Paul Raggio | Diversity, Leadership, and ‘Scrum’

Paul Raggio

I recently met one of our behind-the-scenes Santa Clarita Valley leaders, about whom I heard many positive things from others in the valley. He’s passionate about leadership and has two decades of senior leader-level experience that put him in the grey-beard status, although there is no grey hair on his head! He invited Lisa and me to attend the premiere showing of a documentary he co-executive produced called “Scrum.”  

A two-decade resident of Santa Clarita with his wife and daughters, Jeffrey Thompson, made a rock-solid, eye-opening, thoughtful, must-see film that I walked away believing was about diversity and leadership! 

Scrum or scrummage is when opposing players come together in a body-contact formation and fight for possession of a grounded ball using only their feet in the game of rugby. With players donning minimum pads and wearing no helmets, the game itself is one of the most physical, force-on-force games played throughout the world. “Scrum,” the documentary, tells the story of coach Frank McKinney and how he unites a diverse team of players at Queens University of Charlotte, North Carolina. This exceptional leader, McKinney, started a university rugby program in 2017 and two years later took his team to the USA Rugby Division II national championship and won! 

Noteworthy, coach McKinney is an African American, the first varsity coach of this race hired by Queens. His player recruitment effort targeted and attracted racially and ethnically diverse players, most never having played rugby before. Many came from impoverished, inner-city, single-parent homes and would not ever have had the opportunity to attend Queens University, let alone play on a collegiate varsity team. Several of the players in the film recounted that if not for McKinney’s paternal outreach and tenacity in getting them accepted, enrolled, and retained in Queens, they likely would join or fall victim to their neighborhood gangs.  

Coach McKinney’s journey represents the highs and lows of leadership. He has the passion, talent, drive, experience and skill to create a national championship team. However, he must overcome several personal and professional obstacles, race, of course, being one of them. Adversity comes in all shapes and forms, and leaders must contend with it, as McKinney projects several times after being knocked down personally and professionally. However, most important to him is getting up and continuing his pursuit with zeal. He models this behavior, and his players replicate it, not only on the rugby field but in the classroom, too.  

Leadership often is and can be a very lonely endeavor. Support may be absent, and impediments may be present at every turn. Often leaders make difficult decisions that impact their followers or the stakeholders they serve. The difference between right and wrong becomes blurred, and there is no shortage of critics. The risk of failing challenges the very best leaders to tenaciously seek success by giving more than they ever thought they were capable of, yet failing is part of their journey.  

Nevertheless, as coach McKinney demonstrates, the team flourishes and responds to his tough love, high standards and unwavering values with exceptional leadership. The film depicts their growth as players, academic achievers, and, more importantly, as contributors to the greater good of family and society. Importantly, it captures McKinney’s emotions after their national championship victory, and you sense his burden as well as the honor of being their leader. 

Some say that diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) is another social fad percolating our nation. Opposing forces are in a scrummage, with DEIB being the archetype trying to make its way across the goal line. DEIB ought to be a top-of-mind practice that public and corporate leadership teams leverage and exploit. If embraced, it’s a best leadership and business practice that will pay your organization back in perpetuity.  

Coach McKinney’s example of leading a diverse group by inspiring every member to achieve beyond what they thought was possible on and off the field is one all leaders should model. If you want a championship team, seek diversity, actively reach out to those who will be most motivated to succeed given their current environment, then inspire them to achieve unbelievable results! Watch “Scrum.” You’ll walk away inspired and reawakened to the importance of diversity and leadership in creating championship teams. This is how you lead, think, plan and act. Now, let’s get after it. 

Retired Col. Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions. Paul and Lisa mentor and coach business owners on leadership and management principles in achieving and sustaining their business growth and profitability goals. He can be reached at [email protected].   

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