Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dr. Betances: "You Can't Lead if You Don't Read"

How important is reading?
Ask Dr. Samuel Betances, diversity advisor to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, and three U.S. presidents...Betances, who conducted "Strengthening the Navy Through Diversity" training for nearly 1,000 people at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Oct. 13-15, talks about the power of books...and words...and mentors...and, most importantly, diversity.
The cover of Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough's book John Adams flashes on the screen early in one of Dr. B's training, along with this quote from Adams:
"Freedom is a wonderful thing, provided you have the courage to defend it."

So there it is, plain and simple. Diversity is freedom...

* Freedom from discrimination, from harassment and from a hostile workplace.

* Freedom for an equal opportunity to achieve.

* Freedom to be respected.

Two books about respect that Dr. Betances recommends:
Back off by Martha Langelan and Diversity Toolkit by William Sonnenschein.

In his training, Dr. Betances shares his personal journey from high school dropout to educated scholar with two post-graduate degrees from Harvard University, consultant to two U.S. presidents.

His education started with a caring mentor who had the courage to confront him and say, "It's not intelligence you lack; you don't have enough words."

As Dr. Betances points out, people in poverty use an average of 1,500 words. People in the middle class, especially those who were read to as children, use 3,500 words.

In order to succeed, one must read...

As a very young man, Betances was encouraged to read "the literature of resiliency" - the memoirs of others who faced difficulties: people in death camps, under slavery or in relocation camps.

Two books he says changed him forever:
The Narrative of an American Slave by Frederick Douglass ("a book to share with your entire family") and Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.

These books opened his mind and helped him sharpen his critical thinking.

As a better thinker he is able to recognize cultural shifts, discard faulty assumptions and recognize not only the letter of the law but also the spirit of the law.

By the way, that's the difference between equal opportunity and diversity, according to Dr. B.
EO is the law; diversity is the spirit of the law.
It's not good enough to enforce laws against illegal discrimination; we must actively prevent legal discrimination, where members of a preferred group are included in a so-called "circle of trust," to which outsiders are not welcome.

Are there good and bad Circles of Trust?

As Dr. Betances points out, studies revealed in the works of
Malcolm Gladwell (author of Blink, Tipping Point and, especially, Outliers) prove that those who are included in a group - for whatever reason - are
more likely to succeed.

Those who are included and made to feel welcome in an organization will succeed.

Those who get informal coaching in a complex organization like the Navy are better equipped to retain what they learn in a classroom.

And, "If your organization is complex," says Betances, "you need diversity."

As part of his training, Dr. B. plays a
CSPAN clip of The Director of National Intelligence, Retired Adm. Dennis Blair, former Commander in Chief of U.S. Pacific Command.

Admiral Blair recognizes the benefits of "being as diverse as possible so that we can better understand people around the world."

Such thinking should be intuitive, and intuition is often undervalued. So says Malcolm Gladwell in

Gladwell is mandatory reading at the
Naval Academy, under the leadership of Vice Adm. Jeff Fowler.

This year the Naval Academy has achieved record-breaking numbers of minority accessions - more than one-third of the class of 2013. The people who have the biggest advantage at the academy, according to Betances, are the children of military families, regardless of gender, economic background or other factors.


Because those children from military families are part of a greater, wider circle of trust; they are made to feel welcome in the organization. They get the informal coaching and mentoring and one-on-one time with experienced people who care.

"We increase our cultural competencies in informal networks," says Betances. And cultural competencies are keys to success.

Want your child to succeed?

In a sidebar discussion between training sessions, Dr. Betances shared this advice: "Have your son or daughter become a tutor. Have them teach someone. The person they help will leapfrog forward, and the tutor, your son or daughter, will catapult to the front."

Dr. Betances: "You can only keep what you give away."

Back to books...

Is that one of the hidden benefits of reading, that books - often freely available, filled with insights and ready to teach us - can be our mentors?

(I'll have to read more about that...)

Other books discussed or recommended by Dr. B.:

The Nature of Prejudice by Gordon Allport

The Disuniting of America by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

Making the Impossible Possible by Bill Strickland

Shattered Sword by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully

Women in the Military by Maj. Gen. Jeanne Holm, ret.

Future Think by Edie Weiner and Arnold Brown

Go For Broke by C. Douglas Sterner

Rising Sons by Bill Yenne

Women Pilots of World War II by Jean Hascall Cole

Reel Bad Arabs by Jack G. Shaheen

The Other Face of America by Jorge Ramos

Our Separate Ways by Ella LJ Edmondson Bell and Stella M. Nkomo

Cane Fires by Gary Y. Okihiro

Leading from the Front by Angie Morgan and Courtney Lynch

The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman

Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman

Ten Steps to the Head of the Class by Samuel Betances

How important is reading?

"If you don't read, you can't lead."

Navy Reading Program recommends titles tailored to various levels of leadership.