By David Fikes, Executive Director, FMI Foundation
Good talkOne of the most popular words invoked over the past 30 months has got to be the term “unprecedented.” As we endeavored to capture the breadth and depth of the pandemic experience, we were told we faced unprecedented challenges, living in unprecedented times, surrounded by unprecedented circumstances, or being confronted by an unprecedented number of changes. And while we may tire of the word, it does capture the sentiment that most of us knew when trying to navigate uncharted waters. With very few exceptions, most of us had never encountered such an intense emergency that touched every aspect of our lives and shook us to our core, placing us in such unparalleled circumstances.
At a strategic point in the revolutionary war, Thomas Paine published his essay “The American Crisis,” which opens with the famous line, “These are the times that try men’s (and women’s) souls.” In the paragraphs that follow, Paine explores how special times require a special brand of heroism. Or to translate his sentiment into today’s vernacular, unprecedented times call for unprecedented courage and require unprecedented leadership.
The needs are many. At a time when there is such anger and fear, there is a need for visionary leadership that can calm us down and talk us off the ledge of letting our internal rage erupt in misguided ways. But there is also much that is off kilter in our world, requiring leaders with the courage to name what is wrong, challenge the status quo, and confront evil when they see it. And when many of us would just like to sit quietly and recover from the intensity around us, there is a need for leadership that inspires action and calls us to get engaged. Racial divisions and generational differences are among the significant challenges contributing to our unprecedented times and addressing them productively requires unprecedented leadership. Both of these topics are emotionally charged and require leaders who know when to take the pot off the fire to keep it from destructively boiling over – leaders who know when to stir the pot and agitate its contents in a productive way, and leaders who know how much to turn up the heat when the pot is too idle.
FMI and the Center for Food Integrity will continue their series of digital dialogues on racial justice on September 28 at 2 p.m. EST. This edition will offer critical lessons on inclusivity and empathy from Jaquelyn Howard and Raven Solomon, two extraordinary Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) leaders. They will discuss generational and racial barriers in the workplace and how to replace them with empathy and synergy that fosters productive working relationships, drives business results, and prepares organizations to compete in the not-so-distant future. In other words, they’ll be exploring when to turn down the heat, when to stir the pot, and when to turn up the heat on DEI endeavors.