Enabling Future Leaders in the Age of “The New Diversity”

“Workplace diversity” once meant representation by two genders and a small range of skin tones. Today, diversity means more: Different generations (Boomers, Millennials and Gens X, Y, and Z), the whole spectrum of LGBTQ, and vastly different cultures of origin. It also covers introverts, extroverts, and ambiverts; visual learners and verbal learners; geeks, hipsters, and moms.

The organizational challenge now is bigger than just bringing all this diversity together, keeping the peace, and getting the job done.

Put simply, employees aren’t simply a conglomerate of groups with labels. They’re real people, each with his or her own firmly held values, unique skills, communication styles, and expectations.

This workforce complexity is here to stay, and the leaders of the future—scratch that, the leaders of today—have to go beyond just “managing” people. They have to let the metaphorical genie out of the bottle, inspiring the entire team and unleashing all the individual and collective creativity and productivity required to stay competitive. Just how might you do that?

Sync up the organization and the people.

The evidence heavily suggest that leaders are not born—they’re made. And the future leaders of your organization may not be your current star employees. That means you will have to enable and enhance leadership skills through training. An effective approach to leadership can be developed through a training program focusing on four broad action steps:

  1. Know the organization’s vision, mission, goals, and immediate and long-term objectives. A leader cannot develop and steer his or her people without knowing where the ship is headed.
  2. Understand the skills, values, and style of each member of the team. What can they do? What do they believe? Where are their passions? What will stop them dead in their tracks?
  3. Match the goals and objectives of the organization with the individuals’ skills, values, and style. Then let the team have at it.
  4. Let go of old ideas about structure, hierarchy, predictable outcomes. Step out of their way…but don’t go far. You’re the coach, and you will be there for the team, always. You work for them, not they for you.

“Complex, adaptive, resilient businesses of the future recognize that change emerges unpredictably,” says workforce strategist Giles Hutchins, author of Future Fit, a practical book for those involved in the future of business, from entrepreneur to senior executive. “The role of leadership is to actively participate in enabling and facilitating local change, by encouraging effective communications…every one of us plays our part in leadership of the future by helping others to co-create towards positive outcomes.”

Work from the inside, out.

Letting go of old perceptions of management isn’t so easy. What are some real personal approaches the manager of the future can learn? Szu-Fang Chuang, Ph.D., assistant professor of human resource development and performance technologies at Indiana State University, offers a list of potential objectives for training your organization’s new leadership class:

  • Pursue self-awareness.
  • Understand cultural stereotypes and think beyond them.
  • Cultivate self-assurance.
  • Look at the big picture.
  • Create a vision and be able to promote it.
  • Develop and maintain a global mindset.
  • Give and receive support.
  • Build effective verbal and non-verbal communication skills.
  • Establish and utilize available resources.
  • Create effective motivational techniques.
  • Assume social responsibility and take it seriously.

Unleash human tendencies.

Finally, what qualities can a good training program aim to cultivate in the future leaders of diverse groups? And really, can managers be taught these qualities? Absolutely. They actually represent natural human tendencies, and learning them may simply be a matter of granting permission to let go of classic workplace rigidity and unleashing workers’ best selves:

  • Authenticity
  • Honesty
  • Open communication
  • Humor
  • Flexibility
  • Empathy
  • Ability to question
  • Logic
  • Self-actualization
  • Innovative thinking
  • Resilience
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Cultural intelligence
  • Openness
  • Energy
  • Ability to adapt
  • Creativity
  • Positivity

Management through fear is over. Shifting from the old hierarchical, top-down management approach to a values-led workplace environment increases emotional and mental health, with business goals met without sacrificing personal integrity and individual values. Individual and collective learning, creativity, and opportunity increase right along with productivity and profitability.

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