Lessons from my Father: Building on Shared Values

June 19, 2015

By Tony DeLisi, Consultant

My father, Scott DeLisi, is retiring from the US Foreign Service this fall after thirty-four years of serving his country and representing American interests overseas. I was fortunate to spend the first eighteen years of my life traveling the globe with my family, living in exotic locations, and witnessing the wide variety of ways humans live and earn a living. Throughout these diverse experiences of my youth, one constant was watching my father learn the skills of diplomacy and rise through the State Department ranks to his current post, and third ambassadorship, as the US Ambassador to Uganda.

I couldn’t be more proud of my father and his career, both as his son but also as a citizen of this country and the world. What I witnessed in our travels and in his success as a diplomat inform my daily existence and my desire to help communities and people succeed.

The personal lessons learned through travel and cultural exchange can be as simple as recognizing what you love about your own country while also noticing ways we can improve. Numerous research studies have shown that diversity of background and perspective serves to enhance innovation and drive organizational success. My own experience shows me the same, and I still think the more exposure we all have to diversity, the more we as individuals and communities can grow.

The lessons about life and work that I learned from my father in our travels are not as simple or easy to capture. Instead of telling stories about his time as the chargé d’affaires (temporary head of mission) in Sri Lanka or our border crossing from Zimbabwe to Botswana, I would like to speak to a conversation he and I had last year, when I was lucky to visit him and my mother in Uganda.

My father was speaking broadly about the challenges of diplomacy and building lasting relationships with other countries, particularly those that on the surface may have little in common with the US. He mentioned that frequently people believe that the US is only interested in this foreign policy or that initiative because it helps American interests and that we are uninterested in the welfare of other countries.

To this argument, my father would say, yes, as a nation, America pursues policies and builds relationships that help America, but that does not mean the policies are bad for the other country. We recognize that helping other countries can be good for America. Therefore, in order to come to agreements that benefit both countries, we pursue relationships with other nations and people that share our values and build a common path forward.

Building relationships on shared values is critical to achieving success, whether in diplomacy, business, or economic development.

This lesson from my father stays with me in every community that I visit and every strategy I help develop. Part of what drew me to Avalanche Consulting was Amy’s recognition of the importance of and commitment to bringing communities together around shared values and a vision for the future.

We will not agree with everybody in the world, and we will not agree on every decision in our own community. But many of us will agree on the values that bring us together and make us a community:

  • We all want opportunities for personal success and fulfillment.
  • We all want to help our families and provide them with the same opportunities.
  • We all want to enhance and protect quality of life for our and future generations.

Every community has its own unique values and aspirations, just as every community has its own challenges and disagreements. These foundational values should provide inspiration for the future and opportunities for agreement.

The communities that succeed are those that articulate their shared values and follow a path towards a common vision based on these values.

It is not always an easy path, but we have seen it work time and again. Success in economic development is built by promoting inclusion, talking to both residents and businesses, and developing a strategy that addresses an entire community’s values and needs, not just the voices of a few.