We are not far off the 2020s and yet it sometimes seems that organisations are a little stuck with the thinking of the 1990s when it comes to inclusion, to fostering inclusivity.
We know, or at least I hope we all know, what the differences are between equality, diversity and inclusion.
Battles have been fought over the years to deliver increasing equality with much more to be done. We are still a long way off equality – of course we are. And so, robust equality initiatives remain crucial but are not enough on their own.
Many of us have worked hard on the diversity agenda – I have been involved in this for over 20 years. I have strong personal, professional, organisational and societal reasons for being passionate about diversity and inclusion. But I have long seen the potential risks of limiting D&I activities to internal groups and networks. They can be great, they can help, but they are only a start.
There are fewer, in my experience, organisations which are working to drive inclusion across everything they do, to make it a principle of how they operate, a success factor for all their market and internal activities. Enough leaders understand the concept that there is only one strategy, the business strategy, and that inclusion might be an enabler of its success. But very few are thinking about how it applies across their entire business. I have, but the way, personally had successes and made some mistakes/had some failures in this area.
The risks are clear. For example: without a focus on building inclusivity, on the behaviours that will foster it, your sterling efforts on diversity in recruitment risk delivering, yes, a more diverse workforce but within which there are increased numbers of excluded employees. Your diversity statistics will look great but the lived experience of your colleagues may be less happy than it could otherwise be and their performance may not end up being at levels which reflect their true potential. ‘Exclusion as interference’ in other words.
The opportunities are also very clear. The opportunity to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty, to unlock the full potential of your talented employees, to benefit from the innovative thinking of a different supplier base. To have a differentiated business which stands out in your market place.
And so how are you developing leaders who behave inclusively both because it is the right thing to do and because they recognise the business benefits generated by a more inclusive organisation (see McKinsey). How inclusive are your key functions such as finance and HR – teams which have an impact on every part of your business? How does inclusion feature as a principle across your entire learning and development agenda?
In summary: to which decade does your inclusion thinking belong? Is that decade one which is about to arrive or one which is firmly in the past?
Ask a room of developing leaders to name a leader they admire, someone who for them embodies leadership, and, inevitably, some of the same names will be mentioned.
I won’t list them here but they are usually men, often charismatic, often “victors”, often orators.
One category of leaders then. One type. Heroes? In the situation in which they found themselves they succeeded and their style and approach was situationally appropriate. But we don’t all have to win World War II whilst ‘standing alone’, we are not all seeking independence for our country, we aren’t trying to inspire a nation by putting a man on the moon, we aren’t all at risk of losing a key battle to the Spanish Armada.
I see much written about the idea of “introverted leadership” as a comparison to “extraverted leadership” and wonder if this is also a false friend. That would imply that there are just two diametrically opposed types of leaders, wouldn’t it? I don’t think this is the case. These are facets of a person’s style or preference and there are many shades of grey between the two extremes. I’d come at this from a different angle:
When I’m working with coachees who are grappling with leadership, be they ‘first-time leaders’ or new CEOs, my starting point is often to ask them ‘how do you want it to be around you?’ In other words which are the conditions you want to create. The culture of your organisation as impacted by you as leader. This can be followed by ‘and how is it?’ and off we go into exploration of their overall leadership brand. It’s not so often that people want to be all about having a powerful or dominant personality. That has to be good news by the way.
It (leadership brand) is not just about what some people still insist on referring to as ‘the soft stuff’: inclusive, open, values-based and so on. It’s also about a relentless focus on high-performance, winning in the marketplace, increasing market share. Of course it is. “In everything we do we strive for excellence” is just as important as “everyone in our business feeling equally included”. It’s both.
The skills required of organisational leaders these days are myriad – and what I’m trying to suggest is that one of them is the ability to be quiet, to be understated, to be noticing as much as you are speaking, to use a few choice words instead of many. To be able to influence a room with one carefully chosen sentence. To be able to apply boundaries with a gentle “I’m not sure about that” instead of “here are 12 reasons why I don’t like your idea”.
