Leading Diversity

This week I was reminded of the diversity in leadership while attending the International Computer Electronics Show (CES). With well over a hundred thousand people attending, I often found myself watching, listening and interacting with a very diverse group from all over the world.

Imagine being placed into a scenario where language, familiarity with local culture, traditions, beliefs, gender, background, personalities, business climate, business practices and opinions are all in the mix. From a leadership perspective, it could be a challenge, but an evolutionary experience in creating a dynamic and flourishing team.

Leading diversity is now an everyday occurrence. Each day, we interact and possibly lead people from different countries and locations, partners from other organizations, those who have relocated to an area from other regions or we work for or with a globally diverse organization.

Personally, I have worked with geographically diverse teams for two decades and have found the interactions and adaptability of most people to be very positive. My leadership style has evolved and adapted with each experience and I have created some great relationships and learned a lot about culture, styles and personal goals and expectations.

Over the years, I've found there are several basic principles that leaders should consider when working with diverse teams.

Listening - How often have you heard someone say, "You’re not listening to me"? In diverse groups, language may be seen as a barrier, but it’s really listening that’s often the issue. When my children were growing up, my favorite saying was, Listening is an art, and hearing is a gift. If we are to be successful leaders, we have to practice the art of listening with intent to understand.

Leaders must take time to ask more questions, consider insights and responses and work to overcome any barriers such as distance in communications.

Communications - Everyone has a style and preference when it comes to communications. I’m not talking about your favorite tool or device of choice. In diverse organizations, not everyone will have the same communication approach and leaders should consider how they can utilize the expertise of each person matching the comfort of their communications with their role and value to the organization. Some cultures find strength in one-on-one discussions, others in small groups and many learn in their youth that whoever is leading deserves respect and honor.

It’s the leader's challenge to learn the patterns of communications with each person, and understand the cultural heritages that may influence participation, interaction and ongoing communication.

Trust - Developing and cultivating trust in diverse teams is a keystone to successful teams. There are two elements in building and growing trust. The first is overcoming fear. In any organization, people will reserve comments and interactions until they have confidence and a level of comfort in their leader. I've found that most people are looking for common association, acceptance and support. Until they are comfortable with the organization, team, expectations, role and their interaction, there's some level of intrepidation. the second element is-  do they trust you? Heather Coleman-Voss recently shared in her post Just Trust Me, "Employees want to be trusted and respected for their work. Team members believe that their passion for their job, their work ethic, efforts and experience in their specific area should be recognized and rewarded."

In culturally diverse organizations, leaders should consider how you can build trust with each person, taking time to:

  • Set expectations and communicate to everyone.
  • Do what you say you’re going to do and be consistent.
  • Live in the present, while having a vision or charter for the team.
  • Looking at you first before considering the challenges of others.

Acceptance - For any leader, accepting people for their contribution, character and capabilities should be first on the list. When leaders keep this at the forefront of their goals, it shouldn't make a difference about a person's heritage, background or culture. I look at it this way: if a person gives me their best and desires to work with my limitations, they deserve my acceptance. They also require my willingness to support them and promote their contribution on a continuous basis.

Some things to think about:

As a contributor, am I open when it comes to being the part of a culturally diverse team? What do I bring to the table that will make it successful?

As a leader, how do I leverage the cultural diversity in my team and do I seek for persons that bring this to the organization?

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