5 Leadership Lessons From The Black Panther

I saw Black Panther three times last week and each time I saw it, I not only gained something new, I felt an enormous sense of pride. Why did I feel this pride? Well because the more I write, speak, podcast and consult with companies and educational institutions, the more people I meet and the more I'm struck by how many people long to see themselves in stories. To see their identities and perspectives—their avatars—on the screen or in pages. They talk about not just being issues or think pieces to be addressed or icons for social commentary. They talk about their desire to simply be seen as people and heroes who get to do cool things in amazing worlds. I can’t really explain it but it's a beautiful experience to find yourself on the pages and screens of an entertainment channel. It’s uh...what’s the word?

Magical!

When you experience this as a storyteller, you quickly realize that you have tremendous power and potential to literally empower people who have for many years felt like they didn’t exist because their histories have been erased. You realize that you have the power to celebrate humanity in such a beautiful and inclusive way. The great thing about this realization is that it’s accessible to ALL of us if we decide to act, advocate and support.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with pride, as a Nigerian, I got to see my continent represented on the big screen and not in a patronizing way. I have waited for this day for a long time and in many ways, I didn’t realize how much I needed it. Hope you go see Black Panther and celebrate Wakanda pride. At its core, it’s a story about the human experience, embracing your identity and finding your place in the world today. I often say use your DIFFERENCE to make a DIFFERENCE and I found this brilliantly told story had so many themes that we can all relate to as change-makers.  Here are some of the lessons that I peeled from the movie.

WARNING: SPOILERS ARE REVEALED IN THIS POST SO IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIE, DON'T PROCEED.

Character

Let's start of with what the movie teaches us about having character. There’s a scene where Chadwick Boseman’s character T’Challa asks his father T’Chaka for advice on how to be a good ruler and his father’s response to this is “you are a good man with a good heart. And it's hard for a good man to be king.” That struck me because it isn’t something I believe in. Frankly, it’s something I’ve never believed in. I grew up in two military dictatorships and I have always despised the narrative that you couldn't be a person of character and a good leader. I believe you can be both so I particularly loved when T'Challa, the Black Panther spends the rest of the movie proving his dad wrong. You can feel the tension in Black Panther’s character when he later finds out something bad that his father, his hero had done in the past. At this moment, his ex girlfriend Nakia says to him “You can’t let your father’s mistakes define who you are...You get to decide what kind of king you are going to be.”

That’s the lesson right there. You can decide to be both a good person and a good leader. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Stand by your convictions. 

Embrace your Identity & Don't Conform

Speaking of standing by your convictions, two quotes that symbolize this are as follows: The first one is when one of the antagonists of the film Erik Killmonger says to the Black Panther T'Challa: “Nah bury me in the ocean where my ancestors jumped from the ships because they knew death was better than bondage.”

POWERFUL

The other instance of this is when Okoye, Wakanda’s greatest warrior is on a spy mission and resents the fact that she’s wearing a wig to hide her shaved head so she doesn’t reveal her identity on the mission. She remarks, “I want to get this ridiculous thing off me”. Eventually, she does and proceeds to kick everyone's butts she faces. 

In the first instance, T’Challa offers Killmonger a glimpse of hope by saying we could say your life. Killmonger resents this and refuses because he can’t imagine a world where he doesn’t get to be himself and is willing to pay the ultimate price! I found his last words to be so poignant because although I didn't agree with his methods in the film, he raised some very valid points about having pride in who you are and not hiding it to serve others.

How many times, when presented with a way out so you don't have to deal with the consequences of your actions do you take that way out?

In the second instance, Okoye resents the fact that she had to be someone else for a bit to succeed in a mission. She eventually sheds her wig and goes into full warrior mode. Again, a refusal to conform to meet someone else's standard.

Both are great reminders of how important it is to own our identities as leaders. Fight for what you believe in. 

Big Picture Thinking

There's a scene where T’Challa reminded me of Nelson Mandela (my favorite leader of ALL time). He said “what happens now determines what happens to the rest of the world.” That’s the type of big picture thinking that’s necessary if you want to use your influence for good. Leaders know the true impact of their decisions and actions on others. They understand the power of their influence. 

Continuous Improvement

There’s no room for complacency as transformational leaders and I loved when Shuri told T’Chaka that just because his old suit worked didn't mean that it couldn’t be improved. How are you staying in a state of continuous improvement as a change-maker?

Engineer Your Environment For Success

T’Chaka gives his son another piece of advice before T’Challa takes his place on the throne. He says “You’re going to struggle so surround yourself with people you trust. This refers to surrounding yourself with people that can hold you accountable and people who have your best interests at heart. It's like Jim Rohn said,"you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with."

