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Valuing diversity is a leadership challenge

Every year the EEO Trust hosts a black-tie event to announce the Diversity Award winners. It’s an opportunity for participants to showcase their workplace diversity initiatives and to celebrate their achievements in the company of their peers. Every year there are new categories and judging criteria which open up more opportunities for businesses of all sizes and every year the stories from these forward-thinking organisations are truly inspiring.

At the 2014 awards gala dinner, no one in the audience could have been in any doubt of the value that these exemplary organisations place on their diversity initiatives but for other organisations, and their leaders, dealing with differences is difficult, and a whole lot less glamorous.

People are so frustrating

Sometimes other people can be so frustrating. It doesn’t matter how good a leader you are, each of us has a few people that we just don’t understand, find it hard to work with or just don’t get where they are coming from.

As a leader this can be especially challenging. After all, your job is to get the most from others and if you aspire to leading a high performing team your aim is for all of your team to get the most out of each other (that’s why you pulled them together as a team).

Over many years I’ve seen and heard many managers get frustrated with the people that work for them. I’ve been told that the individual ‘isn’t doing their job’ or ‘isn’t performing’ but I often see that the individual is doing their job but is missing one part of it and that one part is important to the manager or ‘how the manager would do the job’.

An example of this is Jean, the manager of a sales division. Jean promoted Simon to a sales manager role based on his performance. Simon understands his clients, builds great relationships and has a self-starting ethos that delivered results for the business but recently Jean has started to criticise Simon’s performance and make noises to her boss that Simon is not performing. Yet Simon’s team are doing reasonably well against their sales targets. When I asked Jean what the problem was she told me that Simon is not good at following rules and processes; Jean places a lot of importance on both. Simon also doesn’t act on Jean’s instructions just because she is the boss. He needs to understand her reasoning and he likes to ask questions; Jean is ex-navy and wouldn’t dream of questioning her boss’s instructions.

This situation is not uncommon. The problem isn’t really to do with Simon’s performance but with valuing differently.  Jean believes that processes and rules make sales while Simon relies on relating to people and understanding their needs. Is either right or wrong? Probably not.

Jean and Simon can’t help the way they think but the one thing that they can help is thinking that the way they see things is the only way.

Value the differences

We call this valuing integrated thinking. It’s an ability to recognise that there are more dimensions of thought possible than those we rely on as leaders or individuals. Understanding our own biases and inattentions can help us to see our possible blind spots when viewing the performance of others or even our own performance. Valuing these differences when leading our teams allows us to look for opportunities to bring together the overall strengths of different individuals’ thinking to the benefit of the organisation.

As a leader it’s your role to make the most of all the talents of your team members to the best effect. This means you need to access the thinking that they have and work with their gaps to provide them with ways of compensating for them.

The first step is understanding and valuing the differences between their thinking. At Altris we so this  through our accelerated coaching approach. Then, the leader needs to put that knowledge into specific action by focusing on real issues where those biases impact on our performance.

So, instead of getting frustrated that people don’t see things the way you do, value integrated thinking and benefit from what it can bring you. The winners of the 2014 EEO Trust Diversity Awards understand this and their businesses are the richer for it.


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