Diversity in Action: Universal Leadership Lessons from the White House Fellowship Program's Minority Alumni
What can we learn from America's diverse group of accomplished leaders? Leadership Lessons of the White House Fellows—a timely new book by Charles Garcia—is packed with insights from men and women who overcame adversity and went on to achieve greatness.
New York, NY (June 2009)—On January 20, 2009, an emotional crowd of millions watched the U.S. swear in its first African-American president. President Barack Obama then went on to appoint the most racially diverse cabinet ever. And it's not just government: More and more corporations are implementing diversity programs with a focus on increasing representation of minority groups to help bring in talent, ideas, and perspectives that are shaped by the experiences of employees from all walks of life. Yes, it's an exciting time for Americans of every creed and color—and it seems as though a new age is dawning in the nation's move toward greater access for everyone and racial and gender equality.
As more opportunities open up for African-Americans, Latinos, and men and women of all races, the "diversity" success stories who came before them will need to offer their been-there-done-that lessons on the art of leadership. And that's why author Charles Garcia wants to shine a spotlight on a prestigious leadership program that has been developing great leaders from all walks of life for four decades.
"The creators of the White House Fellowship Program knew that to be a truly great country, America could not be led largely by one or two groups," says Garcia, former White House Fellow and author of Leadership Lessons of the White House Fellows: Learn How to Inspire Others, Achieve Greatness, and Find Success in Any Organization (McGraw-Hill, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-07-159848-4, $24.95). "The program was created behind the idea that there is the potential for greatness in all of America. And with that mission in place, for decades it has been turning Americans, from all walks of life, into some of the nation's great leaders."
Leadership Lessons of the White House Fellows takes an in-depth look at the White House Fellowship Program, which has been helping Americans excel for four decades now. Using insightful, firsthand accounts from past program participants—including the first African-American Fellow—the book explores the leadership lessons that are a major part of every Fellow's experience.
Created more than forty years ago by the bi-partisan efforts of President Lyndon B. Johnson and John W. Gardner, former president of the Carnegie Corporation, the White House Fellowship Program provides some of the nation's most talented citizens with a firsthand look at the behind-the-scenes workings of the U.S. political system. From the beginning it was important to Gardner and Johnson that excellence be the focus of the program, so despite the racial divide in the country, they made sure the doors were open to all young Americans, no matter their race, gender, or economic background.
"There is something life-changing about being immersed in the world of our nation's top decision makers," says Garcia. "And perhaps because our nation has had such a struggle with racial and gender equality, it's especially gratifying to learn so many great leaders from so many different backgrounds have come through the Fellows program. No matter who you are, these outstanding men and women have a lot to teach you about leadership.
Leadership Lessons of the White House Fellows includes twenty timeless tenets of successful leadership, each illustrated by multiple inspiring anecdotes. Read on for two of those insightful leadership lessons along with a few real-life stories from the minority alumni of the White House Fellowship Program:
LEADERSHIP LESSON #1: Root out prejudice. Great leaders recognize that talent and leadership abilities are distributed randomly. Therefore, they do not form judgments about a person based on ethnicity, gender, religion, age, or any other factor. They root out prejudice and biases in themselves and others and ensure that there is an equal opportunity at all levels for everyone to rise to a position of leadership in his or her organization on the basis of merit and character.
THE STORIES BEHIND THE LESSON:
Even though people of color were not given access to many high-profile jobs in Washington in the 1960s, the White House Fellows bucked that trend and included African-Americans from day one. Ron Lee (WHF 65-66) was the nation's first African-American White House Fellow, and he made the most of his unique perspective during his year at the U.S. Postal Service.
Lee found that in 1966, the U.S. Post Office was the biggest civilian agency in the government, with 600,000 employees total, and yet out of 44,000 postmasters nationwide, only two were African-Americans. "It was disgraceful, and Larry O'Brien [Postmaster General of the U.S. Postal Service at the time] and I agreed that it was something worse than that—it was segregation, because about 30 percent of the postal service employees were minorities at that time," Lee explained. "So O'Brien gave me the go-ahead to find people to promote."
Within months Lee had hired minority postmasters to run the nation's four largest postal responsibilities in the country. In all, during his Fellowship, Lee identified ten people for O'Brien to recommend to President Johnson for postmaster appointments and helped increase the number of African-Americans in senior management ranks at headquarters from 5 percent to 12 percent.
During the thirty-one months he served as an aide to Postmaster General O'Brien and then as one of the six assistant postmasters general, Lee helped to hire an additional 50,000 African-American employees for a total of 110,000 and raised their average pay level by 40 percent. He also helped direct some of the postal service's $25 million in daily postal revenue to African-American-owned banks, which until then had been overlooked.
