Hidden Sources of Power


Maybe because all four of my  grandparents came to this country as young adults, I have always had a bias in favor of the gifts that newcomers bring to a culture. I am stoked at the experience I have begun in this regard. Might it have relevance for you?

I have 30-some students in my class on leadership at the Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley.  I was speaking to them of the incredible privileges they have enjoyed – genetic and family and school – that brought them to this place. I acknowledged that they may have surmounted considerable obstacles, as well (adding that obstacles, in a strange way, might be considered gifts, too). Swept up wondering what obstacles they had indeed faced, I asked, “How many of you grew up in homes where your parents’ native language was something other than English?”

The hands went up and down too fast for an actual count, but I’d estimate 90% raised their hands.  Now, Berkeley is the crown jewel in the California system; think U of M, except California has five times Michigan’s population. Imagine the competition to get in.  My first and enduring thought:  What a great country we live in that you can come from another continent, speaking English as a second language (if at all), and your children can attend Berkeley.  How cool for me to be able to have such diverse roots to tap in my classroom!

Here’s what this experience makes me think about Everyday Leadership, at work then home. I think experience, familiarity, conventionality have their place. Age, rank, and seniority bring some genuine value.  But in general I’d rather involve people who have a fresh perspective and a hunger to participate in the culture. How good are you at seeing “outsiders” as full of potential and possibility?  Do staff members really need all that technical expertise, or is that experience also a burden?  Might a returning-to-work mom with unique experience and something to prove, or an associates-degreed former factory worker not bring some amazing intangibles?

A quick family “outsider” story:  I took Jack to a small discussion with authors Warren Farrell (The Myth of Male Power) and John Gray (Women are From …) last week. The others in attendance were adults.  I was excited to get into the car to tell Jack, “Dude, I was impressed with how you felt so comfortable with expressing your standpoint in there.  You really amazed me.” He said, “We think, Dad. Adults don’t realize that we think.” Gotta love that energy!

At home as well as work:  Who could you bring into the mix? Who has hidden wisdom? Who feels grateful to be a part?  Who might you be overlooking who has drive to belong and contribute?

Tap them as you lead with your best self,



  • I grew up here in the USA, like you Dan.
    I was raised to appreciate my grandparents efforts to love America and what it stands for.
    I was raised on American streets where ethnicity was diverse but nobody noticed because you just played together.
    I was raised speaking English. My childhood was awesome, we were so blessed.
    Except now, it’s not cool to be just an American.
    We are not considered friendly and open to change, somebody said.
    We need to change and step back, somebody said.
    We need to learn as many languages as possible; Spanish, Arabic, Polish, Chinese; somebody said.
    We need to feel guilty for being American and following the dreams of our immigrant grandparents.
    I’m sure the 10% of your class who didn’t raise their hands did not receive your enthusiasm for already being here because of their wonderful immigrant grandparents.
    Please don’t take away the enthusiasm of the Plain Ol’ Americans who love being a plain ol’ American with the same dreams as New Americans.
    We have pretty cool roots, so I hope you “tap” that 10% of your class, as well.

  • Great reminder, Dan!
    At the urging of our daughter, a high school junior, we welcomed an exchange student from Mexico into our home this school year. Coming from Greenville, Michigan, many are still stinging from the loss of our Electrolux plant to Juarez, Mexico. Today is the first day of school, and we pray that students and parents alike view Fernanda as the lovely, intelligent, daring person we’ve come to adore rather than the ugly perception many held of those in Mexico in 2006 when the plant closed. The irony of this situation with which we’ve been presented has not escaped us, and we are attempting to absorb as much of her culture and traditions as we can. Keep reminding us of the jewels of wisdom that arrive in the form of other perspectives…

  • Dan:

    When I was reading your post I was thinking of the Tea Party and how they have been villified for their new ideas of government reform. I sure hope those that have been trying to isolate and demonize the Tea Party have the same open mind you have!

  • New people to a cause can be good or bad to a cause, but they bring energy and interest. The TEA Party is not promoting new ideas of government reform. The ideas they promote have been carefully cultivated in the public mind by the so-called free market think tanks and other marketing methods for several decades. These ideas, or ideology have been sent out into the public square for several reasons, but they are not new, and demonstrate a poor appreciation of economics and society. Most of the persons who affiliate with the TEA Party are good people, but poorly informed by a system of marketing, of which the TEA Party “movement” is but one program in the marketing program. Energy can be used for good or bad.

    • They sure seem new when fiscal responsibility has been forgotten for so long. Returning to some sense of monetary discipline sure feels like a new and novel idea! No need to discount it.

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