California Management Review
California Management Review is a premier academic management journal published at UC Berkeley
by Mostafa Sayyadi, Luca Collina, and Michael Provitera
Image Credit | Levi Meir Clancy
Studies conducted by McKinsey in 2022 reveal that companies within the top 25% for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to experience superior performance, yet up to 24% of employees still report feeling excluded in the workplace, emphasizing why leaders must champion diversity, equity, and Inclusion (DEI) throughout their organizations.
Myths about Diversity: What Managers Need to Know About Changes in the U.S. Labor Force, Friedman, Judith J., and Nancy DiTomas, 38/4 (Summer 1996): 54-77
The role of leadership has expanded to diversity, equity, and Inclusion, coupled with a thorough understanding of the conceptual skills of interpersonal relationships. Leaders must accept that diversity is here to stay. Finding the uniqueness of each employee and accepting them where and how they are is key to future success in any organization. Conceptual skills used to be found primarily in the upper echelon of organizations. However, they are needed from the front-line staff to the management.
Furthermore, everyone needs to use conceptual skills. In his work “Skills of an Effective Administrator”, Robert Katz (1947), a seminal author, defined conceptual skills as understanding how all parts of a business work together and driving changes that affect the whole company or critical business outcomes.1 Thus, people can manage their own jobs and the expansive reach of the organization to its vital customers. Peter Drucker once mentioned that a business is not operative without a customer, and reaching each customer where they are is equivalent to an organization’s success. Drucker also coined knowledge management as an empowering trait of all employees as they perform their jobs.
The cognitive ability is also to be capable of leading others through strong interpersonal relationships.2 3 4 5 Interpersonal relationships between leaders and employees create a positive work environment that promotes trust, collaboration, effective communication, empathy, and teamwork. These qualities enhance employees’ customer orientation, leading to a focus on delivering exceptional service and meeting customer needs.
Being promoted to leadership is like becoming a black belt in martial arts. The learning just begins at that point at an entirely new level.6 7 8 9 Many supervisors and leaders that get promoted experience very little to no training. Some go away to a two-day supervisor training, and a colleague must trust their group members to catch them as they fall backwards. This builds camaraderie, but there is so much more to leadership. Leadership training begins with an introspective journey that requires continuous development, and in some cases, as Peter Drucker once noted, leaders need to know what not to do. However, a fundamental mediator element is the one that allows the Unlearning step.
The unlearning task is not an easy one. However, today’s dynamic environment demands leaders to be able to unlearn. As a result, older methods, beliefs, and habits must be discarded to make way for new, more effective ones. Any leadership training program must incorporate the concept of unlearning.
In addition to this critical activity, a leader’s personality must be continuously discerned to achieve a challenging personal transformation and positively influence others. Therefore, leaders must deepen their insights to be more authentic in nature, and sometimes, this requires an outside evaluation from knowledgeable, effective leaders who can add suggestions for continuous improvement. Discernment is a key leadership trait and usually develops over time. Leaders must also discern followers and develop their personalities to lead better and more introspective by grasping new management techniques and attempting to implement them.
The simplistic perception of human beings as the most complex phenomenon is why leaders stay away from deepening their insights and resort to simple management fad-type techniques to minimize the complexity of the leader-follower equation. Executives must smooth the path of leadership development to enhance their ability to solve complex leader-follower conflicts. Leader-follower conflicts show their ugly face when followers are left alone without any direction or when many demands are coming from multiple leaders, causing friction. Employees must also use their conceptual skills to let leaders know when their needs may not be realistic in the allotted timeframe.
We have found that the discussion of the challenges and complexities of leadership makes some senior managers reluctant to develop as leaders. This reluctance seems quite logical, as leadership development requires leaders’ personal development and deepening their insights in dealing with complex issues. These issues are sometimes too complex to solve in a short time or more significant and more prominent issues must be addressed. Two EDI experts, Robin Di Angelo, and Verna Myers, have observed authentic leadership asks to manage discomfort and difficult conversations about systemic inequities. Authentic leadership involves a deep dive into the realm of introspection to develop an authentic leadership persona. In an international financial company in Australia, after several meetings were held via chatbots with lower-level employees to include their views on the redevelopment of new knowledge management systems, employees became more aware of the possibility of cyber-attacks and how to avoid phishing, reducing the related risks.10 11 12 In some cases, executives appear to be following predetermined recipes to resolve problems and lead others. Models of leadership are often used in universities and specific organizations. Some leadership models are only used once, while others are only used with some leaders. Once the leader moves on, they take the leadership model with them, and that leadership model is not utilized.
The key to leadership models is that they are for all people in organizations and, in some cases, reach out to suppliers, vendors, and even customers to build a solid leadership presence—leadership models that reap the most significant benefits to the stakeholders. In practice, leadership models set specific roles at all levels of the organization that not only motivate people within the organization and instill a sense of ownership into employees but also become a boundaryless model of organizations, creating an Open business system: In an open business system, team members are involved in decision-making and creativity and collaboration are encouraged. This can lead to increased innovation and greater efficiency in the organization.
