“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our ability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.”

Audre Lorde

Good sports coaches understand that maximum success requires fully leveraging and utilizing every player’s full range of talents. Each player has a different and unique skill set. The challenge is recognizing, analyzing, encouraging, developing, and utilizing that broad talent set for maximum team results. 

This principle was reinforced by one of my coaches at Davidson, Dave Pritchett. He often spoke of coaching the team “from the 13th player up.” He paid more attention to the last guy on the bench than he did the best player. He understood that to maximize team performance, each team member was essential, regardless of how much playing time they received.

I had a unique view of this principle. My oldest brother, Greg, also played basketball at Davidson. While I was considered the best player on my team, Greg was the last guy on the bench on his. Our experiences were quite different. We both contributed to our team, albeit in different, unique ways. Regardless, we both loved playing basketball for Davidson College. Greg’s experience gave me an appreciation for how every player on a team or every employee of a company has an important role to play and that maximizing team or company performance depends on everyone fulfilling their individual roles to the best of their ability.

 It’s like a tasty Louisiana gumbo. You will not create a good, thick, spicy gumbo using only two ingredients. Gumbo requires many spices complimenting each other and coming together to create a great taste. Another example is your neighborhood. A broad cross-section of people with different interests, backgrounds, and talents creates a more interesting and dynamic neighborhood. As with a basketball team, gumbo, a business, a non-profit organization, neighborhood, community, or country, a diverse whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

This makes sense. If you spend all your time with people who look like you and have had similar life experiences and, thus, tend to think like you, your growth potential, whether personal or as a business, will be limited. If you surround yourself with like-minded people, you are not as likely to be challenged in your beliefs or ideas and, as a result, have less opportunity to learn and grow. If everyone thinks the same way, the thinking of the collective will become narrow and ultimately ineffective in our increasingly complex and diverse economy, society, and world community. Not to mention how boring life would be if everyone were the same. 

“It is time parents teach young people early on that in diversity, there is beauty, and there is strength.” Maya Angelou wrote that.

Enough said.

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