Four, almost five years ago, Proposition 8, the great marriage equality debate, was raising a lot of dust around this country. And, at the time, getting married wasn’t really something I’d spent a lot of time thinking about, but I was struck by the fact that America, a country with such a tarnished civil rights record, could be repeating its mistakes so blatantly…
And this powerful awareness rolled in over me that I was a minority, and in my own home country, based on one facet of my character. I was legally and indisputably, a second-class citizen.
I was not an activist. I waved no flags in my own life. But I was plagued by this question: How could anyone vote to strip the rights of the vast variety of people that I knew, based on one element of their character? How could they say that we as a group were not as deserving of equal rights as somebody else?
Were we even a group? What group? And had these people even ever consciously met a victim of the discrimination? Did they know who they were voting against and what the impact was?
And then it occurred to me. Perhaps if they could look into the eyes of the people that they were casting into second-class citizenship, it might make it harder for them to do. It might give them pause.
Obviously, I couldn’t get 20 million people to the same dinner party, so I I figured out a way where I could introduce them to each other photographically — without any artifice, without any lighting, or any manipulation of any kind on my part. Because in a photograph, you can examine a lion’s whiskers without the fear of him ripping your face off.
For me, photography is not just about exposing film, it’s about exposing the viewer. To something new; a place they haven’t gone before; but — most importantly — to people they might be afraid of.
TEDxCentennialParkWomen — Photo by lorikay Photography
In the last two years, I have learned more about leadership through leading groups of volunteers than during my entire 20-year corporate career. Leading volunteer teams is a humbling experience from which any leader can benefit. As the workplaces of the future move from command and control hierarchies to networks of alliances within and outside organizations, these sort of experiences help us develop the traits each of us need to learn to lead in the future.
On Dec 1, I was part of an all-volunteer team that pulled off a TEDxWomen event called TEDxCentennialParkWomen. Within three months, we did our legal set-up, curated nine amazing speakers, found sponsors, venue, created a website, brand identity, marketing, PR, social media platforms, concluding with our inaugural event launch with about 100 people participating. We didn’t charge for tickets. Team members had not worked together before. They had full-time jobs, businesses, families. Most of our meetings were virtual. No one was paid to do anything. Were we all on drugs? If so, I’ll bet some companies want that prescription!
Here are the 5 leadership lessons I learned from this experience:
1) Organizations must serve individuals – For true engagement to happen, leaders must find a way to help people achieve their personal goals through the organization. Some volunteers jumped in because they saw the opportunity to express their own beliefs through our mission (“to educate, inspire, and empower women in all aspects of their lives”). Some jumped in because they saw this as a way to learn new skills, to express their strengths, to get exposure, to make new friends, connections, and contacts. Not everyone’s motivation was the same. I needed to understand each individual’s motivation and find a way for the organization to fulfill it. This is a flip of the assumption I had in corporate America: People (including me) are here to serve the organization. We need both for engagement to happen.