Aug 19

Simply Respecting Diversity is not Productive (Series 4 of 8)


Don’t get me wrong, diversity does demand respect. If not respected and handled carefully, diversity can tear relationships and organizations apart. As organization leaders, we must establish clear and enforceable policies to assure that all members of the organization treat each other respectfully. We cannot afford to have anyone’s behavior, no matter how unintentional, result in others feeling disrespected, insulted, embarrassed or harassed. The costs of such inappropriate behavior are significant, up to and including legal action with serious penalties.

Assuring the avoidance of intolerant or insensitive behavior is an important aspect of respecting diversity. However, it is not the same as productively engaging diversity.

Washing our hands is an important aspect of personal hygiene. It can help us avoid illness, but it does not assure health, let alone fitness. Health and fitness require more than guarding against illness. It requires we take the initiative to assure a healthy diet and regular exercise. Similarly, having an enforceable code of conduct simply helps us avoid problems, it does not assure organization health or fitness.

When my children were small, my wife and I made sure we had protective inserts for all the electrical outlets and we taught our children to respect electricity. If not respected and handled carefully, electricity can burn you. As our children got older, I wanted to make sure they not only respected and were careful with electricity but also understood the physics and potential of electrical power. Learning how electricity can be harnessed and applied productively was an important step beyond mere respect for its power.

Like electricity, diversity is powerful and potentially dangerous if not handled carefully. The need and opportunity for organization performance is to harness the power of diversity, to engage it productively. This takes understanding and skill beyond compliance with code of conduct policies. As leaders, we need to understand the dynamics of diversity and how it works if we are to discover how we might engage it productively. As leaders, we need to develop the skills and use the tools that will allow us to harness its power to drive creativity and commitment.

Series 4 of 8