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I can’t express to you all how amazing this movie was. I loved how it focused on Pan-Africanism which is a worldwide intellectual movement that aims to encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all people of African descent. It’s a movie about what it means to be black in the world today- In America, in the continent of Africa and everywhere in the diaspora. It didn't shy away from complex themes about race and identity, the film tackles issues affecting the modern-day black experience. Black people, particularly Africans have been fighting to remind the world that Africa is a continent, not a country (I know I have). Africa is a continent that consists of nations rich in stories and successes in fields such as the arts or mathematics. However, that representation has rarely been portrayed by Hollywood. Well, until now. This movie is unapologetically African with dialects and traditions being pulled from Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, Lesotho, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Tanzania.

It's much more than a movie. It's a movement.

I certainly hope you all go see it.

Wakanda Forever!!!

Success & Skyscrapers

What is success like? It’s like building a skyscraper. It requires the knowledge and skills of, not only architects and engineers, but developers, marketers and economists!

At first, you must envision the design. What do you want the skyscraper to look like? How will it stay sturdy against exterior forces like the wind.

After this, you start to work on the substructure or the part of the building below the ground that supports the top. A skyscraper must have a strong foundation in order for it to stand.

Then, comes the superstructure. This is the portion above the ground. Here you’re adding to the foundation and developing on the framework you've set previously.  

Finally, you fill out the interior of the skyscraper with the essential utilities like toilets, lighting and heating systems.

That is what success looks like. The design is the big picture. The substructure is the foundation you build for yourself in order to be the person that can achieve that big picture. The superstructure refers to the skills you develop and build upon as you’re growing. And the filling of your interior refers to your commitment to continuous learning.

You see success is NEVER the result of just one thing. It’s a series of things coming together. It’s important that you see where you could end up before you start. Give yourself a direction and work your way up to the person who achieves that success.

Architect your dreams, engineer your foundation, develop your focus, market your skill sets and be efficient with your surroundings.

Now go out and build your skyscraper of success!

Are You Actively Listening?

I found myself lost in Athens

Now, this isn’t unusual for me because I get lost all the time. 

This time though, I was in a foreign country and didn’t speak the language. 

My friends and I had somehow managed to veer off from the rest of our group and separated from our tour guide. 

Left to our own devices, we began to nervously and frantically concoct a mixture of French, Spanish and sign language to strangers on the street. 

But alas... our made up languages did not sound like Greek. 

We weren’t going anywhere. 

That is until we made a realization. 

We were more focused on whether we were being understood instead of listening to them. 

Eventually, we picked up on the body language of our local friends and they were able to guide us to our intended destination.

Key takeaway for me here was that It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener. 

Be deliberate with your listening and remind yourself frequently that your goal is to truly hear what the other person is saying.

Ask questions, reflect, and paraphrase to ensure you understand the message. 

If you don't, then you'll find that what someone says to you and what you hear can be amazingly different!

How often do you practice active listening?

The 5 A's of Sustainable Diversity and Inclusion

Before we dive into today's topic, I want to tell you about my encounters with differences and what set me on this path of helping people communicate and connect across cultures.

I was born in Nigeria and I spent the first nine years of my life living in and out of two military dictatorships. General Ibrahim Babaginda and General Sani Abacha and a lot of what I witnessed while growing up was ruthless suppression of human rights, violence, curfews, arrests, killings and exiles.

We even had someone win an election legally and then get put in jail for that. That was one of my earliest memories. His name was Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola or M.K.O Abiola. I remember this vividly because my middle name is Abiola and that was his last name. I felt a weird connection with him even as a 4, 5 year old.

Add all this to the fact that Nigeria is a country of over 250 ethnic groups and many of the groups at the time were vying for ethnic domination. 

To put it bluntly, there was chaos in the air. 

This was my reality until we transitioned into a civilian government. At this point, my dad’s job as a diplomat was now super important because we as a country were now repairing our  relationships all over the world. 

As is the case with being a diplomat, you travel a lot. Our family was no exception. We moved to 5 countries and 4 continents by the time I was 17 so I had MANY experiences. Listed below are just a few of them:

  • The Black Experience
  • The African Experience
  • The Black African Experience
  • The International Student Experience
  • The Hidden Immigrant in Your Own Country Experience AND 
  • The Immigration Experience Here in the United States

Needless to say, adaptability became my super power. How else was I going to navigate through these different levels of globalization, intersectionalism and identities? I needed to know how to communicate effectively across cultures and so as a walking contradiction, I resolved to become a bridge between cultures in such a way that it sparked connections. 