Aggressive behavior from leaders is nothing new. At Salomon Brothers Inc., leaders would tell people to tell their story walking or fire someone by saying they are out of here. These aggressive behaviors are not known as micro-aggressions. Micro-aggressions are pinpointed toward a particular group. They could be passive or aggressive. The key is understanding where they are and abolishing them from the organization.
Making the organization a think-tank for the world to view, understand, learn, and apply. Next, we define the roles of leaders for the future. We need to have a deeper dive into the roles for the future. We propose a new model of leadership that can help develop leadership in today’s global and complex business environment. A model that, along with personal development, introduces leadership as a set of roles that leaders should adopt according to diversity, equity, and Inclusion.
Leaders can play an essential role in leadership development.13 14 First, leaders must take a deep dive into the introspective journey and personal development of authentic leadership for their personal transformation and to better influence others.15 Some executives see nothing wrong with having a psychologist in the midst to help them and other employees cope with the day-to-day stress of leadership—both personal and professional.
This new leadership model also needs to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusive practices that can meet the needs of all employees and stakeholders. Our approach with executives is to pose leadership roles that consider leadership a responsible and continuous commitment to create motivation and a sense of shared ownership for employees, ensuring everyone feels included and valued and operating in an environment where employees feel safe to speak up and share ideas without fear of being judged or punished (Psychologically safe environment -PSE).
We now describe these new leadership roles after the deep dive and the personal assessment criteria. The first role (Innovative Democratic Leaders) emphasizes the democratization of the organization and away from pyramidal and bureaucratic structures. With the emergence of the complexities of digital transformation and artificial intelligence, leaders need to grasp ways of meeting the needs of employees and stakeholders without them being persuaded by leadership models that are counterproductive not only in the workplace but also in their personal lives.
In another new role (Innovation Leader Search Steering Committee), they appear as supporters who are full of personal qualities such as patience and humility. They are at the forefront of the future. They invite all employees to participate broadly in transformations. In this role, leaders recognize that all employees, from the lowest to the highest organizational levels, are pieces of what we call organizational genius. The other we suggest for leaders is Organizational Excellence Keeper. In this role, leaders are responsible for maintaining organizational excellence through continuous learning of human capital within the organization. Leaders should expand the infrastructure to develop the knowledge flow process throughout the organization and help their human resources on the path of excellence and growth by designing performance feedback systems. The effectiveness of this stage also requires communication of human resources with DEI experts and management consultants.
Figure 1: The New Leadership Roles in the DEI World
As for the new, learning also requires upskilling in culture, communications, allyships, and creating an inclusive environment. With reference to training content about diversity, equity, and inclusion. we have asked executives to develop a positioning statement that reflects how they address DEI, why they do it, what it means to them to understand and develop leadership competency, and the importance of this introspective viewpoint as role models for followers.
The origins of managing DEI come from authentic leadership and servant leadership approaches, resulting in extensive participation. Promoting self-reflection, building skills, adopting inclusive behaviors, driving systemic change, fostering collaboration, and establishing accountability measures.
Achieving this personal transformation for leaders requires understanding the impact of assumptions of their past and present behaviors. In fact, leaders must realize that their beliefs will play an essential role in their behavior. Leaders should adopt the best assumptions according to the diversity, equity, and inclusion circumstances to provide the best behaviors to meet the followers’ needs.
We also distributed a checklist determining their stand on several managerial issues. And the best possible behaviors according to adopting the best assumptions and trying to master behaviors separately. Once this was diagnosed, we attempted to raise the bar through extensive training and development.
We demonstrated to the managers in workshops’ training that best assumptions and pursue behaviors could play an essential role in their personal development. For example, we asked them to hypothesize how humility can be essential in developing organizational leadership. Then, we asked them to write down the best behaviors in performing their duties in a checklist, according to this assumption and regardless of the position of the organization in which they are located. The results were fantastic, and the feedback received from the managers showed us that many behaviors with their employees had improved significantly compared to before these training workshops were held.
There are many ways of using DEI executive training. We use DEI training to improve discussion learning quality by enhancing teaching and learning to maximize opportunities and experiences for employees and stakeholders. We do it by enhancing the tools and techniques of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) to explore significant ways of learning and growing with diverse life experiences, different perspectives, and a wide array of backgrounds.
Some crucial points are making leadership roles where everyone can take part and feel ownership, helping leaders grow in self-understanding and open-mindedness, and doing fun training on diversity, fairness, and Inclusion using real people’s stories and motivation exercises.
We have four actionable ideas for executives.
The bottom line is leadership now means making DEI the top priority. Interactive training, roles where everyone participates, and constant learning allow this change. Leadership has to champion DEI, including everyone’s unique talents. Executives should lead this change to create positive, engaged cultures where all feel they belong.