C.E.O. EXCHANGE: Going Beyond Diversity Training


“If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” –Frank A. Clark

Contributing Correspondent: Ted Santos

Shifting the Focus: The corporate environment is ripe for women and minorities to step into leadership roles. To maintain those roles, it will be important to develop skills to handle larger obstacles. When you aspire for higher accountability, you must be prepared for unfamiliar obstacles and constant changes.

While including women and minorities in senior management teams is important, global competition demands top talent. Therefore, diversity alone is not enough. Cultivating top talent, regardless of cultural background, is an effective means for success. If you, as a manager, are going to build high performing teams, you and your people will need constant growth and loftier career aspirations.

In business, there is no difference. There is, however, a common expectation that your employer is responsible for your professional development and to some extent that is true. In fact, after extensive interviews within Fortune 100 companies, we found a major complaint was that people forgot most of what they learned in corporate training classrooms; much of the learning was static and not relevant to what they encountered day-to-day.

Preparing for leadership: Many managers we interviewed requested training and development (coaching) in real-time. This medium better prepared them for the challenges of managing a dynamic environment as well as handling the complexities of a diverse team or department. Therefore, seeking such training structures outside of your place of employment would be in your best interest.

Leading diversity: When a team shares the same values and vision, they gel better as a group. However, with diverse thinkers, religions and so on, there must be effective management tools to keep people aligned. Below is a brief outline of four strategies to lead diverse teams and disperse silos. Additionally, these are important competencies for women and minorities to acquire before they take on the challenges of a leadership role.

1). Create a new mindset – Outdated mindsets create outdated conversations. Outdated conversations can inaccurately predetermine what’s possible as well as what’s impossible. Part of the job of leadership is to engage people in new conversations for what’s possible. In those conversations, people have a chance to identify untapped opportunities. In some cases, untapped opportunities can appear risky.

In the book “Risk Intelligence,” David Apagar says that “the biggest problem people have when faced with risk is that they know too much… [about] themselves.” People tend to see themselves with presupposed limits and capabilities based on their knowledge and experience. A change in leadership mindset will support a change in staff and managerial mindsets.

2). Create a problem – This requires a different perspective when viewing problems and may appear counterintuitive. Yet, to create a platform on which people can stand together, leadership must create a problem for staff and management to solve. This is not to say leadership is looking for problems to solve. Instead, leadership must galvanize the entire organization or team around the invention of a new product, service or innovative productivity process. Because the project has never been done before and there is no blue print, it can appear as a problem.

3). Create a common language – In addition to enhanced skills and competencies, a common language must be created to unify people. John Seely Brown, former Chief Scientist of Xerox said, “…e-learning platform also fosters a shared vocabulary, set of methodologies and perspectives regarding technology architectures and evolution. This helps to set the stage for deepening trust and enhancing the ability to collaborate effectively. As a result, it also helps to increase the potential for business innovation.”

4). Allow people to fail – With new language and a problem to solve, an environment for accomplishment is fostered. Even though people will begin to galvanize themselves into action, they need to know that it is permissible to take actions outside of the box. Those new and seemingly irrational actions will require practice. In the beginning it will look like failure. However, yesterday’s failures become tomorrow’s breakthroughs.

When organizations continuously innovate, staff and management will have to become comfortable with greater accountability and responsibility. For that reason, there may be a greater return on investment from training people in intrapersonal skills first -instead of teaching people to understand the differences between themselves and others. What do you think?

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