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In our first Monday Moment of the New Year, we released the Top Ten Leadership Tips of 2019. Second on that list is Be Truly Inclusive and Diverse and yet, even in this day and age, while some might say the need is being forced upon them, many leaders are still not sure what that means or how to do it. Being diverse relates to hiring practices and the make-up of teams or committees and the individuals involved in them. Diversity programs in organizations have explained the concepts and we’ve been given numerous opportunities to practice our acceptance of varying diversities. Being inclusive is the act of truly including those parties with such diversities. Even if a leader leaves out one team member inadvertently by asking all to stand while there is a team member bound to a wheelchair present, becoming aware of inclusive actions and removing actions that reject one type, person, party, background, ability or another is important. In fact, it is now essential. Don’t wait for the next policy, such as new signs for your office’s gender-neutral bathroom, to shift your thinking in this area. The leaders who succeed in the coming year will show more tolerance, not less. They will practice acceptance and modification of their leadership style, becoming less rigid about the old “highway option”, and they will be faced with differences that until now hadn’t been given credence or validation. But how does a leader do that and still manage to deliver effective leadership? In today’s Monday Moment, let’s talk about those steps and some options.
1. Strive to See Demeanor
Not unlike the Sixth Sense movie flashback of “I see dead people”, what you see changes when you change how you see things. There’s no intent here to twist words or make a tough topic even more confusing. Well, not really. The truth is some people are simply married to seeing differences. When you’re a leader, however, you simply don’t have that luxury. People are different. News flash, we know. But leaders who still insist on describing people based on their background, their gender, their religion, their head dress, their race, or their skin color are missing real opportunities for potential. Does this mean you have to like all the differences that are flooding in your workplace? Nope. It just means that you will find yourself in a far easier spot and with far less drama if you’ll focus on demeanor instead of differences. How is their attitude? Are they a contributor to the team to the outcomes? How are they with other team members? Do they lift others up or increase motivation? Would they if they were in a different position? Keep your personal preferences and personal opinions out of the equation, in most cases, and realize that how you handle your treatment and respect of those you lead who are different is how the rest of those you lead will assume is acceptable. Keep both you and them in the most professional arena and focus on each person’s skills, attitude, and demeanor.
2. Look for Needs and Gaps
Once you’ve shifted from identifying differences to observing demeanor, then start seeking out needs and locating gaps. What does the team or committee you have the privilege of leading need in order to be more successful or to be even higher performers? What is missing in the way of their much-needed resources, tools, equipment, budget, or even personalities and natural tendencies? Locate those needs and find people or items to fill them. It may not even matter why that need exists, but it matters greatly that as a leader, part of your responsibility is to fill it. Then look for gaps in communication, most likely found in processes or procedures that act as barriers. Are there gaps in information flow that back everything up and keep progress from happening? If the process can be tweaked or problem resolved, you may find the frustration that then turns into arguments and blaming, dissipates just as quickly. When you close gaps and fill needs, you reduce the stress of that team you have the privilege of leading. Without high levels of stress and smoother work flow, team members have much less time to whine or complain or focus on the pressure or confusion that may be felt from obvious differences.
3. Consider Your Staging
If you were producing a play, you’d consider the stage. You’d look for the ideal way in which to convey a certain scene or time period of maybe even, a message. The same is true in leadership even if you don’t need plywood and acrylic paint to make it happen. You set the stage for how the entire team performs. You lay the foundation and you are the example. If that’s not a comfortable role, say no when the next promotion is offered. At the same time, the team you lead is also IN a specific stage and may float in and out of the team formation stages each and every time a new team member is added or taken away. These commonly described stages include Forming, Storming, Norming, and sometimes Adjourning and the way in which you demonstrate being a difference neutral leader may depend on the stage the team is in that you’re leading. In the Forming stages, when you are bringing team members together or hiring, be the difference neutral leader by identifying skill needs or specialty gaps among the team. Make a list of what, not who, is needed and remember to add your preference for demeanor and attitude when you’re in this stage, as well. When the team starts to argue and enters the Storming stage in which they are trying to figure out how to work together with different styles or preferences, teach them how to focus on contributions and value that bring a team together to achieve much more together, rather than differences that separate and alienate what could be a powerful strategic alliance. When in the Norming stage, focus on leading. Just leading. Make sure your message is understood by all, which means you may need to deliver it differently to different people. Make sure your expectations are appropriate for all. Ensure you are aware of differences to avoid unintentional rejections or the appearance of favoritism, but spend most of your time focused on you and the team’s desired goals and outcomes.
Becoming a difference neutral leader is tough if you’ve been raised to see differences. It can even be tough if you have truly strong and passionate feelings about one topic or another and the person you now lead sees the world in a way that is entirely different. Save those feelings for yelling at the TV at home and realize that Leadership is a vital role and one that you signed up for. Lean into it and lead all those you’ve been given the privilege to include in your team. Who are those people exactly? Oh, just wait, as that’s next week when we’ll talk about ALL of the differences now being included in diversity initiatives.
Ready to Take the Become a Better Leader Challenge?
In 2019, with the focus on becoming a better leader by doing more with the leadership knowledge you have and are learning, each Monday Moment shares a Become a Better Leader Challenge. This week your mission, should you wish to make rapid improvement ahead of next week’s Monday Moment is this:
- Be honest with yourself. Do you describe people by demeanor or difference?
- Ask yourself: Are you fueling a less than inclusive environment among diverse individuals?
- Teach those you lead how to focus on demeanor and filling needs and gaps.
You’re on your way and you’re ready to become that better leader by Monday.
I’m Monica Wofford and that’s your Monday Moment. Have a great week and of course, stay Contagious!
Monica Wofford, CSP develops leaders. CEO of Contagious Companies, her firm designs and delivers leadership training for those managers who’ve been promoted, but not prepared. Author of Contagious Leadership and Make Difficult People Disappear, Monica may be reached at www.ContagiousCompanies.com, www.MonicaWofford.com or by calling 1-866-382-0121.