I decided to that I would Use My Difference To Make A Difference. I developed that mission statement because I want people all over the world to recognize their self worth and to be seen, heard and understood. 

That’s what I want to do with you all today. I want to show you all the value of diversity and inclusion. I know what it's like to not be seen, heard and/or understood so I have made it my personal mission to fix that problem.

Diversity and Inclusion is often a topic of debate for many but I hope by the time you're done reading this, you’ll be able to define both, make a case for both and outline a clear plan of action to achieving true inclusion in your workplace over a long term basis. 

Sound like something you all want to hear? 

Ok good. 

Let’s begin. 

First of all, let’s articulate the difference between diversity and inclusion. 

What is diversity?

Diversity refers to demographic differences that distinguish one person from another. These differences may be observable or unobservable. Diversity goes beyond visible differences it’s also things we can’t see. 

We have to be able to look beyond the surface level. Diversity takes into account many things like personality, communication, leadership style, learning styles, economic, cultural, work styles, language, social, privilege, education. 

These are just some of the things behind your visible forms of diversity like age, race, gender and orientation. 

When you just look at the visible, you miss opportunities to know who people really are.

True diversity links the visible to the invisible. 

What about inclusion? What do you think it means?

Inclusion is the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure. Inclusion is the state of being that supports diversity. It enables diverse individuals and groups to function in ways where differences are respected, gifts are valued and everyone is welcome regardless of their diversity. Inclusion is involvement and empowerment, where the inherent worth and dignity of all people are recognized. 

Inclusion looks like increased participation in decision making:

  • Access to information 
  • Greater empowerment of employees to solve organizational problems and collaborative teamwork
  • Inclusion moves beyond acknowledging difference. It embraces it

The best analogy I’ve heard about these two is that Diversity is like a seed and inclusion is like the fruit. Most seeds don’t make it to the fruits stage because they haven’t been nourished properly. And if they aren’t nurtured properly, they won’t blossom. 

So when leaders say they hired for diversity and it didn’t work out, it’s because the talent wasn’t nurtured the right way. They most likely didn’t feel included. 

Add to that biases, assumptions, fear and lack of understanding and you have a very shaky foundation. Diversity isn’t about tokenizing people, filling quotas. It’s about leveraging differences and making all our differences work for us. 

I want to talk about 5 ways you can make all your differences work for you. I call them the 5 A’s. 

Let's start with the first A, Assess. 

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Assess


In this stage you’re in preparation mode and taking inventory of what the current temperature is like in your company around diversity and inclusion. For anything to be sustainable, you need to understand why you’re doing in the first place. 

A lot of companies falter in this stage because they are being reactive and not proactive. 

They heard something bad happened at Uber and H&M and so they just react. 

As you’re assessing, these are some questions, you should begin to ask yourself.  And they are as follows:

  • What is diversity to you?
  • What do you want the future of your organization to look like?
  • Do you view it as an asset or liability? Why or why not? 
  • What is the business case?
  • Why are you considering doing this right now?
  • As a leader are you personally ready to take on this?
  • What’s in this strategy for organization?
  • What’s in this strategy for employees? 
  • What’s in this strategy for stakeholders?
  • Are you able to commit your organization’s resources to this strategy over the long haul?
  • What types of relationships do you have right now  and what types of relationships do you need to develop in order to make this a reality?
  • Can you be present when others need you or challenge you on this issue?
  • What biases exist currently and how will you measure the biases in the future?
  • What are the core values and principles building the organization?
  • Are there trusting relationships in the company? 
  • Is honest dialogue promoted? 
  • Do you have safe spaces for people to have honest dialogue without being ridiculed?

Key things to note!!! 

In this stage, you’re not only assessing diversity for the economic case, you should also assess it for the morality case. 

ANOTHER KEY POINT TO MAKE IS THIS. I'm sure you all will agree with me when I say that sustainable diversity and inclusion doesn't belong in the HR silo right? 

 

It has to be a priority for leadership as well as HR  as well as all the stakeholders of the company. 

 

EVERYONE has to be involved. Commitment from the CEO, executives, HR, Mid level managers and employees across various business units. 

A lot of companies neglect the mid level managers but that’s a mistake because often times they have significant influence on getting new policies established and implemented. They are also usually involved the most with day to day interactions with work spaces and majority of the employees. 

Speaking of employees, assess how they feel about speaking out and their pain points. Do they feel like they can express themselves?

Another area to assess would be your suppliers and vendors. What messages are your suppliers and vendors sending and receiving about you? 

Assess, Assess, Assess. 

What about your community partners? How are you getting involved with things like scholarships/internships, summer programs, mentorship programs with at risk, cooperative programs with high schools, universities?