I’ve long been drawn to quiet leadership, to an understated style. I feel it is more likely to gain followers across an organisation as opposed to, dare I say it, a more macho or heroic leadership style which will only appeal to those who find ‘heroic’ appealing.
So what might this look like?
Determined delivery of objectives via a considered and persuasive influencing style
Carrying people with you on more occasions instead of directing
Consistency with principles and values
Humility in front of an audience
Forming coalitions and alliances across and outside the business – via which you achieve your strategic goals
Self-awareness when it comes to personal impact – how you choose to impact on others
Using fewer words instead of “listen to me”
Listening, noticing, reflecting
Keeping calm when others are feeling anything but calm
Of course there are situations which require directive & even charismatic leadership and there is, for the avoidance of doubt, nothing wrong with it at times. However the ability to flex one’s style towards being more subtle is, I think, in keeping with our times. It is, I think, much more attractive in a leader.
Crucially, I can think of many examples of winning leaders who win because their style is calm and understated. This means that there is something to aspire to. I think there’s something in this. I’d like to see us talking about it more. What do you think?
How can you shift your approach in the direction of understated or quiet leadership? What would this look like for you? What would it be like? What exactly would be the difference ? Which acts or actions will foster change for you? Which skills will you use more and which less?
Recognition and feedback. Some managers and leaders agonise about this stuff but it does not have to be hard. It doesn’t have to be complex.
In fact, it’s this simple …
The year is 1996. I was a newly-appointed and recently-arrived HR/Recruitment Manager. My dream job, one about which I was delighted. I had really landed on my feet into a role which I loved and in which I truly developed.
I had an idea: in order to build my reputation why not find a way of really focusing on my key internal clients? And so I had a list of them in my notebook and every week, or even every day, I would check the list and ask myself “have I helped them meet their objectives?” or “have I had a meaningful conversation with them recently?’. And, if I had’t spoken to them for a while, even if there was no particular reason to be in touch I would wander the floors and ask them if they needed anything from me. Often the conversations that flowed were really useful. Even a “No thanks” was helpful.
One morning, as a result of one of these conversations, I was due to meet one of these stakeholders for an early & important meeting. I was due to give him a progress report on a critical project. If I was a new Manager, he was a senior-ranking Partner. Stratospheric in comparison … although he never made me feel that way and I was determined to treat all Partners as key clients without being too deferential. A fine line to tread.
That morning I got up very early, breakfasted and set off in good time for the meeting. Only to find transport chaos. I battled to the office through packed carriages, taking a seemingly interminable detour, overheating so my immaculate shirt looked like it had just been through the wringer and feeling stressed. Why stressed? Because I prided, and pride, myself on being early or, at least, on time for any commitment.
I arrived at work, found a couple of minutes to gather my thoughts and to straighten my clothes. I composed myself as I wandered around the corner for the meeting. I was to greeted by Charlie who looked up, smiled, said “good morning Tony” and then, crucially, added …
“Punctual, as ever.”
In that moment, and after the journey I had just had, they were three precious words. They meant the world to me. They recognised that I was on time. They fed back to me that he’d noticed that I was in the habit of being on time. Those words cost him nothing. All he had to do was think and make the effort. They made me feel recognised. Engaged even.
So, next time you are thinking that you don’t have time to give feedback or to recognise your team members, please remember this tale. This isn’t difficult. In fact it is really easy. It’s about the choices you make, about what you choose to say as opposed to what remains unsaid, about the habits you develop. The effort you put into recognition.
“Included” is an outcome. An outcome you can choose to create…
An expression I find myself repeating with increasing frequency is “are you on your agenda or that of the person in front of you?” It’s driven by a realisation that too many people default to making assumptions or jumping to conclusions about what is going on for others. In life or at work.
To some gifted people inclusive behaviour is second nature. They’re in a minority. I think most of us have to work at it – to a larger or lesser extent. In fact being consciously less-than-fully competent is probably an honest place to reside. It can require focus and lengthy reflection to understand the realities of our societies – ‘white privilege’ being a fair example to cite.
