- On February 5, 2015
“I have a mandate to expand our business globally in the next 5 years. We can’t succeed without having the best local leadership talent in place around the world, but it hasn’t been easy working with my team from other cultures. They don’t communicate the way I’m used to. Do I need to treat everybody differently?”
I heard this comment in a critical conversation with a corporate executive I met on a flight returning from the west coast. My profession doesn’t always lend itself to easy plane conversation, but this gentleman seemed to sincerely express interest in my work, and his question exemplified the minds of many executives I encounter across corporate America. His sense of urgency was driven by a genuine interest in growing market share in parts of the world that they had yet to cultivate.
No doubt, organizations are becoming more diverse – companies are operating in new locations around the world, more women are in professional roles, and a new generation of workers are in our midst in large numbers. The numbers bear it out. Millennials are entering the workforce and entering management ranks. Thirty-six percent of the workforce is multicultural, and close to half is female. A Gallup study showed that lack of engaged employees costs companies $450-550 billion a year. Yet, leaders at all levels continue to struggle to fully engage the talent who are in their midst. Our work shows that it boils down to one-on-one relationships, and how a leader engages with each member on his team is the difference between a fully engaged worker versus one who has one foot out the door. This requires the ability to practice adaptive management behaviors, even if those behaviors may not be what he might like for himself.
The practice of this type of adaptive skill begins with understanding the value of “flex” – the art of switching between leadership styles to work more effectively with people who are different from you, across the cultural, generational, and gender divide. Instead of resorting to our “default mode” of managing people, leaders need to understand that they may need to adapt the way they communicate, and use different approaches with employees who are different from them.
Flexing – stretching beyond our “default mode” – takes hard work. It takes an honest look at ourselves (our own preferences, communication styles, and “how we like to work”) before we can then examine how others might get work done. We have a hidden bias for people who are like us, and we may miss the opportunities to see how we might tap our team members’ best potential. We’re trained, especially in the workplace, to make assumptions quickly, so that we can make the most time-efficient business decisions. But with people, it’s better to not rush our assumptions and to remain curious. My advice: 1) investigate, without judgment, the differences between your preferences and team member; 2) open the conversation, using nonjudgmental language to highlight behaviors that may need further exploration; and 3) work with team member to co-develop a solution to the issue. And repeat, as needed, with other members of the team!
Questions For Personal Reflection:
- Do I notice different styles and preferences of those around me? How do I react when they are different from my own?
- How comfortable am I with people who are different from me (culture, gender, generation, etc.)? What differences make me uncomfortable? What differences am I most comfortable with?
- How have previous diversity training efforts, or the stigma of talking about differences impacted me in my work relationships?
Originally written as a Guest Post for The Inclusion Solution