Assess, Assess, Assess.

Back to diversity being both an economic and moral compass priority. True diversity and inclusion occurs when it is operating from the head as well as the heart. The head is the business case and the heart is the emotional and psychological case. If you do this right, then you're able to create a situation where people accept people for much more than what they look like but for who they are. 

Assess Assess Assess. 

When I work with companies we go into multiple ways to assess the current situation and without fail, people are always surprised by what they discover about their company and employer brand. 

Assess to find out what you want your organization's future to look like and to find out what you need to make it happen.

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Arrange

This part is all about strategy. Here you're determining the plans of action you need to take in order to succeed. First thing you need to do here is to align your diversity and inclusion strategy with the overall vision of the organization. 

Make sure that when you meet to discuss strategy, you're adding a diversity and inclusion component to all of your business units. 

Every person in the company should understand how their job adds value to the overall strategy of the company as well as the diversity and inclusion goals. 

So execs, middle managers, supervisors and team leads should constantly be asking the following question: "How does what I do fit in with our diversity and inclusion strategy?"

Adding it as a performance goal for management helps to  hold leadership accountable. 

In this stage, I also suggest a public declaration of next steps and then both a mission and vision statement should be crafted at the end of this exercise.

You want them to speak to your company's values and the company culture you aspire to cultivate.

In your mission statement, you are including who you are, what you do and why you do it. You want to also speak to what you value so highlighting things like why customers should do business with you, why community should trust you and how you show you care about quality, service and relationships are key.

These things matter

Your vision statement is all about what your company will look like as a result of your strategy. The big picture if you will. 

The other necessary ingredient in the arrangement stage is that you start to form the team that can implement this strategy. So my recommendation is to form a diversity council that’s representative of the company. You want it to include HR, Leadership, Marketing, Operations, Finance and all the business units that exist in your company. 

Remember diversity and inclusion has to include EVERYONE and be an active part of your organizational value. 

You want the Diversity Council to be able to strategize and brainstorm solutions on the problems you have systematically. 

You’re looking at loopholes in your current marketing, HR, and people policies. 

Here are some questions you can use to get them started:

  • What are your organization values?
  • How can you make inclusiveness a way of being in your organization?
  • What are some suggestions and ideas for the marketing team?
  • How will you implement more inclusive policies based on what you assessed?
  • Which partners can you include on your efforts to make this happen?
  • What are the advantages?
  • What are the disadvantages?
  • What is happening internally?
  • What is your employer brand?
  • What programs will you launch to help with awareness?

Doing this serves a dual purpose. Not only does it inform your employees and the world about what you believe in, it also informs everyone of your commitment to achieving the vision you set.

Keep in mind as you’re setting these goals you’re making 3, 6, 12 month plans. This needs to happen to improve accountability. 

Your tracking sheet or system should look like the following:

Mission

Vision

Governing Values

Goal #1

Description: 

Objectives: 

Major Activities/Timeline: 

Key Performance Indicators: 

Continuous Learning Strategies:

Goal #2

Description: 

Objectives: 

Major Activities/Timeline: 

Key Performance Indicators: 

Continuous Learning Strategies:

Goal #3

Description: 

Objectives: 

Major Activities/Timeline: 

Key Performance Indicators: 

Continuous Learning Strategies:

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Apply

Once strategy has been arranged and designed, it's time to apply everything. This is where the training happens. Diversity and inclusion training should align with corporate strategies and every business unit. Make sure your trainings include opportunities for the following: 

  • Honest dialogue
  • Creating safe spaces for saying no to the status quo
  • Managing Conflict
  • Respect for differences
  • Creating a sense of community
  • Overcoming Bias
  • Establishing clearly defined ethical boundaries 
  • Win Win approaches to problem solving
  • Cooperative decision making
  • Equity based justice for all members 

Ask yourself,

  • What message you want to send 
  • What media you will use 
  • How you will frame the communication program

As far as trainers, they could be in-house, external consultants or a combination of both. Training is going to cost money but poor training costs the most. That’s why you have to go through all the previous steps to know what you’re training for. 

Assess, arrange and apply that arrangement. 

Ask yourself these as you’re evaluating:

  • Who will be responsible for managing training?
  • What skill based training do you need that will support your inclusion strategy?
  • What does success in skill based training look like for your organization?
  • Who needs to be trained? On what will you base the need to be trained?
  • What are your most pressing needs in the organization?
  • Where do you begin?
  • How will you deliver this training? (webinars, in person, online, self-paced)
  • How will you track who attends the trainings?
  • How will you track progress of participants?
  • What other factors do you need to consider?

