Recalibrating Workplace Leadership Through Diversity

October 2, 2017

[black moon]
[black moon]

One of my most prized possessions is my grandfather’s silver pocket watch. I recently took it to get serviced and had a chance to peek inside. I was amazed by the internal mechanism.

Despite what seemed like disorganization, a series of gears were working in unison. That 17th-century technology inspired me, in part, to exchange a 21st-century management model favoring groupthink for one that promotes collaboration through diversity and inclusion.

The pyramid scheme

Most company hierarchies are triangular. One person sits at the top of a pyramid and everyone else is a subordinate. There are varying levels of authority figures promoting assimilation as a means to get ahead for the rest of the employees making up the company’s foundation. Its success is based in the harmony of having a team that is essentially all the same. A homogenous workforce exerts power by holding tightly to customs proclaiming, “This is how we do things around here.”

There is no denying the effectiveness of this corporate structure. But you can’t ignore that the increasingly outdated model promotes prejudice, stunts innovation and compromises a company’s long-term growth.

Management hires people who don’t challenge them, but affirm their beliefs. Any nonconforming staffer is branded as “not getting it” and rated poorly in performance reviews. The like-minded faithful tend to support unanimity without question, even if something is inaccurate, to prevent discord in the group.

This setup has many similarities to a classic investment pyramid scheme. Those who benefit are the ones in the corner offices with natural light coming from their spectacular top-floor window views. They create a uniform workplace environment, dependent on the support of a large base, to the advantage of one person’s vision.

Today’s largely millennial workforce sees old-world bureaucratic systems favoring decision-making by big titles as unattractive. These people seek positions of influence, which enable them to collaborate with others by integrating their individualities. The key to success isn’t in a company’s ability to create order, but how it introduces a little chaos.

The gears of influence

There are many models that do away with triangular hierarchies by replacing them with collaborative or distributed management styles. These flat structures have fewer boundaries between executives and staff because everyone owns leadership. Diverse and inclusive groups perform better by leveraging a collective brainpower, which spurs critical thinking. 

I have noticed that there are three gears of influence, which must operate independently and also in concert, in order for companies to thrive in a continuously changing market. These include:

The first gear of influence is about realizing that it’s not just what you know, but who you know that matters. You’re not the only one with brilliant ideas. Homogeneous groups suffer from overconfidence because everyone is on the same wavelength. It is important to surround yourself with people who are different than you. Work groups who share similar disciplines run the risk of being narrow-minded. Diverse groups with distinct skill sets and knowledge perform better because of contrasting perspectives.

The second gear of influence is to be comfortable in being uncomfortable. It’s true that differences in opinions make it difficult for a heterogeneous group to work together, but it’s through debate that ideas are born. Challenging the status quo is not a sign of office mutiny, but is a necessary part of teamwork. Feeling uncomfortable is a good thing; it means that something new is happening.

The third gear of influence is risk-taking. The corporate culture standard is filled with clones validating their manager’s failing strategies. Instead, seek to create a new norm by incorporating people and systems with fresh, new ideas. Companies that replace their institutionalized caution culture with courage maintain a competitive edge.

Looking at my grandfather’s pocket watch, and then my son’s smartwatch, I’m reminded of how much has changed with how we measure time. In order for companies to survive through unwieldy economic cycles, managers must recalibrate their antiquated leadership systems and get with the times.

Hugo Balta

Hugo Balta is the senior director of Hispanic Initiatives at ESPN. His work focuses on collaborative projects across platforms and networks focused on best serving U.S. Hispanics. Find more articles like these on his blog, Straight Talk.


Miryam Delgado says:

Me encanto el articulo,comparar el reloj antiguo de tu abuelo con el reloj inteligente de tu hijo ,si bien es cierto ambos cumplen la misma funcion indudablemente el de tu hijo es mas moderno es mas practico ,mas a la moda y con otros aplicaciones ,as asi el mundo empresarial si no se renovan o no van al ritmo moderno,no hay progreso.

Oct. 4, 2017

Hugo Balta says:

Gracias Miryam por tus comentarios. Es importante que estemos al dí no; los dejan atrás!

Oct. 19, 2017

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