Diversity and Leadership - Smart Leaders Model Diversity Thinking

Diversity and Leadership - Smart Leaders Model Diversity Thinking

As the business sector grapples with the rapidly shrinking global economy, and the ever-expanding technological era, diversity and leadership go hand-in-hand.  Albert Einstein said, "we can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them," which is why diversity of thought is such a key management strategy.

Today's leaders need to be able to break the barriers of "normal" to find creative and innovative ways to solve problems, and to see a genuine return on investment (ROI).  They must understand that diversity of thought, word, and deed can go a long way towards charting a successful course for the future. 

A dictator-oriented leader may command the respect of her employees, but do employees feel comfortable sharing what they see works, or doesn't work, out in the field? Diversity leadership provides a platform for employee inclusiveness where think tank-oriented problem solving can thrive. By changing the paradigm from top-down, to a more inclusive and diverse leadership style, companies can turn a new page and witness a new era of growth.

Here are some ideas for getting your team to understand how openness and receptiveness can help grow the company.

What is Diversity of Thought?

Depending on how your company is currently structured, the first thing you may need to do is get everyone on the same page regarding "diversity of thought".  In an article titled "Thinking About Diversity of Thought," Susan Woods defines it as "the idea of more than one way."  It encompasses the idea that different ideas, even conflicting ideas, will rub and bump against one another. Eventually this collision will instigate newer and more forward-thinking ideas that can be implemented as successful business strategies. Every company needs to operate from this same philosophy in order to think not just outside the box, but also beyond the box. 

A good leader is one who knows how to stimulate diversity of thought in his/her employees or team. A good place to start is, of course, to have a well-rounded team.  This is where cultural diversity comes in to play.

Employee Diversity

In the article mentioned above, Woods notes that Professor Scott E. Page has used mathematic models showing that "diversity trumps ability".  His case studies have demonstrated that strong teams of diverse individuals have better problem solving skills than teams of more qualified people that come from the same perspective.  In order to understand the needs of each market niche, your company needs to have a deep understanding of each niche and what appeals, or doesn't, to each. By developing a team of diverse employees who can share where they are coming from, and how their experiences shape their decisions, the team as a whole will have a stronger foundation from which to build their ideas and solutions.

Once a strong team is in place, you must create a comfortable work atmosphere where employees can share their ideas, and constructively view failures as part of the learning experience. Because of the potential for conflicting ideas and opinions, inter-personal skills, relationship building among teammates and/or colleagues, and multi-cultural awareness are more important than ever before.

Diversity of Thought in Action

There is a relationship between diversity of thought, creativity and innovation. Robert Epstein created his Theory of Generativity, which is being studied and applied in many businesses to increase employee creativity. The theory is broken down into four different strategies which can be used to enhance innovation in the workplace:

  • Challenging: New ideas come from challenging the old ones.  The more variances in ideas that can be clashed against one another, the more fertile the soil is for planting and generating new ideas.
  • Broadening: By broadening the types of learning experiences offered to employees, the more broad the ideas and solutions will become. A team from a diverse background automatically brings different learning experiences and vision to the table.
  • Surrounding: The literal work surroundings have a direct impact on the quality of innovation a company offers.  We have all heard the tales of glorious Google and all they do to provide comfortable and fun surroundings for their employees. This is an example of how comfort and freedom of expression can go hand-in-hand.
  • Capturing: A good leader has that special "sixth sense" that recognizes which ideas and/or solutions should be captured and developed for the future.

Great leaders have always been defined by certain skill sets, such as vision, confidence, and enthusiasm. But the current era demands something more. The new leader must be team oriented, empathetic, and intuitive.  She must be able to harness the essence of diverse thinking, and share it with employees to develop and capture ideas and solutions that will move the company forward in new directions.