In this stage, there will be high potential of setbacks if the following exists:

  • A failure to get the highest level leader involved at the beginning 
  • A general lack of accountability
  • A failure to incorporate skill-based inclusion training into the strategy
  • A failure to deal with the disadvantages of diversity strategies 
  • Only providing training because you’re reactive
  • Misunderstanding of what diversity and inclusion means from everyone and not a select few 
  • No addressing the negative attitudes or misunderstandings about diversity
  • Focus is on shame, blame and guilt
  • Failure to include follow up strategies 
  • Failure to hold leadership accountable 
  • Focus is only on the business case and not the ethical or moral case
  • Failure to acknowledge diversity and inclusion takes time, effort, resource and commitment
  • Failure to help employees see themselves in the diversity strategy 
  • Failure to make it clear why diversity and inclusion strategies are necessary 
  • Failure to make it safe for honest dialogue or reach the difference between honest discussions and mean spirited conversations 
  • Ignoring the culture. Written policies don’t run organizations, unwritten rules do
  • Failure to remember the inclusion piece of diversity and inclusion

You can't avoid asking yourself these questions. I’m not done though. I want you all to probe even further and ask yourself these questions:

  • What are some of the barriers that are unique to your organization?
  • How will you address these issues?
  • What do you want to avoid happening in your organization?
  • What do you want to be sure does happen?

As you’re applying these things, here are some trainings that you can include as you are starting your training program:

  • Unconscious Bias Training
  • Communication Skills Training
  • Conflict Management Training
  • Management Skills Training
  • Ethics program Training
  • Team Building Training
  • Diversity Awareness Training
  • Decision-Making and Inclusive Leadership development Training 
  • Stress Management Training
  • Communicating Across and Managing Differences Training
  • Problem Solving with Diversity in Mind Training
  • The Art of Intersectional Storytelling
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Accountability & Analysis

In this stage, you’re being responsible and accountable for the actions you’ve taken. Here you address what worked and what didn’t work.

In order to be accountable, there must be clear and specific metrics.

As you’re evaluating progress, think of it as a report card and come up with your own grading system. Just like in elementary school, high school or college ask yourselves what qualifies for an A, B, C , D and F. Then give yourself a grade based on that. 

On the measurement side, regularly reporting your findings in a public forum to your employees also helps to keep you accountable. 

For example, you could do this at all hands meetings, within your company's internal communication channels, or in front of your community partners, etc.

When you do, make sure you bring these things up:

  • How you measured the organization’s success of your unique diversity and inclusion strategies
  • How you measured leaders on all of the performance indicators so things like: Retention Customer Satisfaction Ratings Productivity and Quality Performance Ratings Employee Satisfaction Surveys Leadership Satisfaction Surveys Decrease in employee complaints, harassment issues or legal actions
  • What key performance metrics you used? How often your leaders were measured and how often they will be measured?
  • Who will be doing the measurements of how well your leaders/managers are doing (bottom up and top down)? How you will measure your organization’s progress?
  • Will community partners have a say in how well they believe your organization is doing in accomplishing the strategy? If so, when?
  • Will you measure for skill development?
  • At the macro level, how you will attach goals to organizational performance objectives?
  • At the micro level, how you will establish team goals and individual performance?

All these set the table for you to always make it a priority. That covers the accountability and analysis piece, now let’s go to the final A

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Affinity

This is all about sustainability and making sure all your efforts don’t go into the “o we had a great training that one time” bucket. For many companies and institutions, the single most important catalyst for greater diversity and inclusion is their affinity networks. They are usually led by volunteers who dedicate significant portions of their time to help recruit, develop and retain members of their network. Affinity groups are a key part of any diversity and inclusion strategy because they are voice for several identity groups. They help with the development of leaders, marketing campaigns, communications and visibility. Ultimately they help boost your employer brand. 

Conclusion

A lot of today’s problems are caused because people don’t understand what’s different from them. They don’t understand how to deal with changes and so they try to get others to buy into their beliefs. That’s the wrong approach.

A lot of issues with diversity and inclusion are about deeply held beliefs, values and assumptions that have been unchallenged causing many to see nothing wrong with how they see the world. 

What we need to do individually do is to examine the origin of our beliefs, the reasoning behind them and the purpose they served. Challenge yourself to be honest, candid and open about why you believe what you believe. Is there merit to it?

I want you all to start with your beliefs because they control basically everything about your behavior. 

If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. This stuff is hard work. It takes time and commitment but it’s all worth it if you commit to doing the work. So I have this question for you: Are you part of your company’s problems or solutions? 

Use your DIFFERENCES to make a DIFFERENCE.                                     

If you're interested in having me come speak or consult with your organization, click here.