Advanced Leadership Perspectives for Embracing Diversity of Thought

Many leaders started their diversity initiatives knowing that it was the RIGHT thing to do. Over the last 15-20 years, it has also become evident that it was the correct business response. Numbers show successful correlations between business results and diversity.

Most of these efforts have focused on gender and race equality and acceptance in their organizations. The next level of work must address the issues of style, thought and ideas, and approach.

Creating a culture which truly embraces diversity, including diversity of thought and behavior is seriously entwined with the ability to create a culture of innovation. If a culture is rife with biases about what is polite, what is appropriate, what is “normal”, it is unlikely to be a culture where new ideas thrive.

It is more likely that such a culture will atrophy and decay, even when the numbers reflect a well-balanced reflection of existing social diversity. Past business momentum may carry the entity forward, but it will eventually stall. Because of the speed with which technology is changing the environment, the stalling will happen more quickly than we may anticipate.

In many traditional organizations, if you look at the numbers, the efforts on diversity have been ongoing and quite successful,. It won’t be enough.

The speed of change is now creating a dawning realization that if an organization does not keep up with the changes at the level of designing and changing product to meet their clients’ emerging needs, they are going out of business.

To keep up, they must hire the best and brightest people they can find, with a high comfort level with technology. Having deep pockets is only a small fraction of the issue, as large Fortune 100 companies can attest. They can afford to find them and hire them, but if their culture is slow to adjust to diversity of thought and approach, they will lose them (or not attract them in the first place).

The new culture diversity issue is removing obstacles to rapid decision-making and execution and yes… it is a diversity issue.

The amount of divisiveness evident in the political arena may offer a clue to how this inability to accept other points of view is a serious issue for our evolution. People have become even more afraid of diversity of thought and belief, and it shows. It’s more subdued in our businesses, but the nature of being stuck is the same. We hate change.

Becoming a “GLOBAL” company is not an easy journey, but for many organizations it has created the awareness of our cultural stumbling blocks, biases, and the costs to the success of any enterprise.

Many have done some of the work of embracing different cultures and genders and have benefited from doing so. There is still much to do in those areas. But most are still in the dark ages when it comes to embracing diverse ideas, approaches, and styles.

We cannot move quickly, decide quickly, or solve problems if everything is a standoff. If you do not believe this is happening in your organization, try to remember how unwilling people are to take bad news to their bosses. How quickly do people back off from fighting with difficult personalities? How welcoming are they to outsiders who come in with new ways to do things? How hungry are they for new approaches? Really? Do they embrace new ways of doing things or do they subtly or overtly resist?

How long do your outsiders last? They may start with enthusiasm, but if you have watched the new guys, who often spend 2-3 years before they give up and go elsewhere, you may be telling yourself that they just did not fit. You may have decided that they left for their own reasons. The truth is that they got tired of fighting. The only way they survive is if they learn to fit, and then your organization has lost. They were brought in to stir things up and they leave because they cannot.

Our leaders, all leaders, are beginning to realize that if they are not successful in bridging the gaps created by diversity of thought, style and approach, their organizations will fail. They simply are not getting the speed in decisions and execution they need in order to survive, and ultimately, thrive.

They attempt to look at this from a structural and rewards standpoints, and sometimes are convinced they must make huge changes to compensation and to process. Unfortunately, attitude is the more root problem and the costly changes will change nothing until people fundamentally learn to accept “different”.

Until we truly understand that speed of decision-making and execution is often an inability to accept other ways of doing things (diversity), we will continue to attempt to solve the wrong problems.