In April 2018, I became CEO of National Able Network and I had a long time to think about my priorities. My predecessor, Grace Powers, had announced her retirement almost a full year earlier and prepared me to be her successor. I knew I wanted to lead the National Able Network team through equity, but I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant. I also knew I would need our front-line leaders on board, so I brought our entire management team to Chicago to share my priorities and get their buy-in.
About a month before the leadership seminar, I happened to see Dr. Janice Jackson, the new Chicago Public Schools CEO at the Chicago Club. She shared a sentiment that stuck with me for that entire month, and still has never left me: “Talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not.”
It rang true for students, but also for the job seekers we serve at National Able Network. I thought of all the times I had personally worked with a job seeker who had a non-traditional education and had dropped out of college to take care of a sick family member; or a skilled career changer without a strong professional network; or the thousands of people in dead-end, low paying jobs trying to find a career path that could sustain their family.
I decided to weave this sentiment into the entire framework for the weeklong management and leadership meeting. I opened with my vision and strongly emphasized Dr. Jackson’s line (footnoted of course). It was a wonderful week, with lots of great opportunities to hear from my leadership team and set the tone for our work.
A month later the entire management team took the IDI. Most of the leadership team lived in the minimization category, which is the same place I found myself four years earlier. We talked about how minimization isn’t a bad place to live, because it can be a very effective way to build bridges. However, to truly bring out the best of our team, we needed to develop our cross-cultural agility to adapt our leadership style to the individual members of our team. The critical point I tried to make was that diverse, well-managed teams outperform non-diverse teams. I knew we had a diverse staff at Able, and I wanted to ensure the team had the leaders they deserved.