Find your North Star

In my diversity work I use the analogy of the North Star, a lot. I even run a Diversity workshop for leaders on finding their North Star.

So what’s the connection between stars and leadership in a diverse environment? (Read “leadership” loosely here. Anyone with a vision welcome!)

Stars—including the North Star—are a lifetime away from most of us here on earth. Many are old, much older than the earth. As a matter of fact, at 14.3 billion years old the Methuselah star is older than the universe! As for the North Star Polaris, it takes light 680 years, I’m told, to travel from there to the earth.

Here’s the thing about stars: They draw you upwards. Gazing at them opens vistas of possible worlds beyond the one we live in. They challenge us to maximize our learning and technology in the quest to disembark on one of them.

And even when rationally we know the spacecraft we launch today, even if we live to be 100 years old, will still be travelling when we close our eyes, we still take flight because we know we are setting in motion an event that will be celebrated generations hence.

We do it, in the words of John F. Kennedy as he challenged his country to the space race, not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.

I’m a Leader, Not a Star-Struck Dreamer

I hear the practical, and yet, whether searching for other worlds to conquer, the cure for cancer, or World Peace, has there ever been a human quest for better that did not begin with a dreamer?

A leader’s Diversity North Star is that thing that draws them onwards, upwards, beckoning them to push through the obstacles, the setbacks, the challenges of creating inclusive, antiracist organizations where regardless of background and make-up people find their place. The North Star twinkles on clear nights and goes into hiding on cloudy ones. But we know its still there.

It takes more than tactical interventions to achieve a state where honest conversations are happening about gender identity; where the challenges of generational diversity are taken seriously; where leaders won’t get pushback when they propose a different Way; where BIPOC clients and constituents say they both feel and experience the reality of respect and inclusion; where the numbers tell the tale.

It takes a North Star that reminds the leader that yes, this is worth pursuing.

Increasing the Odds

So how does a leader increase the odds—impossible as they may seem—of true equity, inclusion, antiracism and belonging becoming their organization’s hallmark?

Here are 3 things to keep in mind in pursuit of your Star:

  1. The real challenge is not always the obvious challenge: and the real solution is not always the obvious solution. So, probe even the obvious. Check it for validity.
  2. The real question leads to the real solution. Resist the temptation to ask easy questions. Interrogate the status quo. It takes courage, but courage is the hallmark of the leader who changes their world. 
  3. Don’t go it alone. Think of your organization as a bridge. The leadership table is the deck people walk on. But the deckneeds the support of the pillars—the middle managers; the supervisors; the team leads; the forepeople; the whole apparatus that connects the deck to the foundation. The foundation is where the organization’s life touches that of its constituents; its clients; its customers. The foundation is not second thought: it’s what anchors the bridge. 

Finally, a little sustenance for the journey to your North Star:

  1. Reference or re-frame your Diversity vision statement as your North Star
  2. Keep a symbol of your North Star visibleand accessible to all
  3. Erect—and celebrate—personal and organizational milestones of the journey

Your organization may never in your lifetime reach its North Star…but it will certainly lose its way without it!

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