dropping our assumptions and figuring how to reach each individual. Not only will the project have a greater probability of success, that person will also be motivated to do the best s/he can.

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