Why Diversity Doesn't Always Work

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These days it seems like you can't go a week without reading another article or being invited to another company meeting extolling the virtues of diversity. And can we just decide once and for all, whether it’s Diversity & Inclusion or Inclusion & Diversity? You have probably heard at least one of these statistics that are supposed to convince you that diversity is a magical elixir for all that ails corporate America.

Companies that have more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue

Source: Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

Inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market

Source: Josh Bersin research

Racially and ethnically diverse companies outperform industry norms by 35%

Source: McKinsey

Well gosh golly, if there are statistics to point to, it must be a slam dunk, right?

Don't get me wrong, I'm a poster child for diversity. While still in my 20’s I was having some coverage problems, but refused to join the Hair Club for Men. Instead, I opted for the full Shaolin monk treatment. This was before shaved heads were relatively normal to see in the office. I still remember the look of distress on the face of the VP of Employment Law as he said, "There's something . . . different . . . about you today," just as he realized what it was. I let him off pretty gently. If this doctored photo of me is any indication, I think we can all agree that shaving my head was the right decision. Alas, my K-pop boy band destiny was never meant to be.

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Still, sometimes I can't shake the feeling that there is something missing in the diversity discussion. Maybe you feel it, too. It's okay to admit it. The bald guy feels it, too. Maybe you feel like you have only been told the shiny parts of the story. It's like getting engaged to a charming someone with a high-paying job only to find out after the wedding that you are now drowning in debt. Or maybe there is a disconnect between the sexy statistics being thrown around and your own, less than glamorous experiences.

Enter Chris Jean-Charles - veteran of the United States Marine Corps, KPMG alum and former pet project of mine. My mission, as I jokingly told him, was to take this fit, disciplined, highly trained soldier and turn him into a soft, corporate marshmallow. There were some bright moments along the way (free pizza always helps and truffle fries might as well be Kryptonite), but in the end I failed and for totally unrelated reasons (Chris has assured me!), he moved on to follow his entrepreneurial dreams. While we worked together, we talked a lot about how many of the leadership principles he learned in the Marines were applicable to corporate America.

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This got me wondering, how does diversity work in the military, where collaborating effectively can be a matter of life and death? Chris and I met over lunch at a local pizzeria (see what I did there?) to discuss. I wanted to get his perspective on what works and what doesn't. Below is a summary of what I learned.

"When does diversity have a negative impact?"

Having a diversity of ideas about how to do things is just the starting point. In order to take advantage you also need a mechanism to decide what ideas to keep and what ideas to discard. Otherwise, you have chaos as arguments about whose idea is best go round and round. So let's say you have that mechanism and a decision has been made. Guess what? We're still not done! You also need buy-in from everyone. Justin Bariso during the Why It Works podcast on EQ, discussed the concept of "Disagree and Commit," often attributed to Intel. You don’t have to agree, but once the decision is made, the entire team needs to execute fully in good faith. In other words, when people aggressively or passive-aggressively sabotage the implementation, you're going to have a problem. So there is a people management aspect that cannot be overlooked.

"What types of leaders leverage diversity positively?"

The strength of diversity is also its weakness. More viewpoints equal more points of friction. Some managers don't want to deal with challenges to their world view. In extreme cases, they just want yes-men/women or clones. This makes for less friction, but are they really getting the best results? We shouldn't overlook the way that diversity challenges your ego. The likely result, maybe even the point of diversity is to directly challenge what you, as a person, truly believe is the best way forward.

The best leaders realize they don't know everything. They realize that there is usually someone around who knows more than they do on a given issue. And guess what, this doesn’t intimidate them. They relish the access to this information. Even though the leader is responsible for making the final decision and is accountable for the results, that doesn't mean they must decide without input from others.

Another weakness of diversity is that more viewpoints can make decision-making less efficient because analyzing the additional options will require more time. It's important to recognize that not all decisions carry the same time-sensitivity. Good leaders know which decisions need to be made swiftly vs. which ones can benefit from further discussion, and they communicate this clearly to their teams.

"How can leaders effectively lead a diverse team?"

Three insights here. The first one surprised me, in a good way.

1. Make sure the team meets its goals. Excellence and success breed connection and collaboration. Mediocrity and failure invite blame and divisiveness.

2. Encourage healthy conflict and lead by example. Make sure people are not afraid to disagree with you or speak up. This will encourage them to disagree with their teammates as well. There is a great discussion of this in the business book, Radical Candor.

3. Set the rules of engagement for healthy conflict. While you want people to be passionate and to give voice to their disagreement, they should always be respectful. Fight over whether an idea is stupid, but don’t call others stupid for having an idea that is different.

I hope this has given you some additional, real-world perspective on diversity and if you are like me (the conflicted about diversity part, not the bald part), informed your thinking about how we can better navigate these complex waters.

