This year has proven to be challenging. I have been presented with opportunities to stand up for the ethics and values I have been taught my entire life. Our communities – whether those be defined by race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or a rural-urban divide – are often passionate about our deeply rooted beliefs, which often may lead to differences of opinion.
I understand we do not all share or prioritize the same values, but we can have high expectations of others to respect the diversity of our communities and work to make inclusion more than just words on paper. Not because it’s the legal thing to do, but because it is the right thing to do.
Doing the right thing and calling attention to the fact that others fail to see how their actions and tone negatively impact others is often hard, difficult, and intimidating. I have been told I’ve shown integrity by standing up for the things I care about and I hope I can continue to represent those who feel they are not in a position to speak up. Progress only happens when we are willing to collaboratively work to address differences and find solutions in common ground to ensure we can be stronger together.
Earlier this year, I left a job that I absolutely loved because I could no longer support the values of the organization. I loved the work that I was doing and the members of the beef community I worked for and with across the country on a daily basis. But at the end of the day, I hope my leaving says more than staying and continuing to represent something I cannot support.
For over a decade, I worked to build a reputation and personal brand, networking and learning to a point where I was able to work for an organization my family has been members of for my entire life from the local grassroots, state and national levels. But when leadership no longer responds to concerns raised by members, stakeholders and staff, it is time to part ways.
A public forum, such as this post, likely is not an appropriate place to share all of the details, but I will share a few lessons I learned that led to my decision to face unemployment and a change in my career path in the middle of a pandemic.
Diversity and Inclusion
If you write a list of values in 2020 and diversity, equality, and inclusion don’t appear top of mind, we need to have a conversation. To be a true leader, we must recognize and value diversity for its contributions to success and progress. There is no room for discrimination or degrading other humans because of our personal or political ideals.
The goal is not to be color blind. Instead, let’s acknowledge, recognize, and respect the diversity – in the most holistic meaning of the term – that surrounds us so everyone can feel welcomed to have pride in who they are and be enabled to make even greater contributions to our workplaces, industries and communities.
Diversity here should be referenced in the broadest definition of the term, including the need to address discrimination based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, political beliefs and professional experiences. When someone brings concerns to you about diversity and inclusion, “Yeah, legally we have to,” is not an appropriate response.
I recently heard DNI defined as, “Diversity is counting every person in the room. Inclusion is making every person in the room count.” It’s one thing to have people of diverse representations in the room, it’s another to recognize their contributions. Diversity makes us stronger and better when we work together to create new, progressive ideas. Isolating ourselves with only likeminded people does nothing toward progress.
We should respect other people who think differently than we do. It is ok to disagree, but we should respect others, especially when we are in positions of leadership representing people other than ourselves.
Establishing a culture where it is not only acceptable but encouraged to disrespect those who you disagree with is not leadership. Making racially-insensitive jokes about congressional representatives is not leadership. Seeing those jokes make it to your organization’s public Twitter feed is embarrassing. Making it ok to call your peers “fucking children” in emails and seeing screenshots of those emails released is concerning.
Mocking your industry stakeholders through internal memos and staff meetings is not leadership. I don’t care if they’re not dues-paying members. If they still financially contribute to your organization because you represent their product through your branding, you owe them a certain level of professionalism and respect.
You can’t dictate culture, but you can influence it.
At the end of the day, I found that the culture of the organization and its leadership directly contrasted my work – ironically representing the organization across the country – training our community members to be respectful, stronger communicators and advocates. Some have passed off my concerns saying a new CEO has the right to change things as he sees fit. But at the end of the day, I can sleep better knowing I’ve stood up for what is right.
I am so very happy to have found a new home ranching in northern Colorado on a Red Angus seedstock and feedlot operation. And I am even more thankful to be working with a family who respects my values and supports my contributions to our industry.
My work helping others to be stronger advocates, leaders, and communicators continues as a freelancer. If you or your organization is looking for help with advocacy or communications projects, speakers, or workshops, please connect with me. Afterall, this is 2020 and virtual meetings have become a useful tool.
Lead with professionalism and by example. Have high expectations of those around you. Demand even more of yourself.James Decker
We should all work together to be stronger communicators, be accepting of constructive criticism, and work harder to make our community more inclusive of everyone no matter their background, experience, gender, race, orientation, religion, or perspectives. Diversity leads to greater things and we should celebrate those contributions. It doesn’t matter if you wear dusty boots or polished office shoes, we all have a responsibility to lead by example. Because it’s the right thing to do.