What Brave Leadership Looks Like; It’s Not What You Think

A powerful story about a maverick leader choosing to be the change we need to see in Corporate America. Thank you, Keith for your bravery and willingness to be vulnerable. Now this is great leadership!

By: Keith Narr, Chief Technology Officer @ Cargill

For nine months of the year you can find me coaching youth hockey. There is nothing like watching the excitement on children’s faces when they learn a new move, score a goal or win a game. I learned many of my life lessons on the rink as a kid and I love to share those same lessons with my own children and the children in my community.

Last winter, my Peewee team (12-13-year-old boys) were playing in a tournament in Elk River, MN, USA. Although an average team, we were playing unexpectedly well in the tournament and had a chance at making it to the finals. I was as excited as the kids. On Sunday morning, we were behind five points. I talked to the team before the last stretch of the game…

I complimented the goalie on keeping the game close. To motivate the others to play better, I told them “they played like girls”- a phrase that I had heard a hundred times in the locker room or sideline of sports as I grew up. A phrase that was used to motivate me and my peers to step up. My team went out in the third period; our play did not change, we lost to third place.

Two days after the game, I attended a full-day session about inclusion and diversity as part of the Cargill’s Global IT Leadership Development Program.

We watched a series of Always ad campaign videos called, “Run Like a Girl,” meant to build self-confidence in young girls and confront non-inclusive language and behaviors we considered social norms. I suddenly realized the negative impacts of my comments to my hockey team, “You guys are playing like girls”. I was ashamed. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I had signed up to be a role-model. What an eye- opening moment for me! I thought of my own daughters and the confidence that I want them to have. I thought of my hockey players and the positive role-model I wanted to be for them. And at that moment, I chose to own and change my own behavior.

The next night at practice I apologized to the team, parents and players. I specifically talked to the players about why the things I said were not appropriate and why we shouldn’t say things like that. I also had my kids watch the series of videos and had a family conversation about equality and how to make the world a better place. Change starts with us.

Diversity is more than culture, color or orientation. All of us have opportunities to promote inclusion and diversity every day in ways we do not even realize. I believe we are all life-long learners. This new-found perspective has allowed me to be more mindful and create a more inclusive culture both at work and at home. My Peewee team and I may have lost an “important” game but we won an even more important life-lesson that will hopefully stick with all of us for a lifetime.


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