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The power of a diverse board
Edgar Schein, the notable author on organizational culture claimed that all his important life lessons stem from recognizing that those from other cultures view things differently. I like to think of this simple, yet profound statement as an encapsulation of the theme of diverse leadership, and to a bigger extent, the theme of human diversity.
Much of the discussion today around human diversity stems from an equity and social justice lens. What this is primarily concerned with is that there are complex and structural systems of power that impact the human condition. By addressing these systems and then shifting the historic inequalities that have been built up over time, a sense of justice is achieved.
The leadership question
While I continue work to make the human condition better both through my work both professionally and in the community, as a person who studies and teaches about leadership, I always ask what I call, “The Leadership Question.”
That is, how does diversity fit into your own view of leadership?
One example that I can think of is when I served on the board of a local nonprofit community organization. This organization’s focus was to help train and develop civic capacity in under-resourced communities. This consisted of teaching and training leaders, many of whom spoke little to no English.
During one board meeting in the initial weeks after the organization was formed, one of the conversations centered on having a diverse board and ensuring that the board represented the community that the organization served. The short answer is that it did not, so efforts were undertaken to make better inroads into the community and be intentional about finding potential leaders who might be interested in serving on the board.
Diversity leverages ideas, perspectives
Diverse leadership at the board level not only ensures that more ideas are brought forth, but that differing perspectives, experiences, and abilities can be leveraged to help the organization.
While it is one thing to work to achieve diversity in the first place, the deeper question that blends the equity and leadership perspectives is: What is the impact of human diversity (in all its forms— ethnically, socio-economically, linguistically, ability-wise, gender, orientation, experience, perspective, etc.) on the mission and the organizational as a whole?
Think about your organizations, schools, associations, corporations, businesses, or even official public entities and services. Do your leaders account for the myriad wisdom, talent, skills, and energies that exists in the communities that they serve and if so how? If not, why not? For you as a leader, how do you go about making that happen?
An issue of leadership
That is why this subject of human diversity, at least to me, is a leadership issue. Leaders who recognize the need for change (in this case, a change in the makeup of the leadership group) and can bring other leaders in the conversation about change and diversity are one of the biggest assets to any organization.
It’s a small step to a more fair and just world.
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