Unsolicited Advice for Obama’s Gay Speech

October 6, 2009
The President is delivering the keynote address for the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Washington dinner. The context includes frustration in the gay community for his mixed signals on reforming policies such as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. He and his team have also surprised observers by their lack of demonstrated grace on the issue of gay rights.  My suggestions for getting it right Saturday night:
  1. Assume a high sensitivity to trivializing the issues. Keep it sober, earnest, honest, direct.
  2. We don’t believe you when you say you’re outsourcing this one to the Bible.
  3. Gays in the military is not a hypothetical issue. Gay soldiers are now serving and dying for America. You are their Commander-in-Chief.
  4. This is about identity, not lifestyle or sex. Convince yourself of that before you take the podium.
  5. Serious scholars think your political hero was probably a homosexual.
  6. There are dangers to over-learning the lessons of the Clinton administration (see over-correction on healthcare strategy). The don’t-waste-your-political-capital advice is obsolete.
  7. Not to alarm you, but the crazy thing about us is that we’re everywhere and nowhere. We’re safely in that “other” camp, and then suddenly we’re your colleagues and your spouses and your children. Just ask Dick.
  8. Tell it to us straight, if you will. We’re very good at separating posture from truth. It’s one of the closet’s many gifts.
  9. Courage and caution can’t coexist for long.
  10. Lose the Blackberry holster. A fashion don’t.
  11. Bring Michelle.
  12. Man up.

Ellen DeGeneres on Truth

May 29, 2009

In a continuation of our series on commencement speeches, I wanted to share Ellen DeGeneres’s address to the “Katrina Class” at Tulane University this year.  DeGeneres is funny and playful, very funny at times, like when she reveals that she never attended college: “I’m not saying you wasted your time and money, but look at me, I’m a HUGE celebrity.”

She also talks about the costs and gifts of adversity, including her experience coming out as a gay performer. DeGeneres made a very deliberate choice to walk away from shame and fear, a choice that came at the price of her immediate career. For years she was considered untouchable by the Hollywood community. She spent this period learning to live without apology, and by the end of it she “had a purpose.” And a wildly successful talk show. And access to an extraordinary platform for impact.

Unsolicited Advice for Rick Warren

January 2, 2009

Obama and Warren

  1. Your generosity of spirit betrays your divisive posturing — be who you are.
  2. We all have small and large versions of ourselves. Rise to the size of your growing platform.
  3. Eat right and exercise. You can be a righteous force in the world if you stick around for a while.
  4. Love your neighbor as yourself.
  5. I am a gay woman, with a wife and child to protect from the politics of fear you used to undermine my family’s citizenship and dignity — and even I respond to your core decency. There’s something there.
  6. Make my son proud to be part of your America on January 20th.
  7. Believe the hype — the world is hanging on your words right now. We will move on, but you have our attention for the moment. Honor it.
  8. Do not bear false witness. Unless you really can’t distinguish between gay marriage and pedophilia, this one may be the most helpful.
  9. Gay people don’t eat donuts. Consider building bridges with scones next time, maybe a nice fruit plate, cocktails.
  10. Ask yourself what would Jesus do.

Improvement at Toyota

January 1, 2009

An article on Toyota recently caught my attention. The article discussed how even non-US auto manufactures were cutting back production in the US, and the notable part to me was not the decrease in consumer demand but what Toyota was doing with its newly idle workforce. An accompanying picture showed a makeshift training room set up inside an assembly plant. The article described the training topics, ranging from how to handle tools safely to how to get along better with colleagues of varying backgrounds. Toyota is well known for many management practices – the humility with which it reacts to opportunity for improvement is my favorite. Not only does the company try to surface problems wherever it can (through its “andon cord” on the assembly line), but it also understands that idle time today can be leveraged for improvement tomorrow.  A lesson for all organizations, not just its US counterparts.

And then there’s the topics of its training session. Handling tools safely is unsurprising, but I was struck by working more effectively in an increasingly diverse environment.  It’s another sign of the humility inherent in the organization.  It is designed to systematically understand the obstacles to improvement and to as systemically address them in order to unlock future performance.

Improvement at Toyota: Response

January 1, 2009

I was encouraged that managing workforce diversity found itself sandwiched on a list of training topics, somewhere between improved ergonomics and quality control. It was refreshing to see a company casually dignify the challenge as an operational reality and driver of future performance, not a historic wrong that must be righted while also making fuel-efficient cars. As some of your colleagues at HBS have argued gracefully, including Robin Ely and David Thomas, separating diversity from the central challenge of running a business can be counterproductive.

In my own experience, when a diverse, integrated workforce is treated as a company’s social responsibility, at best, it makes people feel good.  At worst, it fosters resentment and insecurity. But when diversity is treated as a competitive advantage, it becomes just that — now more than ever, as the markets for customers and talent become increasingly global. Toyota’s signaling was clear: diversity is as important and unemotional as reducing dashboard defects.