I’ve previously attempted to highlight ways in which we can genuinely be on someone else’s side instead of behaving in our own interests, or with our own preconceived ideas: https://chelsham.co/we-still-assume/
I’ve talked before, including in that blog, about how we might slow down. And listen. Then listen again. Then keep on listening. Then try to understand. We might think before responding. We might challenge ourselves. We might try harder. We might be curious and interested.
The world in which we live has become less certain. This means that the lives of some of our colleagues may include uncertainty or anxiety. Just click on any major news website and you can easily find news that could be interference (or worse) for someone around you.
So…as a leader what exactly can you do? What will you do? How will you ensure that others feel as supported as possible? As included?
There is little more important for those seeking to be the best leader they can be.
A few thoughts:
1: The uncertainty around the precise shape of Brexit is at its peak. I wrote this just after the referendum as advice to HR Directors and others… https://chelsham.co/brexit-what-an-hrd-really-can-do-right-now/ Two years on and the uncertainty is ever-increasing for some – including people in your workforce. Two years on and how many employers have taken the actions which were easily identifiable back in 2016. Crucially, what are you doing to reassure your people? Those from, and those in relationships with people from, other EU countries. Their worlds are possibly being turned upside down. Really. I know – I am married to an Italian and have friends from many EU countries. Some are genuinely fearful about what Brexit might mean for them. Again, reassurance is of critical importance right now – so far as it’s possible.
2: Aligned with this there is an increase in prejudiced behaviour and harassment in our society. That is a statement of fact. For example:
And so, as leader, how are you staying attuned to the life experiences of your teams? Which tone are you setting in your business about behaviour which will not be tolerated? How well do you know your team-members – direct reports or indirect? Do you know how they are feeling about life right now?
3: I had my eyes opened a few years ago to the number of people affected by long-term conditions in the UK workforce. It’s a large number. Those living with/beyond serious conditions and those caring for them. You probably know about the former – I hope you do and that your organisations are working hard to understand their long-term needs. You have to by law. But what about carers? Do you even know who is a carer in your company? What they are going through? The pressures they are under. Have they even realised that they are carers or do they think “I just go home and look after the person I love”. What exactly are you doing to support these amazing people?
4: Many of us are waking up the importance of thinking about intersectionality https://chelsham.co/intersectionality-inclusion/ Are you? Are you reflecting upon the path your new hire has had to tread to get to where they are? Are you trying to understand the barriers and challenges faced by someone who is in a minority group or groups? This is not straight-forward. It requires effort and consideration. So how can you fight to improve the experience of those who are not like you. Who may not have enjoyed the privileges you have. What can you do within your team or organisation to recognise difference, and that we are all different. And that this brings great value to our organisations.
5: And my favourite question…how do you want it to be around you? Where does inclusion sit in that picture? Do you attach importance to it? Are you seen to attach importance to it. If not, why not? Honestly…why not? And to what extent do you create conditions where every single person feels equally as involved, as included, in the dynamics of the team you lead and has a fair crack at being personally involved in your priority initiatives/activities?
As leader you have the opportunity to set the tone. To ensure you are an inclusive business. And to take specific steps towards the outcome that everyone feels included. Equally included.
If you aren’t taking that opportunity you are letting your people down and certainly not being the best leader you can be.
It was a long time coming. I decided in 2005 that I eventually wanted to run my own coaching business. I developed my coaching practice over many years and that development journey had started way before then. I amassed the experience which I believe is a pre-requisite before one can practise as an executive coach, including:
Coaching experience, of course. Lots.
Commercial and business experience.
Board-room/management team experience – consulting to and being a member of them.
Working with and coaching many leaders as part of my HRD roles.
More and more professional development for me.
Hard work, very hard work, looking at myself and working out “why would anyone want to be coached by me?”It’s a big question. I know what the answer is – it emerged over time and continues to evolve.
I worked over the years to ensure that gaps were filled.
All of the above and more.
Finally in 2012 I decided I was ready and in 2013, five years ago, I set up Chelsham. A few years earlier than I’d expected. My own little company. It was always designed to be a micro-business however I have a small number of fantastic Associates and, indeed, sometimes act as an Associate myself.
To start with it was positioned as coaching, facilitation and consulting. For that is what I/we do. It has been repositioned as “coaching executives, leaders, teams and organisations”. For that is what I/we do. Along with a growing number of speaking engagements.
