Workplace diversity means the inclusion of people from a range of backgrounds, of different ages, races, genders, and nationalities. It also means the inclusion of people with disabilities.
As the workforce becomes more inclusive, leadership must reflect diversity in leader choice and in leadership practices.
Tangible and intangible benefits come from a workforce that is diverse. It only makes sense that a diverse workforce allows employers to offer more solutions to customers, because of the range of ideas and practices contained within the company.
Creativity is enhanced when the workforce comes from different backgrounds and life experiences. Teams that are heterogeneous promote greater “cross-fertilization” of ideas because not everyone is coming from the same real or metaphorical place. And, of course, good job candidates are drawn to companies with diverse workforces because it indicates a lower chance of experiencing employment discrimination.
Leadership That Reflects the Workforce
Team members naturally want to see company leaders that are representative of the workforce. They want to see people of their gender, age, ethnicity, and educational background represented in leadership. That’s one of the main reasons why businesses must make leadership development programs available to people who show leadership potential and drive, regardless of whether they fit into conventional ideas of what leaders “look like.”
As companies diversify their leadership, they often find leadership coaching beneficial. Learning to lead alongside people of various backgrounds may require rethinking old attitudes, learning new skills, and understanding effective communication better – tasks that leadership coaches are uniquely well-equipped to address.
Characteristics That Transcend Demographics Matter Most
A 2018 study by Barry Posner of Santa Clara University found that while people attach importance to leadership that reflects their demographic characteristics, more important were underlying leadership characteristics including honesty, competence, inspiration, and a forward-looking attitude.
The good news is that those leadership characteristics aren’t limited to one demographic type. Businesses that have always (intentionally or not) looked for emerging leaders within a narrow range of demographic characteristics have every reason to expand their view of “leadership material” and offer leadership development programs accordingly.
Definitions of “leadership material” must be made based on current business reality rather than outdated notions.
Leadership Engagement Requires Key Leadership Characteristics
There are many different leadership styles, and how they are used should depend on something more than “how we’ve always done it.” Whether a workplace uses autocratic leadership, participative leadership, transformational leadership or some other leadership style should depend on factors including the size of the organization, what type of business it is, the prevailing work culture, and organizational goals.
Assuming that a business uses a leadership style (or a collection of leadership styles depending on its size and how it is organized) that is appropriate for the workforce and its goals, it will get the best leadership results when all leaders demonstrate honesty, transparency, fairness, and strong communication. Without these, leadership will not be as effective as it could be otherwise.
Leadership coaching works with leaders to identify skills gaps and leadership blind spots, as well as goals and objectives. The most successful leadership coaches are the ones who help leaders make the greatest positive difference in their leadership. Elevating leadership capability often requires that leaders work on key characteristics like honesty, transparency, fairness, and great communication, and leadership coaches have the tools and techniques that facilitate this.
There’s no question that trying to run a modern business based on leadership techniques that worked 50 years ago is short-sighted at best and dangerous at worst. Leadership development programs for today’s workforce cannot ignore the diversity in the workforce and in the surrounding world. Success requires both developing leaders who are representative of the people they lead and helping them develop the underlying characteristics of great leaders and teaching them how to put those characteristics to work.
If you’re interested in developing leadership in a changing workforce, I encourage you to check out my books. In particular, Intelligent Leadership: What You Need to Know to Unlock Your Full Potential is designed for leaders at all levels and addresses the many challenges they face in achieving and sustaining exceptional operating results.