To establish real strength in diversity and inclusion in the workplace today, we need leaders who no longer envisage managing where they are “the boss”. The role the leader must assume is that of a partner to their people. Managing is no longer something we do to people; it becomes something we do with people. This is in line with the trust, respect and dignity that should be inherent in meaningful work relations.
The focus of the leader, in managing diversity, is not on judging and evaluating, as with traditional approaches to management predominantly. Rather the leader must develop skills to support, mentor and coach individuals towards being given full accountability for required exceptional performance.
To achieve genuine inclusion, unique individuals are valued for their commitment, talents, competence and growth. It is a challenging and stretching process for everyone. However, the leader within a diverse team is given the special privileges of also being a motivator and cheerleader in the midst of a transformative process. There is nothing more rewarding as seeing people flourish when they are encouraged to bring forth their true gifts and potential.
Partnering at its core is about opening up mutually beneficial communication and increasing the quality and frequency of conversations. Depending on the circumstances and situation, partners adapt. They strive towards consensus through flexibility, compromise and understanding, valuing their respective individuality and recognising their interdependency. Partners must learn the skills of active listening, questioning, providing feedback and setting agreed objectives to maintain momentum and achieve success.
When we stand side by side, as leaders that partner with our people, there needs to be a willingness also to be led when appropriate. Leaders realize, when striving towards greater heights in diversity and inclusion, that their role is to provide individuals with whatever it takes to help them become more self-directed, self-motivated, and self-reliant. Ultimately to facilitate their confidence in showing their authentic selves and abilities.
With the partnering leadership approach, all soon realize that change is a reciprocal activity. Diversity and inclusion in the workplace will only live if the cycle of growth is nurtured through mutual genuine caring. Without this, conflict management and problem solving will be superficial.
When we aspire to lead, we need to remember that we are seeking to share a vision that is meaningful to others. We commit to inspire and shape in accordance with noble ambitions. In today’s world, diversity and inclusion is becoming increasingly aligned to ethical and moral imperatives. So, whilst managers’ primary task is to point to the direction in the here and now, it is equally important that they prepare the way for future generations by the leadership models they embrace.
There can be no doubt that future generations within the workplace will be more and more diverse, with the need to feel a real sense of belonging, to rise above the many challenges that exist and that we have created for them. As Jeffrey Sachs enjoins us – “Let the future say of our generation that we sent forth mighty currents of hope and that we worked together to heal the world”.