Our world is in a period of unprecedented flux. The complexities of this change are affecting the fabric and culture of our organizations, as the traditional leadership paradigm gives way to something completely different. Global mindset shifts, recognized in such monumental events as the #MeToo movement, are now mirrored in corporate America, where we’re witnessing the potential for greater inclusion. People who have traditionally been silent are starting to speak up, giving our companies the opportunity to harness a more diverse range of authentic voices.
Moving Beyond Gender
There’s a significant trend in leadership training emerging within this new culture, which I’ve termed the Power of One. This term encapsulates a new ROI for inclusion and belongingness, which can best be described as collective intelligence. By using Power of One principles, today’s leaders can help everyone in their organizations move toward unification and away from the fragmentation that has sometimes characterized traditional diversity training programs. By harnessing cognitive diversity – and by helping people see what they have in common with each other rather than segregating them via social labels – the Power of One stands poised to exert a significant impact on the overall performance of our organizations.
If this description sounds more ideal than real, then the best place to start seeking the Power of One is by disrupting the traditional diversity narrative. This approach targets change at just women, as though one gender alone is the source of the problem. Women-only initiatives reinforce both men’s and women’s beliefs that we are more different than we are the same. By having only one group in the room, standard-fare diversity initiatives may also unintentionally keep collective intelligence and cognitive diversity at bay, since we can’t all learn from each other if we aren’t all present. A more effective approach is to pivot the focus from gender to human connection, thus tapping into a primal desire to connect with others and work together toward a common purpose.
Awakening From Diversity Fatigue
After speaking to top executives in a wide range of industries, I am seeing this shift in leadership mindset more and more, along with the recognition of looming “diversity fatigue” among their ranks. Diversity or gender fatigue arises as people grow tired of discussing topics such as gender equity, because they keep coming up in the same way without being sufficiently resolved.
In light of the fact that recent research from the World Economic Forum indicates a widening global gender gap, it’s clearly time to try something new. To wake up from diversity fatigue, we must take the focus off gender and shift it to human connection via the Power of One. This approach widens our organizational focus from our specific differences to help both men and women appreciate our commonalities. The goal is to reframe the narrative so that the human business case – rather than the diversity business case – becomes front and center. The Power of One then leads to a culture of inclusion, trust and collaboration where men and women understand and value each other’s differences.
What’s Your Inclusive Leadership Factor?
The path to inclusive leadership is paved with good intentions, but a lot can get in the way. Common obstacles are our own frames of reference and biases, which can easily become polarized by differences. If we can’t recognize how our unconscious bias colors our problem-solving and decision-making, then we can’t make progress toward true inclusion.
To advance toward Power of One principles, start by examining how your inclusive leadership impacts your effectiveness. To determine where you fall on the continuum, answer the following questions with “yes” or “no”:
- Do you ensure that all voices are heard in meetings by taking specific actions to create a climate of inclusion, where everyone feels heard and valued?
- Do you share your leadership power with others?
- Do you sponsor and mentor others who are not like you, such as women or underutilized talent?
- Men: Do you give women constructive feedback to help with growth opportunities? Women: Do you reach out and invite men for feedback, and do you help them feel comfortable with providing constructive comments?
- If you are aware of times when you feel resistant to listening to someone with a conflicting viewpoint, do you take steps to overcome that tendency?
- Can you identify your assumptions and see how they affect inclusiveness in your day-to-day leadership style?
- Do you seek information about individuals on your team that you use to create greater inclusion and success for all?
- Do you actively cultivate growing a diverse network, so that it doesn’t just mirror your own background and preferences?
Your goal should be to move toward the ability to answer all eight questions with a “yes.” The more “no” answers you have, the more work you need to do on increasing your leadership inclusivity.
It is incumbent on each of us – male and female – to internalize a new way of thinking that represents the unification of our collective voice, strengths and experiences. Examine and recognize your own biases, and then take steps to move away from emphasis on our differences to embracing human connection. It is only by doing so that we can see stronger partnerships, enhanced trust, improved innovation and better outcomes for everyone. In short, the Power of One gives us all the power to create something much greater than we could on our own.
Follow Training Industry throughout the month of March for more content on developing female leaders and closing the gender gap.