Please share your own experiences with diversity (or lack thereof) in the comments below.

And if you'd like to discuss further how your diverse teams can best leverage the principles of the Connection Code to achieve the best results, reach out to me on LinkedIn. I'm happy to discuss!

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Special thanks to Chris Jean-Charles for taking the time to chat with me on the very important topic of diversity. To find out more about Chris or to connect with him and learn more about his latest adventures, find him on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrisjean-charles/

Bonus: Listen to Chris’ appearance on the Why It Works podcast as we discuss the topic of Blind Leaps.

Views expressed are my own.

Getting Feedback - the EZPZ way

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You don’t have to click too far to come across an article or podcast broadcasting the benefits of self-awareness. As for me, I’ve bought the ticket and I’m “All aboard!” the self-awareness train. The only challenge is, by definition people with poor self-awareness (I include myself in this group) don’t know what they don’t know. It’s a classic Black Swan. You don’t know what you don’t know and that is often the most important thing for you to know to unlock true value or change.

“Great Joe, thanks for telling me the obvious! So what can we do about it?”

You are the type of person that likes solutions. I appreciate that. One of the best ways to increase your self-awareness is to get feedback from others. A lot of people will suggest that you ask trusted advisors what they think or even to participate in anonymous 360 degree feedback. However, there are several inherent problems with this approach.

  • Separating out sour grapes from thoughtful feedback can be difficult.
  • People may be reluctant to tell you the whole truth, anonymous or not, for fear of repercussions.
  • Thoughtful feedback is a gift and if you're an oblivious horse's ass, maybe people won't care to give you that gift.
  • Finally, there is the huge problem of your ego getting in the way of you accepting any feedback at all. Replace the word “feedback” with “criticism” and the challenge becomes more clear cut.

“So if you are saying asking people can be problematic, what’s the alternative?”

The EZPZ way to get feedback is to pay more attention to how people act around you in specific situations.

Allow me to explain. It’s easy to go through life thinking of ourselves and others as individual, self-contained units. In other words, emphasizing the independent and free-willed nature that we have. However, in focusing on this aspect, we may forget how interconnected and responsive we are to each other. Think of yourself as a gear in a high performance race car. How you turn affects every other gear and vice-versa. So maybe you notice when a colleague walks into the room everybody brightens up and when you do it goes silent. That silence is feedback. Or maybe you notice every time you give a colleague a metaphorical “pat on the back” they seem happier and more motivated. That is also feedback. The truth is all the feedback we need is already out there for the taking if we just know how to look for it.

For me I would get negative feedback on my driving from my wife during a longer drive we take every few weeks to visit a relative. I (independent, free-willed me) wanted to drive the way I drove and would get frustrated at the feedback I was getting from my wife (also, independent and free-willed love of my life). To be clear, I did receive verbal feedback on my driving, but somehow it never translated into my driving in a way that made both of us happy. It just didn’t work.

Then, one day it dawned on me how in addition to being two individuals with different styles and preferences, we were also a system in that car. Not just husband and wife, but driver and passenger with each creating a feedback loop. So one day I decided to pay more attention to the feedback coming from my wife. I noticed in traffic how braking later led to one reaction and braking softer and earlier led to another (non) reaction. I noticed during clear stretches above a certain speed she seemed less uncomfortable and at others she was fine. And so on and so on.

This type of behavioral feedback has a few advantages. First, it doesn’t require you to separate truth from fiction or helpfulness from sabotage. People’s reactions to you are generally organic reactions and if you see the same behavior across different people, you can be sure that you are part of the equation. Second, it makes it easier to take your ego out of the equation. This is because instead of getting “judgments” from others about your behavior you are looking at people’s reactions and doing your own analysis of your role.

You are more likely to be persuaded and act on feedback that you generate from your own observations and analysis than the exact same feedback that is given to you by someone else.

Is that childish? Perhaps.

Is that normal and human? Definitely.

As I pulled into the driveway at the end of the drive and put the car into park, my wife smiled as she turned to me and said, “You did a really great job driving today! What happened?”

Ah, the power of feedback!

In summary, to get feedback that can help you improve your results, the EZPZ way:

Step 1. Pick a scenario you want feedback on

Step 2. Be yourself

Step 3. Observe how other people act

Step 4. Repeat the same situation with different people and repeat steps 2 and 3

Step 5. Think about what you observed and what this means about your role

Step 6. Make adjustments, as needed. Repeat until you get the desired result.

If you have any questions or comments or have a story of your own, I'd love to hear from you.

Next post next Saturday, 6:30 a.m.






 

The Secret to Being a Great Leader

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Ever notice that when you are in the presence of a great leader, there is an elusive quality about them? Why do we hang on their every word? What makes them inspire us while others prompt eye rolls? How come their mere presence gives us the sense that everything is going to be alright? In other words, what makes them so easy to follow?