There are ups and downs. Of course there are. Sometimes the downs were challenging but who said it was going to be easy?
I’ve learned so much. I’d never set up and run a company before. I know that ‘respecting my own boundaries’ is always the right call. I offer business to others if it is more ‘their thing’ and in return others offer business to me. That’s how I want it to be. I’ve experimented with all sorts of marketing initiatives but none has been as effective as my own personal networking. I’ve become very clear on my mission and experience and on choosing to be a courageous coach – non-directive as appropriate and also willing/able to challenge & hold people to account. I’ve learned when and how I can adeptly use my intuition. I’ve made business mistakes and yet also got a few things right that I wasn’t sure about at the time. People have been unexpectedly helpful whilst others, a smaller group, have been unexpectedly unhelpful. So much learning in there.
I am so grateful to my clients, to the people whom I have coached, to my networks (online and ‘in the real world’) and to the family & friends who have supported me. Andrea above all. It seems to be working. Chelsham has just had its best half-year. Inevitably there will be a lull now (in this business one follows the other as night follows day) but…hmmm…maybe I am getting used to that after all.
So what is it that I’ve done over these years? Some examples would be:
Worked with a ‘future CEO’ as he sought, gained and prepared to succeed in the CEO role.
Coached partners in law & professional services firms as they’ve grappled with significant sectoral change and worked out what leadership meant to them.
Helped many people in many sectors achieve swifter, more effective transitions into new roles and/or new companies/firms.
Facilitated sessions on topics including leadership (of course), inclusion (also of course), top-team formation & development, navigating change.
Spoken to audiences on a variety of topics related to the above.
Supported a previously high-performing player in getting back on track and returning to the levels of performance they expected of themselves.
Guided HR professionals through significant functional and organisational change.
Ditto finance and marketing professionals.
Consulted with varying types of organisation (a private school, a charity, a conglomerate, an LLP) on team work and creating a performance culture.
Coached multiple people in a number of organisations. Now that is gratifying.
Equally enjoyed the ‘one offs’.
Provided pro bono coaching to small charities and deeply discounted coaching to larger not-for-profits.
Helped ‘rising stars’ (future leaders) explore leadership and what it means to them.
Started working with SME owners in my local area – again at deeply discounted rates.
So much more … but I risk boring you now.
I’ve had tough times – particularly in the third year for some reason. I’ve had fun – throughout.
They always bring to life some very intriguing organisational dynamics.
Let’s accept that the majority in most businesses will be interested in the World Cup. And yet….our work to create inclusive companies is at least partially focused upon what it is like to be in the minority group is it not?
So what do we see? In fact what have I seen?
The manager who doesn’t believe in flexible working but who miraculously finds it possible to allow people to work flexibly if 11 men in a certain strip are running around on a pitch somewhere in the world.
The England fans who are given time to go and watch a match but the French or Brazilian colleagues who aren’t given the same leeway to watch their team.
The parent or carer who is made to feel guilty for sometimes leaving punctually or early – and then sits and watches in amazement as people are allowed to leave early to watch ‘the match’.
The “leader” who, when supposedly listening to project updates from more junior team members (for whom it was a critical moment), sat and watched ‘the match’ on his laptop – only looking up to say “we’ve scored”. Not seeming to listen to a word anyone said.
The team member who complains that it is unfair to give people who don’t want to watch football the same time off as a football fan receives to go and watch football. And then justifies the argument with “well everyone has the equal right to watch the football if they want”.
We now work harder than ever to create those conditions of inclusion. Does it all fall apart simply because there’s a sporting event on somewhere?
What are you doing to ensure fair treatment for the minority?
One of the key building blocks of my coaching practice is, of course, Inner Game work.
Whilst I often find myself working through organisational issues, workplace relationship difficulties or market challenges with players (i.e. coachees), the same people are just as likely to be getting in their own way.
Other players are predominantly grappling with fear and doubt, whether they realise it or not, and we certainly know that those are two of the biggest obstacles to people realising their true potential. It is clear to me that helping people reach a state of “flow” is a crucial element of Inner Game work with a player.