In 1975, despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964 having been in effect for eleven years, violent racism was still prevalent in America. Cliff Stanley (WHF 88-89) was forced to face this ugly reality when a sniper targeting African-Americans brought grave personal tragedy to his family. On a quiet Sunday afternoon, Stanley and his family were traveling to Annapolis after enjoying a dinner at his brother's home. As they headed into Washington, D.C., the car windshield was shattered by the sniper's bullet. Stanley's wife was paralyzed and his uncle was killed.
This event led to a major life decision for Stanley: He could either take the Marine Corps' offer to be relieved of his duties, or he could tough it out in a profession where he constantly faced adversity and roadblocks due to his race. Stanley chose the latter. Rather than tuck tail and run, he persevered and became the U.S. Marine Corps' first-ever African-American regimental commander.
"I knew if I wanted to be promoted, I'd have to work five times as hard as the other guys, so I put all my efforts into working hard," he said. "I just didn't want to waste energy dealing with the issue of race. But I love the Marine Corps. They treated us with great compassion, and things change—that's one of the most beautiful parts about American society."
He continued to succeed in his military career, and was one of the Corps' highest-ranking African-Americans when he retired in 2002 as a two-star general. Over the years he became a caring mentor to hundreds of Marines—especially African-Americans—both enlisted and officers. Throughout his career, he was sensitive to discrimination and ensured that wherever he went there was a level-playing field and that everyone was judged on the basis of competence and character: a true meritocracy.
Pastora San Juan Cafferty
During her tenure as a White House Fellow, Pastora San Juan Cafferty (WHF 69-70) saw firsthand the impact that a good leader can have in creating an equal playing field for his team. She was given the opportunity to work for Secretary of Transportation John A. Volpe, the son of Italian immigrants and former governor of Massachusetts. On more than one occasion Cafferty had the opportunity to witness his passion for equality.
Volpe met his immediate deputies for lunch every Saturday at the Coast Guard mess—a place known for having the best food in town and its strict no women allowed policy. "When Volpe asked me to join him for lunch, I was flattered," remembered Cafferty, "but I had to remind him that as a woman, I was not allowed to eat there. He said that was inappropriate, and he made them change the rule. I was the first woman to ever have access to the Coast Guard mess."
Volpe was appalled when he realized all those working on the upper two floors at the Department Of Transportation building were white, and those working on the lower floors were predominantly black. He insisted that the floors be integrated within the year—and they were.
"Once a week in Volpe's office we went over recruitment and promotion statistics to look at racial diversity," said Cafferty. "I learned that if a leader said something had to be done and then measured it and held people accountable for it, it happened, no matter how difficult it was to do."
LEADERSHIP LESSON #2: Understand that not every battle is the end of the war. Too often leaders allow themselves to be sidetracked by other people's prejudices and personal attacks. They focus too much of their attention on counterattacking those individuals and wasting precious energy and time on irrelevant issues. Leaders who demonstrate grace under fire with a laserlike focus on their true mission are the ones who will achieve greatness one day.
THE STORIES BEHIND THE LESSON:
Jane Cahill Pfeiffer
During her Fellowship, Jane Cahill Pfeiffer (WHF 66-67) was assigned to work as administrative assistant to the new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Robert "Bob" Weaver. It meant that she would be the first female White House Fellow working directly with the nation's first African-American appointed a presidential cabinet post. Despite these major advances in race and gender relations in Washington that year, it wasn't all smooth sailing; unfortunately, discrimination was still alive and well in the nation's capital.
Weaver—the coordinator of the Model Cities Program created to channel federal, state, and local resources for urban renewal of slums in sixty-three inner cities—asked Pfeiffer to find a place where the task force members and President Lyndon Johnson could convene for an offsite meeting. She called up a country club in Bethesda, Maryland, only to be told that they couldn't come. Why? Because black members weren't allowed!
Pfeiffer decided not to tell Weaver that he was unwelcome at the club; she would quietly book another facility for the Model Cities meeting and move on. But when Weaver asked her directly why she had changed venues, she broke down and told him the sad truth: The club's doors were closed to him because of the color of his skin.
"He did not brood over it, and that was the end of that. He was such a dear man—he never said anything more about it," Pfeiffer said. "That's what Weaver could always do. He could rise above the slights."
It was a good lesson for a young woman trying to function in a male-dominated workplace. Pfeiffer learned that becoming angry or resentful just makes you bitter; it's a virus that can enter your pores without warning and spread silently, infecting your entire being. If you allow that to happen, you contaminate everyone around you with a negative attitude, especially your subordinates, who quickly will lose respect for you and make it difficult for you to lead. Great leaders treat everyone with respect and ensure that what matters most is competence and character.
