In early December 2018, I was asked to do a radio interview as we passed December 7, 2018— the 77th anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor. In the course of my preparation for that particular interview, I learned that for the first time in many, many years or as far back as anybody could remember, no survivors of the USS Arizona were able to attend. As of December 2018, the best we knew there were 5 living survivors with the youngest being 94 years of age. These elderly gentlemen were just too physically infirmed to go to Hawaii for this annual commemoration.
At Diamond6, we do leadership workshops using Pearl Harbor as a case study— both physically in Hawaii and at various sites around the country. Often times we use museums that lend themselves to a discussion of the effects of WWII and the Attack on Pearl Harbor. As I’ve worked through these particular preparations, workshops, and this radio interview, it was impressed upon me something which is the importance of diverse teams.
Let’s think about that for a moment with respect to Pearl Harbor. If you think about what happened on December 7, 1941, some of the questions that people ask me frequently is, “Why did the Japanese attack? And why did Germany and Italians declare war on the United States on the 10th of December?”
Most Americans don’t know the fact that they declared war on us. For those three days that intervened, the United States was prepared to head to a war in the Pacific and frankly, ignore what was going on in Europe.
In my research, there were a number of other reasons, but one of the reasons that the Japanese, Germans, and Italians decided to go to war was they made the following assumption— that their nations were of a superior state to the US due to racial superiority and racial purity. Hitler even described the United States as a mongrel nation. They saw that as a weakness that they can capitalize and lead them to eventual victory.
Let me tell you a couple stories that illustrate this point about the strength of diverse teams very pointedly from that very, very terrible day back in 1941.
On the USS West Virginia, when it was attacked, sailors quickly rushed to their battle stations. One of those who went to his battle station was a seaman by the name of Dorie Miller. Dorie Miller was an African American. He was the fleet heavyweight boxing champion. A huge man. He was a very effective sailor, but he was a mess steward because back in 1941 African American sailors were not allowed to operate a more direct battle station, manning guns and the like. Miller went to his station and quickly discovered that the captain of the ship had been badly wounded on the bridge. Miller made his way to the bridge and carried his captain to safety. Sadly, the captain shortly died there after. Then Miller went out on the deck and manned a machine gun. Even though he had never been trained on operating a machine gun and began to engage Japanese aircrafts. There’s a lot of arguments about how many aircrafts Dorie Miller shot down, but we know he shot down at least one. Here we have an African American sailor who stepped up when his team aboard the USS Virginia really needed him. Dorie Miller would receive the Navy Cross for that. Sadly, he would disappear later on when a ship he was manning was sunk off in the South Pacific.
Second of all, the day after the Attack on Pearl Harbor, the command in Hawaii called up all of the ROTC cadets to the University of Hawaii and sent them out to man various defensive sites around the island. These young cadets were out there doing that. Most of them were of Japanese American decent because of the size of that population in Hawaii. Unfortunately, in January 1941, the decision was made to intern Japanese Americans, about 750,000 were in fact interned in camps in California, Arizona, and elsewhere. And these young ROTC cadets, it was directed that they be disarmed, because their families were oftentimes heading off to internment camps. Many of these youngsters joined the army in the days that followed and became part of the very famous combat regimen that was made up of solely Japanese Americans, with white officers. Sent to Europe, the 442 would gain enormous recognition, would have more purple hearts, more awards for valor, no desertions, throughout the entirety of the war. Even though these Japanese Americans were fighting for their nation while their families were being held in internment camps in the western part of the United States.
In reality, diversity for the United States was not a weakness as Hitler and Tojo assumed, but rather a strength.
This was clearly put to the test throughout the war. We saw larger examples… women rallied and went off to the workplace and really were the fundamental building block of the industrial capacity of the United States that was so fundamental to winning the war. Tuskegee airman, the African American soldiers more broadly, contributed enormously to our success in WWII.
I think that all leaders even today can reflect and take a lesson from the Attack on Pearl Harbor and that is the benefits to having a diverse team.
Benefits to Diversity
· Expands the number of creative ideas that are available
· Better contact with your customers/stakeholders
· Access to wider range of problem solvers
· Reduces tensions and hostilities within the team
· Gives us an increased appreciation of different people, ideas, and general respect for others
So, as you think about that never-ending process of building your team and improving your team, consider the value of a diverse team.
Remember Pearl Harbor, Dorie Miller, and the men of the 442nd combat regimen.
We want to hear from YOU! How have you benefitted from diversity within your team? Share your comments below.