Don’t be too proud to ask for help. Everyone needs help. No one succeeds alone. I always lean on people I trust to guide me through areas in which they have expertise and I do not. I know what I’m good at and where I need assistance. I’m never too proud to ask for assistance. Achieving the goal is the most important thing, not who gets the credit.
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Sean Sheppard.
Sean Sheppard has spent the past 17 years mobilizing community residents to assist the homeless, disabled veterans, and training members of law enforcement. He is the nation’s leading voice in law enforcement/community relations as a result of creating and deploying the award-winning communications-based model called Game Changer.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up as an only child. My early life began in Brooklyn, NY, my parents being Bed Stuy natives. I spent the bulk of my childhood being raised by a single mom in South Brunswick, NJ, attending Catholic grade school, Catholic high school, and Catholic college (I am a graduate of Georgetown University), while attending a predominantly Jewish day camp every summer.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
“Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight: Cassius Clay vs. The United States of America” It resonated with me because it detailed the life of a Black man in America who succeeded in uplifting an entire race of people in the face of ferocious racism inside and outside of government. The fact that he was one of the greatest athletes of all time took a back seat to his incredible will to pursue justice and equity for people of color around the world, and in particular, Black people.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Put God first, and everything else will fall into place. My only plan in life is to remain obedient to God. Everything that I’ve been able to do to help other people has happened since I made the decision to live a life of walking by faith.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is deciding to act, course correct along the way, and do any task necessary along the way to making the lives of others better. Sometimes that means speaking in front of large audiences, other times it means washing dishes by hand when you’re all alone. There was a time when I was literally washing dishes by myself after we had just finished serving the homeless in the streets of San Diego. At one point I paused and said out loud, “I have a master’s degree and I’m here washing dishes. What the hell am I doing with my life?” Several weeks later, we made national news when I took in a former American Gladiator and her son from off the street and The View co-host Sherri Shepherd heard about it. My life has been different ever since.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I practice hot yoga several days a week and pray all day every day. I go to the beach as often as possible to walk my dog. I spend time on the rooftop of my LA apartment and look at the clouds and stars and allow my mind to go blank…and breathe.
Before I have to speak on the phone, zoom call, event, podcast, or interview I always pray this simple prayer: “Lord, speak through me.”
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
Our country was founded on the principles of white supremacy and misogyny. The rights that White men carved out for themselves did not extend to Black people or women. When slavery ended, there was, and has been a consistent, successful effort to segregate people of color from White people in the areas we live and the places we work. This separation has led to many White people being unfamiliar, fearful, and, in the most extreme cases, hateful toward any skin colors and religious beliefs outside of their own. Now that the country has more people of color and more religions than ever before, there is a segment of white America, many serving as political leaders, that are fearful of the present, what America will look like in the future, and are fearful that their place atop the socio-economic/political hierarchy is in grave danger.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
Our nonprofit organization has always been rooted in using community service as a magnet to draw people together from all walks of life on a regular basis. Any model that we’ve ever deployed to serve the community has, by design, consisted of people working together for a common cause when they otherwise wouldn’t be in each other’s company. We believe that consistent, quality, time spent with people different from ourselves provides the exposure and education needed to bring about understanding and familiarity, while simultaneously dispels myths and stereotypes.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
A diverse executive team can make decisions that positively affect the entire workforce, not just the White, straight majority. Diverse, creative thinking can produce products that are desired by a diverse group of consumers. Do you want to sell your product to some people and make some profits, or sell your product to most people and make infinite profits?
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Be honest with yourself. Is diversity truly important to you or are you faking it because it’s the politically correct thing to do?
- Be honest with others.
- Be aware. If everyone looks like you in the workplace, it’s a problem. If hardly anyone looks like you in the workplace, that’s a problem. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses, which leads us to step 4.
- Don’t be too proud to ask for help. Everyone needs help. No one succeeds alone. I always lean on people I trust to guide me through areas in which they have expertise and I do not. I know what I’m good at and where I need assistance. I’m never too proud to ask for assistance. Achieving the goal is the most important thing, not who gets the credit.
- Listen to young people. They tend to be less tainted by the world than older people, tend to have a more diverse set of friends and acquaintances, and they tend to understand technology in ways that can benefit your business.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I’m optimistic because women are in more positions of leadership and influence than ever before. I’m also optimistic because a lot of White men have lived long enough to see that there are different, better ways to maintain public safety and enforce the law. It takes a strong person to admit when they’re wrong and I’ve heard many older, White male members of law enforcement say, “We were wrong. The profession needs overhauling and we need help doing it.” I admire them.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Mark Cuban and Michelle Obama. They’re genuine, well meaning, accomplished people who see the world for what it is, and are in positions to positively influence the lives of millions of people. They already have.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!