Ronald Quincy (WHF 85-86) also had the opportunity to work with HUD during his Fellowship. During that time, under the direction of President Ronald Reagan, HUD worked with the Department of State to promote fundamental change in South Africa. Quincy was chosen to represent the HUD secretary in this inter-agency effort by helping to organize high-level diplomatic and private missions to South Africa during that critical time in the country's history. This led to a promotion as the foreign policy advisor to the Africa Bureau of the State Department. Through his experiences Quincy developed friendships with many famous and powerful leaders, which led to an opportunity to work and travel with Nelson Mandela following his Fellowship year.
On one such occasion, Quincy had the privilege of escorting Mandela around the United States during his effort to work with groups of American students and their South African counterparts to help train over 50,000 South Africans in the election process. During the eighteen-hour flight back to South Africa, Mandela and Quincy were standing in the aisle of the airplane talking when a male flight attendant approached Mandela and rudely told him to sit down in his seat so that they could serve dinner. Quincy was appalled at the loud and disrespectful way that the man had spoken to Mandela, but decided not to take action and see how his mentor would handle the situation.
"Mandela turns and then points to me and says, 'Actually, sir, I'm with him,' shifting the blame to me as if I were the culprit, the important American," explains Quincy. "He said it jokingly in a mischievous way, grinning with a blink of the eye to me, and completely disarmed the situation and quietly returned to his seat."
It was a powerful lesson for Quincy: In an era when ordinary people throw self-important temper tantrums at the drop of a hat, this man of enormous international stature chose to sit down quietly and not make a scene. Reflecting on the incident, Mandela later told Quincy that when he was active in the African National Congress (ANC) as a young man, "I learned that leaders who last are those who understand that every battle is not the end of the war. That little incident was not the war. It was not important, absolutely of no consequence."
Recalled Quincy: "[Mandela cautioned me to] never take your condition so seriously that it impedes you from accomplishing your personal mission, which, in my case, is a free democratic election in South Africa."
Less than a year later, in April 1994, Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected president and the first black president of South Africa.
"For more than four decades, the White House Fellowship Program has given hundreds of Americans the tools, experiences, and mentors necessary for them to become confident, well-prepared problem solvers and leaders," says Garcia. "I believe that it has played a major role in integrating our nation's government and ensuring those running it accurately represent the American population. And we should all admire those leaders who didn't let racial or gender prejudices impede their goals, but instead used them as motivating factors that led them to greatness."
If you would like to apply for a White House Fellowship, please visitwww.WhiteHouse.gov/fellows to learn more and to obtain an application.
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About the Author:
Charles P. Garcia is a former White House Fellow, graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Columbia Law School graduate, and best-selling author. In 2006, he sold his investment banking firm, which grew from three people to sixty offices in seven countries; Inc.magazine identified it as one of the top ten fastest-growing privately held companies in the United States. Garcia was named entrepreneur of the year by three national organizations. He is on the board of Fortune 500 companies and serves as the chairman of the Board of Visitors of the U.S. Air Force Academy.
For more information about him, please visit www.charlespgarcia.com.
About the Book:
Leadership Lessons of the White House Fellows: Learn How to Inspire Others, Achieve Greatness, and Find Success in Any Organization(McGraw-Hill, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-07-159848-4, $24.95) is available at bookstores nationwide and all major online booksellers.
The following former White House Fellows, who are featured inLeadership Lessons of the White House Fellows, :
*Pastora San Juan Cafferty—WHF 69-70, Instructor at George Washington University; Professor, University of Chicago, 1971-2005; Directorships: Kimberly-Clark; Waste Management, Inc.; Integrys Energy Group; Harris Bankcorp
Henry Cisneros—WHF 71-72, Executive Chairman, City View; Former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (1993-1997); Four-Term Mayor of San Antonio (1981-89)
Nelson Diaz—WHF 77-78, Former General Counsel to the Department of Housing and Urban Development
*Ron Lee—WHF 65-66, First African-American White House Fellow; Assistant Postmaster General under President Richard Nixon
Luis Nogales—WHF 72-73, Managing Partner of Nogales Investors, LLC (private equity investment company) (since 2001); President of Univision (largest Spanish language television network) (1986-1988); Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of United Press International (communications) (1983-1986)
Michelle Peluso—WHF 98-99, Former CEO of Travelocity
*Jane Cahill Pfeiffer—WHF 66-67, First female White House Fellow; First Chairwoman of NBC
*Ron Quincy—WHF 85-86, Former U.S. State Department employee; Former Executive Director of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change
Vice Admiral Ann Rondeau—WHF 85-86, Highest ranking woman in the United States Navy
*Cliff Stanley—WHF 88-89, U.S. Marine Corps' first-ever African-American Regimental Commander; Retired Two-Star General
Diane C. Yu—WHF 86-87, Chief of Staff and Deputy to the President, New York University; Immediate Past President, White House Fellows Foundation and Association