Lead Others Through Their Diversity and Inclusion Journey by Developing Yourself

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santanaThere is an old saying that goes, “You can only take others as far as you’ve gone yourself.” I am a big believer in this philosophy. As leaders in the area of diversity and inclusion, chief diversity officers (CDOs) need to continuously take themselves further in their self-awareness and skills in order to effectively coach and counsel others. So what are some things that diversity and inclusion leaders can do to continue their journey of self-development? Here are seven specific ideas:

● If you have not done so, take all the Harvard Implicit Association Tests — or unconscious bias tests — and soberly explore all of your own biases. Believe me, you will find plenty to work with. Regardless of how diverse your upbringing, experience, and lifestyle, you are likely to find some biases hidden beneath the surface. Do not try to explain away or excuse any biases you uncover; simply acknowledge them.

● Be open with others about these biases. This takes leadership and courage. Through your own vulnerability, invite others to be vulnerable, too. For example, one of my recognized biases has to do with tattoos and body piercings. Not only has acknowledging this helped me to get others to be more open with me, but it has also done a lot to help me see people for who they are, past that limiting filter. The best way to invite others to grow is to be open about your own journey.

● Formulate a way to challenge your identified biases. Spend time with people who disagree with you — politically and socially. Instead of trying to justify your beliefs by refuting theirs, try to consider why they believe what they do. This is not meant to get you to adopt a new belief, but rather to develop a respect for the way others see the world, even when their view is in direct opposition to your most closely held beliefs.

● To delve even deeper into your personal development, make a list of rules you learned growing up, and then ask yourself when these rules might actually not be good for you or others around you. For example, I came to internalize the rule, “Never leave for tomorrow what you can do today.”  The problem with this surfaced when I was tired but refused to call it a day. It also became an issue when I tried to encourage people who did not subscribe to this idea to keep working through their own exhaustion. Gain better understanding and management of your own internalized rules so that you can be in a better position to see and coach others around their internalized personal and cultural rules.

● To expand your current organization’s diversity and inclusion program limits, also explore beyond your self-imposed “company limits.” Start by making a list of the things you believe your company would never go for, and then ask, “How can I take a bold step toward driving one of these things forward?” I remember a company I worked for where many employees felt they could not start an LGBTQ network — that is, until someone did it, and it turned into one of the networks with the most positive influence and impact in the entire organization.

● For your next encounter with senior business leaders, commit yourself to asking powerful questions to challenge their beliefs and expand their thinking instead of agreeing to and affirming their present beliefs — or jumping into an argument to get them to see things your way. The idea is to raise their awareness of their thinking, as well as yours, and to use facts to find better solutions. For instance, if someone says, “I don’t think Hazel can handle a full workload after coming back from having a baby,” don’t quietly nod, and don’t blurt out, “That is so biased.” Instead, ask, “Why do you think that?” Listen, and keep asking clarifying questions until the facts emerge. Then address those honestly from your own perspective. Become a master at asking clarifying questions and having fiercely honest conversations. Scary? It can be, but it’s also vital to your ability to drive progress.

● Finally, connect yourself with peers who challenge your solutions and perspectives. An old African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” As a board chair and peer advisory group leader, I can attest to how much more individuals develop when they have the support of and are challenged by their peers.

And here is a bonus tip: When you finish working your way through this list, go to the top again and start your next personal journey.

The path to leading others always starts and ends with taking ourselves to higher levels of vision and performance. This truth is embedded in one form or another in the teachings of most philosophies and religions. For example, Jesus was cited as advising his followers to “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” As leaders in diversity and inclusion, we must continuously pull the logs of bias, self-limits, lack of respect, shortsightedness, and a host of other barriers out of our own eyes so that we can grow. Only through our own growth can we continue to lead others to that higher ground of cognitive richness that emerges from the power of diversity when we fully realize the collaboration that results from greater levels of inclusion.●

Joseph Santana is chairman of the Institute for Corporate Productivity’s (i4cp) Chief Diversity Officer Board and president of Joseph Santana, LLC. He is also a member of the INSIGHT Into Diversity Editorial Board. For more about Joe, visit joesantana.com.