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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki

Secretary's Second Annual Alternative Dispute Resolution Excellence Awards and Diversity and Inclusion Excellence Awards Ceremony
Washington, DC
October 21, 2011

Rosa [Franco], thank you for that kind introduction and for your tremendous help in organizing today's activities. Let me also acknowledge Deputy Secretary Scott Gould, Chief of Staff John Gingrich, Dr. Randy Petzel, our Under Secretary for Health, and other key members of our senior leadership team, including Georgia Coffey, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diversity and Inclusion, who also did yeoman's work in bringing us together for this honors ceremony;

And then most importantly, today's awardees. For dispute resolution: Sandra Simmons, Adam Walmus, and the ADR program from our Marion VAMC represented by Paul Bockelman and Imanda Dewalt. For diversity and inclusion: Terry Gerigk Wolf, Novella Brown Scott, and the VISN 16 team—Ceagus Reed, Patricia Bryant, Adam Walmus, Julie Catelier, Buzz Gray, and Roberto Rosales. Your dedication and professionalism have been the engine behind our pursuit of excellence. I am especially pleased to be able to thank those family members, who are present, for their unwavering support and devotion to these VA employees over the many years that has enabled them to produce this kind of excellence. Other distinguished guests, fellow Veterans, VA colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:

Good afternoon, everyone—these are such special awards, and I am glad to see so many of you here to recognize our award recipients. I am honored to acknowledge them for their distinguished service in the areas of diversity, inclusion, and alternative dispute resolution.

You may wonder why this Secretary makes such a big deal over this aspect of leadership responsibility. For one thing, equal opportunity, diversity, inclusiveness, and the responsibility to provide a safe, secure, and comforting work environment are the responsibility of leadership, not just at the secretarial level, but in every office, at every echelon, where two or more employees work, throughout our vast VA footprint.

The other primary reason that this Secretary devotes time to this important aspect of leadership is because some of my previous professional life was spent fixing, at the national and international levels, situations where these democratic principles about respect and dignity were not matters of leadership importance, responsibility, or priority.

Remember "I CARE"? Integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect, excellence? If we live up to the promises we make in "I CARE," we will have more than met our obligations for strengthening our competencies as an organization.

Competent organizations count—they outperform everyone else, they function even when the leadership is absent or unavailable, they are irreplaceable in crises, they know what needs to be done, each and every day, and they get on with doing it—because they are a team where trust in one another is highly valued. That's why taking a few moments to thank folks, who have showed us what right looks like, is the important thing to do.

Trust is essential to caring, compassionate leadership—you cannot have a successful organization without it. You don't find trust in organizations that don't represent the communities they serve, and you cannot serve those communities well unless you look something like them.

Our awardees are being honored today because they have earned the trust of their co-workers in creating that diverse and inclusive workplace that is representative of America. They have accomplished their missions, taken care of their people, and they have gotten it right.

Peter Drucker once observed, "All organizations say, routinely, 'people are our greatest asset.' Yet few practice what they preach, let alone truly believe it." Well, at VA—a very large organization of 315,000 people—I am pleased that we are striving to avoid Peter Drucker's admonition. And the proof of that is this group of men and women we honor today.

Not only do they consistently reinforce the importance of diversity, inclusion, and positive resolution to conflict, they actively practice it in exciting and innovative ways. This fosters a workplace where employees know they are valued and accepted, and an atmosphere of trust prevails.

In well-led organizations, where leaders have invested in the training and well-being of their employees—all through the organization, not just at the top—conflict resolution is less difficult, and the workforce better understands the importance of diversity and inclusion.

Good leadership at all levels of VA's administrations, before a crisis occurs, ensures best outcomes. The tools required to resolve conflict have been honed for employment at the lowest possible level to provide both parties the opportunity to address the underlying problems, come to an agreement, and grow their sense of teamwork—without losing a step in serving Veterans.

VA's transformation will succeed because of outstanding employees like the ones we honor today. Their dedication to service and pursuit of excellence resounds "I CARE," loudly and clearly. They lived our core values long before we codified them in June.

To our awardees, we are grateful to you and your families for making us better than we thought possible.

May God bless those who serve and have served our Nation. May God continue to bless this wonderful country of ours.

Thank you.