Leveraging Different Thinking Styles to Develop Tomorrow’s Leaders

In my last post, I shared some of the latest thinking that suggests inclusion is the new diversity. In addition to those ideas on what today’s leaders and organizations can do to build a more inclusive culture and develop a truly diverse group of future leaders, consider these four strategies:

Tune in to Millennials—and Xers and Boomers. Millennials are leading the shift in how diversity and inclusion are viewed, pushing companies to move beyond the buzzwords and embed their revised interpretation of these concepts more deeply into corporate culture. Because Millennials will comprise many of tomorrow’s leaders—in a decade they will make up nearly three-quarters of the workforce—it’s important for employers to understand their trend-setting viewpoints when tailoring talent-development initiatives to them.

However, employees in the Gen X and Baby Boomer generations still have plenty of influence. These groups still generally prioritize the more traditional views on diversity based on creating a more demographically balanced workplace. Both the Millennial and the Xer/Boomer perspectives on diversity and inclusion are relevant today and should be taken into account. Any leadership development initiative should keep all of these evolving definitions in mind, tailoring programs that actively support both traditionally diverse and cognitively diverse leadership groups:

  • The Millennial view of diversity has more to do with how people think and problem-solve; the Xer/Boomer view relates more to how they are defined by external differences.
  • Research shows that Millennials believe cognitive diversity is needed for innovation, and are 71 percent more likely to focus on teamwork.
  • To the younger generation, a company that does diversity right is one that successfully blends and supports a wide range of backgrounds, perspectives, thinking styles, and experiences on a team.
  • Xers and Boomers prioritize fairness and equal workplace protection in demographic categories such as gender, age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion.
  • Millennials view inclusion as management’s support of a collaborative culture that transparently encourages input from employees with different ideas and perspectives. They believe that cultivating such a culture will have a positive effect on the business.

Be accountable—and hold others accountable—for inclusion. As a leader or manager, it’s your role to ensure that your meetings and interactions are inclusive. For example, women often speak up yet are not heard, or don’t speak up at all based on lack of confidence or lack of encouragement to share their perspectives. To help change these trends, take accountability for ensuring that all voices get to be heard around your table. Male leaders, for example, can ask a woman in the meeting to share her ideas. Stay open to learning—take what she says seriously even if it goes against the grain of the company’s usual thought process. Likewise, women can ask for feedback, guidance, or mentorship from their male colleagues and be receptive to hearing a potentially different viewpoint from their own.

If your managers don’t already have diverse, inclusive teams, then ensure they make it part of their goals and commitment to all future talent development initiatives. When you hold leaders responsible for creating an inclusive culture by valuing and leveraging gender-balanced, cognitively diverse teams, you’re showing confidence in their ability to make diversity and inclusion a reality. Require that managers start building a slate of talented diverse candidates so that there will be a diverse slate in the future pipeline. To reinforce accountability, organizations should also ensure that management and leadership programs wrap inclusive leadership competencies into their development and training, covering topics such as emotional intelligence, leading and engaging diverse teams, understanding and leveraging gender differences, and collaborative leadership.

Remember: what get’s measured gets done. Many managers and leaders are not putting as much effort into creating an inclusive environment because it’s not seen as a corporate priority, or leadership has not provided any measurable actions for them to take for which they are then held accountable. Organizations should provide realistic goals for managers that will cultivate an inclusive mindset and more diverse talent pool.

In a recent conversation I had with Cathy Engelbert, CEO of Deloitte LLP, Cathy noted that her appointment to CEO didn’t “just happen” but was in part due to specific cultural changes her company had made to help foster women’s advancement. Deloitte built in measurable goals for its leaders and institutionalized programs that ensured women would have executive-level female role models. Cathy emphasized that once the organization started managing what they measured, more women advanced into key roles throughout the company.

Cultivate courage. In order to unlock the full potential of tomorrow’s leaders and create the inclusive environment required for business success, organizations and leaders alike must step firmly outside of their comfort zone. Yes, we usually feel more comfortable with “people like us,” whoever “us” may be to you—but that won’t create a workplace that avoids screening out the diverse range of thinkers that tomorrow’s leadership teams need to succeed. To cultivate the characteristics of an inclusive leader, act on your inner convictions and principles even when this means taking a risk. Put your personal preferences aside to allow the greater team to grow. Create a risk-free environment where your direct reports can feel comfortable failing and gaining their own sense of courage. In this environment, emerging leaders can thrive.

At the end of the day, however you define the terms, creating the inclusion and diversity we need at all of our companies is about giving everyone a chance to be heard. We need all voices on deck today to create the type of leaders tomorrow who can leverage each other’s diverse strengths and integrate the creative insights of each person’s unique perspective.

Rebecca is an internationally acclaimed and sought-after keynote speaker, leadership expert and contributing editor for Harvard Business Review and the Huffington Post.

Learn more about SHAMBAUGH’s leadership solutions and other offerings by visiting: www.shambaughleadership.com

Rebecca is author of the best-selling books It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky FloorLeadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton, and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results.


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