Many years ago my Aikido instructor Matsuda sensei invited me and another student to participate in a Kenshusei program. Long story short, it's like an apprenticeship meant to accelerate and deepen your training through immersion. So for 3 months we ate, drank and slept Aikido. Among other things, we attended every class, tended to the facilities, and received special instruction.

Now that I was attending every class, I was getting thrown A LOT more. The way Aikido practice works is the person performing the technique is like the Lead in a dance. The person being thrown (mostly me!) is like the Follow. When being thrown my job is to, as best as I can, keep up with movements of the Lead and fall safely so I can get up and get thrown again. Glamorous, right?

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After weeks of being tossed around like a sack of potatoes, something dawned on me. I could tell who had better technique by how easily I could follow their movements during the throw. No awkward starting and stopping, no pulling or jerking, and very little pain or discomfort. Just a smooth whirlwind of motion culminating in me landing on my back.

"So what does this all have to do with the secret to being a great leader, Joe? There's a point coming, right?"

Yes, let's get moving. The point is right around the corner.

Let's take a look at a quote by author and leadership expert Bruce D. Schneider that captures the essence of leadership.

"Leading is the way we help people move into action, including ourselves."

What I love about this is it zeroes in on HOW leaders help people move, rather than merely the end result.

So how do great leaders get so good at helping people move into action?

The secret to being a great leader is understanding how to FOLLOW.

I don't mean following your followers. After all, you're the leader! What I mean is having a deep understanding of how what you do affects the ability of others to follow you. The way you do this is understanding what works well when YOU are a follower yourself.

Lately I've been exploring the concept of Embodied Leadership - how studying physical movements can help one better grasp leadership principles. Let's look at three examples that reveal how understanding how to follow makes you a better leader.

Speed

Let's say I grab your wrist. A basic technique called Ikkyo starts with you moving the arm that is being grabbed up like raising a sword, which stretches my arm and takes out the slack. Think of a stretched rubber band. If you move too quickly, my instinct is to let go. If you move too slowly, I will adjust and you won't get the desired stretch.

Ever notice that some leaders set a pace so fast that no one can keep up? Think of the "I Love Lucy" chocolate conveyor belt scene where Lucy and Ethel are desperately trying to keep up. On the flip side, ever have a leader that takes so much time to make a decision that people lose interest and motivation?

Timing

Let's reset. I go to grab your wrist again. Notice how if you move after I've already grabbed you and settled my weight, the stretching of my arm becomes a lot more difficult. If you move just as I'm grabbing, you will feel a lot less resistance and I won't feel much either.

Think about how you catch a ball or stop a car. You begin a little earlier and then the catch or stop is much smoother. On the flip side, if a leader moves too soon, it makes it difficult for people to connect with them and follow. When a leader first makes sure his people understand and are fully engaged, they can follow the desired course more easily.

Orientation

Do you know where the weak point of a grasp is? It's the gap between the thumb and the index finger. So if you're trying to stretch my arm, you have to be careful not to move in a way that causes me to lose my grip.

Ever had a leader who asked you to do something, but then moved in a way that created several roadblocks? For example, they asked you to take more of a leadership role with your team, but then proceeded to second-guess and overrule most of your decisions.

How a leader positions themselves within an organization can have a drastic influence on how well others can follow them. Are they available? Do they provide direction when no one else can? Do they empower the right people? Are they holding everyone on the team accountable and not playing favorites?

Results

In an Aikido technique, when the Lead has the right Speed, Timing and Orientation, the result is I can easily relax and follow them without fear or injury. I suspect this is because they are taking my ability to follow them into account. My height, my weight, my flexibility, and my level of practice all inform how they move and as a result, how easily I can follow. In the same way, a leader who leads with the right blend of Speed, Timing and Orientation creates an environment of trust, where the team can move confidently and execute to the best of their ability.

Statistically, every company will have some poor hires. People who lack either the right skills or attitude to do the job. However, often the bigger problem is a misdiagnosis of poor employees. The painful truth may be the leader has forgotten what they learned as a follower and is leading in a way that makes it difficult for anyone to follow them.

The wonderful and maddening part is there is no set formula, hack or leadership model that will work in every instance. Truly great leaders (not to be confused with powerful or wealthy people) understand what it takes to make it easier for people to follow. Truly great leaders adjust themselves to what is required in a given environment. Perhaps this is why some leaders may succeed at one company and then fail miserably at another. And finally, truly great leaders do this in a way that is powerful, but barely perceptible. We might not be able to put our finger on what they are doing that makes them so easy to follow, they just are. So the next time you are tempted to bemoan the poor caliber of followers on your team, consider what you can do to help them follow better. I promise it’s worth the effort.

If you have any questions or comments or have a story of your own, I'd love to hear from you.

Next post next Saturday, 6:30 a.m.