Lisagor: Diversity generates creativity

Smart managers seek ideas from people unlike themselves

As the father of two daughters, I am sensitive to the glass ceiling that can prevent some people from sitting at the executive table. I remember questioning why so few women and minorities held senior positions in the past century. I recently wondered if I needed to update my perspective; perhaps the glass-ceiling problem had gone away.

I Googled several corporate, government and minority-owned small-business Web sites to take an unscientific look at the composition of their senior management teams.

I found few surprises. A middle-aged white, bald guy like me would probably be welcome, but I’m not sure my daughters would. And minorities were also visibly absent.

If an invisible barrier still prevents certain individuals from moving up, an equally disturbing barrier must prevent some people from looking down. After all, one person’s glass ceiling is someone else’s glass floor.

When senior managers peer down into their agencies or companies, what do they see? Do they perceive the untapped potential of all their employees or only a narrow spectrum of possibilities that fall within their comfort zone?

It takes patience and a willingness to grow for leaders to embrace a broader set of individuals, especially if those people don’t always think like they do.

An enlightened manager realizes that stronger unity exists within diversity. A group of people who think alike and look alike at the expense of others often achieves less meaningful results.

On the other hand, leaders who appreciate the value of different life experiences, surround themselves with many types of individuals and encourage dissenting views are usually rewarded with greater success and personal satisfaction.

Sometimes, I encourage my clients to view their organization as a circle of individuals with unique responsibilities rather than a rigid hierarchy.

Clearly, some individuals’ roles are to provide leadership. But if leaders are stymied by cultural and communications barriers, everyone suffers.

It took me some time to overcome my tendency to avoid dealing with staff members who were more serious than I am. Unfortunately, that was almost everyone.

I finally gained the wisdom to understand how much I could learn from others, especially people who weren’t similar to me, and the courage to give them the opportunity to grow.

Enlightened management requires a willingness to see beyond our own limitations. It is less about self-advancement and more about helping others.

Ultimately, that is the best way to help ourselves.

Lisagor founded Celerity Works in 1999 to help executives accelerate and better manage business growth. He serves as program chairman for FCW Events’ Program Management Summit and is the author of “Business Development Guide for Selling to the Government,” which is available at his Web site, www.celerityworks.com/books.html. He lives on Bainbridge Island, Wash., and can be reached at lisagor@celerityworks.com.

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