The ever-insightful Daniel Goleman made the following remark: “ Flow is a state of self-forgetfulness, the opposite of rumination & worry. People in Flow exhibit a masterly control of what they are dong, their responses perfectly attuned to the changing demands of the task.” So if by task we mean ‘career objectives’ we are onto something when we work to stop people getting in their own way.
Layer in elements of Psychosynthesis, as a specific example one’s own or other people’s expectations, and we are really starting to grapple with significant interference in coaching terms. “They expect me to make it to the top”. “I always thought I’d advance more quickly”. Thoughts which can only interfere – or so it seems to me.
I notice this with various players. It manifests itself as an absence of confidence. A lack of confidence in people who are already successful. So what’s happening?
Well too few people realise that the ability to be confidence lies in their own hands. Confidence can be a learnt behaviour. One study out there even suggests that as much as 60% of how we feel or act can be attributed to learnt skills.
So, given the frequency with which I am noticing lack of confidence as an element of my players’ work, I decided it might be a good idea to develop a specific coaching “product” based on increasing confidence. I thought I might share some of it with you and would love to know what you think:
As a starting point a not particularly original comment. But one worth repeating:
We cannot control life – including life at work – but we can decide consciously how we react to it.
From this I have developed a dozen or so specific areas where people might choose to focus in order to build more confidence. Not a methodology. And only to be used as suggestions once the player has exhausted his/her own options.
I hope it’s something which can further equip me to be at my best in helping a player work through their own agenda.
Each has a variety of sub-sections and thus, in total, there is far too much for a blog. So as a taster here are three of the dozen ideas:
Take more risks: confident people take risks. And confidence grows as one realises that taking risks can pay dividends. So by modelling confidence the player can breed confidence and make it ingrained behaviour.
Challenge the Inner Voice: work with the player to reframe their thoughts when they are being negative. So it isn’t “ Oh no the client said ‘No’ which makes me a bad person”. It becomes “Oh well the client said ‘No’ this time. I know we are better than the competitor and I will keep trying to develop the relationship with this client. I will learn from this”.
Model someone you admire: a classic coaching technique. You see them as confident so what is it that makes them confident? How do you know they actually are? What do you notice? What would you like to emulate? How will you know when you have? Which are the first steps you are going to take? When? How will we know when you have done it? What will be different?
There is much more where that came from – but I risk boring you so here I will stop.
But let me know if you’d like to discuss further. I’m easy to find.
We talk about equality. Which is hugely important.
And we talk about diversity. Also of tremendous importance.
And then we work to foster conditions of inclusion, to tackle exclusion. At least I hope we do. And we talk about that too.
What I don’t hear us talking about yet in business circles is the biggest “i-word” of them all. Intersectionality.
Now….I cannot profess to be an expert. I am learning. I am scratching the surface. It even crossed my mind that I shouldn’t write this blog for fear of ‘mansplaining’ something which is frequently associated with the feminist movement. So I checked my intent: to try in my own small way to put this out there and onto the corporate agenda.
It is something upon which I have been reflecting for a variety of reasons. It resonates with me. It is a route into being able to explain a facet which has always troubled me about diversity & equality initiatives. I worry that they put people into groups about which assumptions are made, and that they do not reflect the fact that we are all individuals with our own life experiences, our own complexity and our own needs.
This has been a feature of the inclusive leadership workshops that I deliver: I find myself suggesting that leaders might “get to know the person in front of you”; “try to avoid stereotypes”; “accept that you don’t, without effort, know about or understand the experiences of the individuals you are working with”; “include people as individuals, work out what inclusion means for them”; and so on…..
We need to be much better at understanding intersectionality – a dictionary definition of which is “the complex, cumulative manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect”.
Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw (UCLA School of Law & Columbia Law School) first drew attention to the term in relation to race and gender theory in a 1989 article discussing the experiences of black women in the USA. She asks us to conceptualise discrimination in an analogy to traffic: “Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a black woman is harmed because she is in the intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination.”
