Inclusive Leadership Begins with Us: Roger That!

One day I was visiting a large corporation where I had once delivered a presentation on inclusive leadership.  The message of my presentation was that anyone can be a leader­ in creating accessible and inclusive workplaces and marketplaces: you don’t need to be the CEO of a corporation (although you certainly can be the CEO) to demonstrate leadership.

In any case, here I was, back in the same building months later, and as I scooted down the hallway, I heard someone yell my name. I stopped and saw one of the maintenance staff running toward me.

I have to pause here to say that my wheelchair driving skills are not, shall we say, precise. It’s not uncommon for me to leave an unintentional autograph of chipped paint on a wall or a dent in a doorway. All this to say, I’m always a little uneasy when a member of the maintenance or security staff of an organization comes running after me. So when this staff member, who introduced himself as Roger, asked if I had a minute to chat, my immediate thought was, “Rats… he found the dent in the door in the accessible washroom.”

Roger, however, wanted to tell me that he had attended the presentation I had given here all those months ago, even though he had initially thought it would be a waste of time. (At this point in the conversation I was thinking, “Wait until he finds the dent in the door—he’s going to be very impressed!”)

Roger went on to say that before attending my presentation he had never given any thought to the idea that he could be an inclusive leader. However, after the presentation, he started to look at his job differently. Instead of thinking that somebody else was going to create a more accessible and inclusive organization, he became the “somebody.”

“I started small,” he explained. “I noticed that the waste cans are constantly being moved in front of the accessible door openers. I started clearing the path every day.”

I could see the pride on his face as he continued his story of how that first step had inspired his maintenance staff colleagues to do the same thing in their work areas. During their lunch breaks together, they began to talk about other steps they could take to create a more inclusive workplace.

Roger told me that his efforts to create a more accessible and inclusive workplace began to ripple throughout the corporation. Soon an Inclusive and Diversity Committee was created, and it didn’t take long before this corporation had enhanced its efforts to hire people with disabilities.

Roger thanked me for helping him to understand that it’s all about taking that one step, and that sometimes the only thing stopping you from doing so is yourself.

I complimented Roger on his leadership, and we parted ways.

As I headed off, I heard him call out to me.

I turned back.

“By the way,” he said, “the first dent in the door by your wheelchair is free, but the second dent… we’ll need to talk.”