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  • Glenn Sharp

A Different Way to Approach Diversity with Your Team During These Trying Times

How do we learn from what we are witnessing on the news? How can we take the hard lessons we’re experience every day and actually apply them to improve our organization and team?

First, let’s define what we mean by diversity. In the news and social media, this type of discussion always seems to gravitate toward race and gender only. Don’t get me wrong. Race and gender are a large part of diversity and inclusion. But it is just a part. Not all. Diversity is defined as anything that makes us different. So yes, it could be race and gender, but it could also be where you grew up, your religious beliefs, your sexual orientation, whether you played sports, how you were raised, etc… It could even be the way you think. In fact, all of the things we just mentioned that make us different also impact the way we think.

Next, we need to acknowledge that there is evil in the world. There is racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. We also must acknowledge that there are people out there, in every demographic group, with terrible intentions who are hateful, self-serving and selfish. However, this constitutes just a small portion of individuals in each demographic. We should remain grounded by looking at our everyday lives and not what we see on the screen. Could we safely say that the majority of people we encounter everyday are kind, good-hearted, and even loving? I think so.

So how do we constructively process the horrible things that we see and hear on social media and the news? We see the riots in large cities and the protests that stem from the enormous frustration of past and current events. We hear from our HR department that we need to be sensitive regarding what is going on but, for most of us, we don’t really know what to do. You may feel like I do and think that it has always made sense to judge someone by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin. So how should we change our behavior in the workplace? What can we do differently?

The solution is simple. It is something that as a leadership development professional is the basis for what I do. We need to start learning the habit of understanding the way each of our team members think. Yes, habit is the correct word in this scenario because truly understanding where a team member is coming from (regardless of race and/or gender or anything else) and why they think the way they do must become ingrained into the culture of a team for them to succeed. Let’s look at an example:

I have this friend John who is team leader. For the sake of this exercise, imagine you are on John’s team. Also imagine you have been trying to get promoted for a few years now. In a touch base, John (your boss) gives you extremely honest feedback but it seems to be without emotion. What you miss because you get offended is that the feedback revealed a blind spot you have that is keeping you from reaching the next level. Next imagine John is in a leadership team meeting and is pushing the executive team on an issue or really trying to drive home a concept. He pushes even at the risk of getting chastised by leadership. Does it seem like he is showboating? Now imagine you are all in a company town hall meeting. The “big boss” asks YOU a question and John butts in and speaks over you when you begin to answer. You feel embarrassed and hurt that he didn’t trust you to answer the question. John seems like he is not the best boss, right?

Now let’s look below the surface to see what John is really thinking and what he is all about. To do that I will use a methodology that I recently began my certification in. The Enneagram. If you’re not familiar with this methodology, the Enneagram is comprised of 9 different personality types. There’s a lot more to it than that, but let’s keep it simple for the sake of this example. Our friend John is an 8 on the enneagram. That means that he calls it as he sees it. He provides the gift of honesty (sometimes without worry of emotions). He is loyal and just and is willing to make the hard decisions for his people even if it makes him look bad. Also, the worst thing you can do to John is betray his trust as he typically has only a small circle of people that he does trust. In the same respect, he will fiercely defend and protect his inner circle (and team) to the end.

I like to look at John’s type of honesty is a gift. Remember your pretend touch base when he gave you feedback that offended you. If you knew John and how he thinks, you would have realized that he gave you the key to how to get the promotion you have been wanting. That blind spot was holding you back and if you worked on it you could get to the next level. In the leadership team meeting you might have thought John was trying to get noticed or was showboating for self-promotion. What you didn’t know is that his motivation in pushing leadership on those issues was to make his team’s job easier. He risked getting chastised by leadership to help his team. In the town hall you thought John didn’t trust you to answer the “big boss’s” question. John may have looked rude and overbearing for talking over you but in reality, he did it to protect you. John could tell you were being led toward a trap and was trying to shield you from the corporate politics behind the question. John loves you and the rest of his team too much to allow that to happen.

Do you see how if you knew how John really thinks, you may not think as negatively about the way he behaves as a leader. You may begin to understand John and his true intentions. You may not think of him as a bully (as many have) and realize he is protecting his own and has the best intentions at heart.

What if John and his team took time once a month to learn about each other? What if they all took the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, DISC, or any one of the variety of assessments out there and each explained how and why they think the way we do? How much more efficient would they be as a team? How much more productive would they be? How much time would they save? And finally, how much better would you feel as being part of his team?

So, let’s answer the questions. How should we change our behavior in the workplace? What can we do differently? It’s simple. Make a habit of getting to really know the way the people around you think and you will be a better boss, leader, team member, and person.

At Sharp Leadership Development, we assist leaders in covering challenging topics like the ones you read above and encourage individuals to look within themselves for ways to provide perspective for them and their team. If this sounds like something that would benefit you or someone you know, visit us a for details on our individual coaching, workshop offerings and in-tact team events.

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