For me this is an eye-opener and worthy of deep reflection. Do we even start to understand this in the business world? Do we in any way “get” the experiences of those who come from significantly different backgrounds to us? Do we even try to improve in this area?
Without it being a competition. A league table. That isn’t what this is about. What it does do is drive us towards trying harder to understand, to recognise how we may have enjoyed entitlement compared to others, to avoid generalisations based on any attribute. To accept that a straight, white woman will quite possibly have had a significantly different life experience to a black, lesbian woman and that, therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach to gender equality will not cut it. Or that a white gay man may have enjoyed greater entitlement in life than a black gay man. Or may not. Or that an initiative to equalise the progression of women in the workforce (and boy do we still need those) might, if not thought through, create a new ceiling for black men or gay men who may be facing their own challenges in overcoming discrimination. That a straight white man may have faced barriers of which you are unaware. And so on. As I said it’s not a competition.
It is about creating positive conditions for all, within which all can thrive, in which we do our best to create a level playing field for everyone.
We have a long way to go. Yet, as we become more sophisticated in our thinking about inclusion and agree that fostering inclusive workplaces is, well, the right thing to do (and brings business benefits), we have an opportunity. It’s about leadership choices.
We can choose to shift our thinking.
In fact we can choose to:
Fight to improve the experience of those who are not like us
Avoid generalisations; stay away from over-simplified language
Recognise difference, and that we are all different
Ensure any teams you belong to are self-aware (e.g. are we ‘all-white’, are we ‘all male’?)
Welcome difference and watch out for homophily
I’m very glad that I was introduced to this concept, this reality. I have reflected upon it for many hours now. It really is something which could be the route to greater inclusion in society and in our workplaces.
Take some fantastic, well-intentioned charitable objectives.
Add a complex organisation.
Drive growth through mergers & takeovers so you have people from different cultures working hard to merge their mindsets, cultures and ways of working.
Adopt a resourcing strategy which relies on, and aims to deliver, the best possible recruits from each of the third, private and public sectors. Who bring utterly different perspectives to work relationships, attitudes and ways of working. A real positive but also, at times, a real challenge for any manager (and let’s not forget that people are often promoted early into management in the sector).
Along the way attract amazing people who have a sense of ownership of said charitable objectives, who believe you when you talk about engagement being a priority, who are brimming with ideas which they want to see brought to life.
Tell people they can be involved but layer on a need for focus, to stop doing too many things, to drive for achievement of strategic goals.
Mix in a level of passion.
Then get something wrong in the employment relationship – either a silly mistake by a manager or un-met ambition or saying No to something which is important in the mind of the individual but not in the charity – which is now so large it simply has to run commercially and on corporate lines.
And what happens?
The tone around the dispute becomes fierce and the strength of feeling is ratcheted up. A disagreement which may well be more easily resolved in the corporate sector becomes a point of principle in a not-for-profit.
I have seen this on many occasions in the organisational dynamics of major charities. The sense of ‘deal broken’, of ‘you should be better than this for you are a charity’, is palpable.
And it leads to a propensity for really complex employee relations and some disputes which are hard to resolve amicably….harder than they should be, harder than elsewhere.
There’s an irony to this and it’s a clear ‘other side of the coin’ at times for charity leaders.
In my experience it happens just a little too often.
A new appointee to a senior role is about to arrive. The hopes of the organisation, or of part of it, are pinned upon this appointment.
All will be well once they are here. Look what they have done elsewhere – if we just appoint her/him then we will turn things around. Salvation.
Is this real? Is this realistic? Is this setting up the new appointee, or the business, for failure?
Are those expectations precisely the kind of interference which would get in the way of most people? Is it really ever the case that one person can change everything?
For what I believe to be true is that the route to organisational change is not through salvation … although some careful appointments may be part of it.
It is through revelation.
By which I mean something like “the act of revealing or communicating organisational truth”. And this takes time, there is no quick fix. It requires careful exploration, appreciative enquiry, debate, challenge, soul-searching.
It can be aided by an external catalyst* but it is, in its essence, an organisation and its leaders choosing to look very hard at themselves and to devise then drive actions which will deliver fundamental change.
So I say: be wary of salvation. Be aware of the need for revelation.