“I don’t care if you like each other or not, but you will respect each other…”
– Denzel Washington (from the movie “Remember the Titans”)

I haven’t seen a lot of leadership articles or blogs about the National Football League protests, and it’s simply too important of an issue not to address; this has a diversity issue, which automatically makes it a leadership issue! I think many people are afraid to approach this issue because it seems to have turned into a racial issue. However, leaders must face it. Leaders cannot pretend the issue does not exist. This article will point out four ways all leaders can face diversity head-on.

In case you haven’t heard about the NFL protest, let me get you up to date. Last year, several players in the NFL started kneeling during the National Anthem, as a way of quietly protesting police brutality towards minorities. This created a controversial issue with two distinct ‘sides.’ On one ‘side’ people are saying it’s their constitutional right to kneel during the National Anthem; on the other ‘side’ people are saying the kneeling is disrespectful towards the flag and country. Both sides have a legitimate point!

Last week, President Trump’s remarks escalated the protests when he made a statement that basically challenged NFL team owners to fire anybody who kneels during the National Anthem. That spurned the NFL to unite together; this past week, most teams locked arms, and approximately 200 players knelt during the playing of the National Anthem. Some teams didn’t even go on the field for the anthem.

Well, what started out as a quiet protest has turned into a huge issue… a diversity issue and leaders need to rise to the occasion and lead the way. I’d like to point out a few observations.

First, freedom of speech is a constitutional right, and kneeling during the playing of the national anthem seems harmless. However, many people find it to be utterly disrespectful. Is kneeling helping the cause and creating a positive action or creating more anger? From my point of view, it seems to be having a negative impact.

Second, I have always considered the National Anthem as a time for people to unite together, stand together in silence or sing along, and to show our patriotism, not to divide people. I can’t help but wonder if kneeling is really a way to unite people to bring about positive change for a cause.

Third, as Americans, we have many rights we take for granted. When carrying out a ‘right’ creates a perspective of disrespect towards something, I wonder if it’s really the right thing to do. Can an action that many people view as disrespectful create positive change, or will it only lead to more disrespectfulness?

Something that is considered disrespectful will unlikely create respectful behavior in return. In much the same way, hatred behavior is unlikely to create loving behavior in return. Disrespectfulness and hatred will only create more disrespect and hatefulness. Positive actions, open discussions, and respectful behavior, however, all have the potential to unite people and resolve a multitude of issues.

I served 26 years in the United States Air Force, and whenever we had issues arise that had multiple viewpoints, we would turn to the Air Force Core Values of Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do. We would settle matters based on those core values; they were our guide to resolve difficult decisions and differences of opinions.

Of course, as a military Veteran, I will always stand, salute, and respect the flag during the playing of our National Anthem. The anthem is much more than a song to me; it is a way of remembering all the service members who have served during our nation’s history, and to pay tribute to all the men & women who are currently serving.

Every time I listen to the National Anthem, I still get ‘goosebumps’ because I think of how our country’s history, and of all the people who are sacrificing so much to still fight for our freedoms. I remember all the places I have seen our flag flying high, and how uplifting that always is. It has always been a motivational symbol to me; a symbol of freedom, diversity, resiliency, and victory. It has always been a symbol of hope!

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that we should “not judge a person by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” How are you developing the content of your character when you hear the National Anthem? How do your people see the content of your character whenever a diversity issue arises? Do you avoid the situation or do you Run To Your Challenge? Do you face it head on or do you dodge it and pass it to somebody else? Are you continuously developing solutions or are you feeding the problem?

Here are four ways all leaders can handle diversity every day:

Openly Discuss Diversity Issues

As a leader, your people continuously have questions about how to react to certain situations. Don’t be afraid to openly discuss diversity issues. If you decide to not openly discuss, your people will discuss in private, and that can lead to a much bigger mess and division within your team. Don’t be afraid of your diversity issues; unite your people by openly discussing your differences. Leaders who can openly discuss differences can also celebrate those differences and reap the benefits.

Embrace Diversity

Leaders can embrace diversity by utilizing all the differences in a way that will boost overall productivity. Every person in your company brings unique perspectives and skills to the team. The more the leader embraces these differences, the more likely other team members will as well. Differences of perspectives open the doors for great opportunities because you no longer live in a one-minded work center.


Diversity will always create differences; however, leaders must be consistent in the way they handle situations by displaying a positive attitude. Just like my example of the Air Force Core Values, leaders need a set of core values to fall back on when things get challenging. If your company has a set of core values, be sure to utilize them for consistency when making decisions. A consistently positive attitude will go a long way in building team unity, and a leader’s attitude has a way of directly trickling down to his/her people. Ensure your attitude is consistently positive… even when facing difficult challenges. Find the positive outcomes in everything.

Respect Everyone

This article started out with one of my favorite diversity quotes from one of my favorite movies. If you haven’t seen the movie Remember the Titans, I challenge you to watch it; if you have seen it, I challenge you to watch it again. Learn from it; watch how Coach Boone orchestrates diversity in a way that demands respect. Without respect, there will never be strong team relationships. Leaders must demand respectful behavior from every member of their team… and it starts with you. You must show respect to your people… lead by ‘the right’ example.

The bottom line is diversity is a leadership issue that will never go away because we will always have differences. Leaders must discuss and embrace diversity issues. Leaders need to consistently act according to company core values and policies and have a positive attitude. Leaders should demand respectful behavior from every person on their team, but must first respect all their people. By continuously building the content of your character you will naturally respect others. Take a stand for what you believe in with positive action and solutions. Run to your diversity challenges every day because they are too important not to.

“Run to Your Challenges… to Achieve Greatness & Stand Out Among Leaders!”

For more Leadership blogs, consulting, speaking and coaching opportunities visit RunToYourChallenges.com

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Originally published at www.currentleadershipcoaching.com


  • Paul Grau Jr.

    Head Coach | Host of 'Run To Your Leadership Challenges' Podcast

    Current Leadership Coaching, LLC.

    Paul works with all leaders but loves working with mid-level & team leaders to help them be the best leaders they can be so their entire team thrives. Paul transforms dysfunctional teams into thriving teams that communicate effectively, have high morale, and maximum productivity, with little to no conflict. Call Paul today so you and your team of leaders can Run To Your Challenges together. Listen to the 3-5 minute podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Alexa, Stitcher, iHeartRADIO, Google and SoundCloud. “Run To Your Challenges”