The Future of Diversity and Inclusion Work (part 5) New Way of Leadership

I am pretty critical when it comes to the topic of leadership.  I think that the defining issue of our time is a great absence of leadership. I see a lot of great things said and written about leadership…I do not see a lot of it actually showing up in our communities, our organizations and our institutions.  Even the never ending conversation about the differences between “leading” and “managing” is mostly cosmetic and shallow in my opinion.  It has kept us well equipped with catch-phrases and quotes, but I think it has done little in the way of informing critical inquiry into our ideas around leadership.  This is becoming increasingly costly to us.

I hear a lot of argument (especially in politics) about who our leaders should be…and I used to participate in some of that.  But I have really come to believe that who is in the role is a much smaller issue than the nature of the role itself.  Our first problem is not who the leaders are…it is with our ideas, beliefs and expectations of leadership.

Sometimes the solution of yesterday is the problem of today.

There are models, archetypes and beliefs related to the organization, to management, and to leadership that took shape and played really important roles in the 20th century.  This is not the 20th century, and there is a growing and collective recognition that these beliefs are increasingly irrelevant and even dangerous.

Our notions of commerce and the roles of the various parties involved are trying to evolve.

Organizations, because of their command and control orientation and structure, can be incredibly efficient in their use of tangible assets (things like money, equipment, inventory, space, etc.).  It does not always happen, we all know stories of waste and abuse, but organizations are structured in a way that makes it easy to exercise rigid and specific measurement and control of things that can be measured and controlled.  For largely the same reasons, organizations tend to be incredibly wasteful with their intangible assets (things like trust, integrity, culture, people, ideas, information, creativity, etc.).

We say a lot of really good things today about innovation and collaboration, but these things actually require intervention…they go against the gravitational pull of the traditional organization.  Conformity happens on its own.  Exclusion, homophily and dysfunction between silos all happen on their own.  We have to actually push back on hierarchy and conformity if we are to share information, share resources and have open and honest dialogue with each other.  These things run counter to the natural tendencies of the organization and they also run counter to this thing we have created called leadership and management.

I have done work with a lot of organizations from all over the country and from a variety of industries.  I have talked with thousands of employees.  I have not met a lot of employees that feel like their ideas and perspectives are welcomed or valued.  I have met even fewer employees that feel safe questioning a decision that their supervisor has made. Wasteful and reckless.

Whether we call it a leader, boss, supervisor or manager it is a relic and increasingly problematic.  It cannot do what we need it to do.  There was a time when it worked for us, just like there was a time when the horse and buggy worked…there was a time when the idea that the earth was flat worked for us.  Those times came to an end.  Those intangible assets that the boss does not know how to “manage” or even value are the keys to the future.  Even leaders who are “enlightened” and good at the “soft stuff” are part of the problem inside a structure that automatically over emphasizes some voices and under emphasizes other based solely on position.

Something different is needed today.  The idea of leadership must be architected anew. I think that, in the future, leadership will be viewed not as a title or as a person, and I think it will have nothing to do with “being in charge of” other people.   Leadership will be about behavior that we exhibit in the context of our relationships and social interactions…behavior characterized by functional and generative interactions that capitalize on differences and similarities.

…and I think that people with a deep understanding of the power of difference are uniquely positioned to help shape that future and I hope that they play a substantial role.  Part of our work moving forward and an opportunity with great leverage for us is in re-creating this thing called leadership.

Be good to each other.

…and since we are talking about the future of this work, I want to remind you to put a few dates on your 2011 calendar.  Please help to architect the future of this work, and in doing so, architect the future of our organizations and communities.

March 22-24, 2011 || Multicultural Forum on Workplace Diversity || Minneapolis, MN

April 29th-30th, 2011 || HRevolution 2011 || Atlanta, GA

October 24-26, 2011 || SHRM Diversity and Inclusion Conference || Washington, D.C.

The Future of Diversity and Inclusion Work (prologue)

The Future of Diversity and Inclusion Work (part 1) Social Media

The Future of Diversity and Inclusion Work (part 2) Human Nature

The Future of Diversity and Inclusion Work (part 3) Conflict

The Future of Diversity and Inclusion Work (part 4) New Way of Work

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