DeltaDays: Dr. Guajardo proposes leadership revolution

“Female, short, and of color…this is the new face of leadership, but we don’t know it yet,” explained Dr. Maria Guajardo in her talk entitled “The New Normal: Leadership for a Diverse World.” The talk was a valuable addition to week-long DeltaDays events.

Guajardo is the Executive Director of the Denver Mayor’s Office for Education and Children. She has led many educational programs, from preschool through college, and is a licensed psychologist.  She has co-chaired the Democratic National Convention Committee’s Education Initiative and is on the board of directors at Children’s Hospital. She is also the daughter of illiterate Mexican immigrants and proudly identifies herself as Latina.

Guajardo began by explaining the term ‘new normal,’ and establishing its imminence. The new normal will be a more ethnically diverse normal, a more complicated normal, and the current leadership does not reflect this reality. “When my parents came to this country approximately fifty, sixty years ago, one out of ten people was a person of color in the United States of America… Today, in the year 2011, one out of four people are a person of color. In approximately 20 years, in 2030, one out of two people will be a person of color in this country.” As the population changes, Guajardo asserts it will become necessary for the leadership to change as well, to become more colorful and diverse. 

In order to continue her explanation of the new normal, Guajardo discussed the importance of individual and collective identity. She cited an African proverb, “I am because we are and we are because I am,” as a jumping off point for exploring diversity. She then elaborated, “What I love about that statement is that I can’t be here as a white man, I can’t be here without the diversity in this room, but you can’t ask me to dismiss who I am… .It takes both sides. It takes seeing the whole and it takes seeing the individual.”

Having established the identity of the new normal, Guajardo moved on to discussing implementing it. She explained, “It’s going to be a journey of transformation. The new normal is going to require of us to really do some work inside, to really think about who is it that we are.” She urged everyone, but especially members of the new normal, to stand up and innovate instead of imitate.

Finally, she challenged listeners to develop the strength necessary to be the leadership of the new normal. First, leaders require strength of self through defining identity. Second, leaders require strength of heart through discovering voice and recognizing leadership positions. Third, leaders require strength of vision to avoid what she called CAVE people and to focus energy on passions. Guajardo described CAVE people as “Citizens Against Virtually Everything… the people who are naysayers against everything that you want to stand for and represent” and warned the audience, “Beware of CAVE People.” 

Guajardo gave an inspirational and entertaining challenge to both the leaders of today and the leaders of tomorrow. She stressed the importance of identity and of choosing to innovate instead of imitate. She exemplified the spirit of DeltaDays and it was worth listening to her talk.

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