Hiring and leading people that mirror you is not only foolish….it’s dangerous. Yes, it’s extremely comfortable to bring on new hires that look like you, think like you, and even talk like you but is that truly comforting? Today’s leader is constantly faced with new, varied, and complex challenges and opportunities as it deals with the diverse workplace. I would argue that there are more opportunities to succeed as a leader if indeed the workforce continues to be a melting pot. We always hear the complaints that today’s leadership hasn’t evolved and whether it’s the inability or will to relate to the diverse workforce….it’s clear we need more “Chameleon Leadership”. The ability to be able to adjust to the environment, culture, and situation much like a chameleon does the leader is required to be nimble and flexible. Unfortunately, we still have neanderthal leadership thinking out there that refuses to come to grips that today’s workers don’t look, think, or act like the workers of the past. There is more than enough content regarding how millennials don’t hold the same values or desires of yesterday’s employee where money means everything. This poses a challenge to today’s leadership on how you inspire, coach, and lead such a dynamic workforce….and for some like myself that’s a fun challenge. As I see it the first step is to fully notice, embrace, and appreciate the value the differences between and among people in an organization provides. View these differences as assets rather than sources of nuisances and tolerability. Yes, I do think because there’s so much pressure to drive diversity in organizations today that many corporate leaders feel they have to appease which causes confusion and misunderstanding. It really comes down to a matter of education and training. Organizations that educate and train the value a diverse workforce has can easily gain and maintain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. To be clear the challenges and opportunities to leverage individual and cultural diversity can vary from culture to culture, country to country, and even organization to organization, which is why a “Chameleon Leadership” approach works. Effectively leveraging diversity means utilizing the advantageous differences employees have to accomplish organizational goals that are directly impacted by a diverse marketplace.
Valuing “Diversity” Self-Reflection
One of the most helpful steps in understanding how to value the diversity of people on your team is to understand your own values and beliefs. This could be an eye opening experience for most because we ALL have our specific values, beliefs….and yes, biases that we have clung to. It’s important to take a self-reflection assessment of how those values, beliefs and biases intertwine with your team’s diverse make-up. I often find when I’m in consulting sessions with clients it comes out that there’s sometimes an unwillingness to “Self-Reflect” on how one deals with a diverse environment. Corporate leaders basically express to me “It’s their job/responsibility to adjust to me….not vice versa”, and I typically express back to them with kindness “You won’t be leading them long”. It’s important for anyone in a leadership capacity responsible for a team push themselves beyond their current environment and interactions (step out of that plush C-Suite office) to develop their knowledge of and sensitivity to issues of diversity. Doing so can help to fully understand, appreciate, and maximize the talents that diversity brings. The more leaders understand other’s values, beliefs and backgrounds, the more they will know what inspires them. Consider these recommendations:
- Proactively establish relationships with people who are different from you. Doing this in your personal life makes for an easier transition in your career life, and it will help you learn about the unique perspectives and contributions others have to offer.
- Inquire people from a variety of backgrounds for help in understanding their experiences, perspectives, and culture. Seek to understand the individual rather than seeing the person as a representative of a group. Looking at the person either as an individual only or as a representative of a group only could lead to wrong assumptions….and biases.
- Caution, some people won’t want their differences recognized at all. Some may see your overtures to support underrepresented groups as threatening. Make sure your proactivity to learn more about others always returns to the central theme—how to recognize and enable each person’s unique talents….sincerely not manipulatively.
- Continually, monitor and “Self-Reflect” the assumptions you make about people and ideas. Such assumptions you’ll find will be based on both external, easily identifiable differences, as well as more subtle, invisible differences. The key is to acknowledge that those assumptions and cultural beliefs can have a significant effect on how you see others.
Creating an environment of respect, appreciation and acceptance for EVERYONE goes beyond simply tolerating people who are different. As a leader you must actively welcome and involve yourself in ensuring there’s a sense of belonging, loyalty, and significance to those under your leadership. Believe me people take cues from the environment about how well they are accepted. For example, as a leader actively enlisting and involving people, versus merely responding if they ask to be involved….conveys two different messages. Some leaders assume that being different is a source of confusion and difficulty, an example of someone who should not be in a leadership capacity. An effective leader recognizes the value of maximizing the complimentary skills, backgrounds, and cultural knowledge his/her people have. Recognizing and adjusting to those complimentary skills can move a leader a step closer to achieving The “Chameleon Leadership” Effect.
The “Chameleon Leadership” Effect
Some would say the efforts to manage diversity can easily stir powerful frustrations and other emotions within an organization. Those who have stifled feelings of frustration for years may suddenly voice their anger…I’ve witnessed this personally. Some may see the “diversity program” (an intentioned quote) as a company pressured EEOC plan that will advance the career of someone less skilled. It’s critical that corporations today as I’ve mentioned earlier educate and sufficiently train their leadership to clearly communicate that diversity refers to EVERYONE. “Chameleon Leadership” refers to the ability to communicate broadly the value of diversity in a way that it resonates with people who might otherwise consider themselves irrelevant to the discussion or overlooked. Emphasizing the importance of understanding and respecting each other’s view of the world and how in most cases there’s value hidden in those differences can demonstrate a leader’s chameleon effect. The leader of today has to be able to change colors…NOT who they are. If upon self-reflection there’s unwarranted biases that impact the ability to lead, then a change in color is warranted.
We all make assumptions based on values, beliefs, and biases the trick is identifying them quickly so that they don’t impair the ability to lead. While the king of the jungle is the undisputed Lion….the best leader just might be the “CHAMELEON”.
THE “CHAMELEON LEADERSHIP” EFFECT!
Take a look at our whitepaper: Cross Functional Leadership….”Leading across the Ambiguity Aisle”
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AH2 & Beyond Consulting