On Thursday I took two business colleagues on a tour of our manufacturing facilities. When we finally reached Michelle’s workstation she wanted to show off her new teeth and tell us about the whole process of her recent oral surgery. “Money,” she explained, getting immediately to the heart of the matter. “Shot,” she added, gesturing to her gums as if clarifying a great mystery. Then she wanted to know what I was doing for Thanksgiving. “Eat turkey?” she hazarded. “Drink beer?” she added hopefully, with the bottoms up gesture known to tipplers the world over.
But when I returned to the production floor Friday with another guest, Michelle waved us over with a very different purpose in mind. “Show you,” she said, urgently gesturing for us to wait. She dug around in her backpack for a minute until she found what she was looking for, a thick legal size envelope. She removed the contents, a five or six page document, and unfolded them so we could see the top page.
PRODUCTION WORKER-1 it said in bold letters across the top — a job description. Michelle pointed at the papers, then pointed at herself. “Me,” she said, beaming with her brand new teeth. “Wait,” she commanded as she thumbed through the pages looking for something else. She found the page she was looking for and folded back the rest to show us. APPLICATION FOR EMPLOYMENT it said across the top. Michelle slowly ran her finger under the words for emphasis then pointed to herself — “Job,” she announced proudly.
That Michelle has completed an extensive training and (in effect) apprenticeship and is about to become a fulltime employee of a profitable manufacturing company that packages high quality goods for some of the leading brands in the nation, is a tribute to the power of diversity, to the contribution made by people of all abilities. By the way, watch for Michelle’s product next time you’re in your favorite outdoor equipment store, no, not the discount chain — I’m talking about the high-end one downtown.
Michelle has so much to teach us about what is important, about the essential qualities of life, work, and leadership that are so often obscured by the static that consumes most of our attention. This is the power of diversity, that it teaches and reveals and enriches us in the most wonderful way.