valuing difference - human forms stood at music stands

Valuing Difference Begins at the Top

By Phil Cox

In the Autumn of 1997, I left Marks & Spencer after five happy years on their management development programme.  On the day I said goodbye to my colleagues, the M&S share price stood at 635p.  Just two years later, their stock had plummeted to 228p.  Of course, I like to think that my departure – as a virtually irreplaceable Assistant Personnel Manager in their Shoreham store – led to shockwaves in the market which resulted in the rapidly declining value of the stock.  25 years later I must now admit to myself that, alas, this is not true.

The reality, according to researcher Jack Eaton, is that during this turbulent period, M&S succumbed to “groupthink”.  Groupthink is an unconscious psychological phenomenon, popularised by Yale researcher Irving Janis, whereby teams value, and seek consensus, and minimise dissenting voices.

In the late 90s, M&S was led by Sir Richard Greenbury, a headstrong and rather bullish man who fulfilled the role of both CEO and Chairman.  In early 1997 he steered M&S to achieve £1bn profit for the first time, which cemented his reputation, both inside and outside the business, as somebody not to be trifled with. His successes in the UK led to an attempt at global expansion which backfired spectacularly and halved the value of the company within two short years.

Eaton’s research suggests that during this time, M&S was displaying classic symptoms of groupthink. A powerful leader, buoyed by success, surrounded by people who were frightened of getting on his wrong side.  The M&S Board’s fundamental flaw was its unwillingness or inability to value difference over consensus.

The case for leaders “valuing difference” is much more clearly understood today than it was when I was still a fresh-faced graduate: it’s central to a diverse and inclusive culture. But in practice, how can organisations ensure that leaders value difference in a way that goes beyond window-dressing for their annual report?

Here are four steps that can help organisations ensure they bring fresh and different perspectives to their Board teams.

1.    Get ahead, get a NED
The ACCA report “A Step Towards Better Governance” states that the selection of Directors from a broad background can lead to more effective decision-making and better use of resources.  One of the simplest ways to bring fresh perspective to your Board is to think carefully about the true ‘difference’ that each of your Non-Exec Directors brings to the table, beyond technical or professional experience. Don’t just rely on tried-and-tested ways of identifying your NEDS, i.e. through established networks.  Actively seek out people who bring a diversity of thought, or ideas that reflect their social mobility, financial diversity, and so on.

2.    Who’s setting the tone?
M&S’s story demonstrates that the most senior leader is pivotal in establishing a culture that values difference – or not.  How often do they actively seek out fresh thinking, and frank and challenging conversations? How skilled are they at positively encouraging and eliciting responses from quieter colleagues?  How much gatekeeping (of new and diverse – possibly countercultural – thinking) goes on across the organisation?  Or is there a culture of shutting this down, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways? These questions can be difficult to answer from within, so it can be good to engage an independent observer to deliver real feedback on this.

3.    Listening In
Reverse mentoring schemes bring numerous benefits to an organisation.  As well as the sharing of new ideas and viewpoints from around a business, which in turn can shape culture and strategic direction, companies report benefits such as improved retention amongst the junior mentees.  For this to be successful, it’s important that leaders develop a growth mindset – i.e. they see challenges to established ways of working as an opportunity to develop organisational capability – rather than a fixed mindset, where they see such challenges as a threat to their power base.

4.    Can I trust you?
Leadership teams that operate in a vacuum of trust tend to be poor at valuing difference. If infighting and individual survival trumps collaboration and collective success, leaders are less inclined to express or be open to views that are radically different to the status quo. They are also less likely to constructively challenge the assumptions they collectively hold.  Organisations that invest in creating a sense of trust amongst their senior leaders are simultaneously creating conditions in which difference can thrive and be truly valued.

Truly valuing difference is key to building an open-minded organisation culture, and as M&S discovered, this can mean the difference between success and near-failure. And valuing difference starts with leadership. Having the right people with the right mindset at the top is fundamental to any organisation’s effort to become an agile and inclusive business.

confirmation bias

What is Confirmation Bias?

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at how to bring difference to life with stories.  Today I’d like us to confront the biggest thing that gets in our way of appreciating the diversity of thought of another.

Bias – mostly unconscious – is the biggest obstacle to Diversity and Inclusion efforts.  How we judge people – what we assume about others, what we expect from them – clouds every interaction, from listening to someone’s sales pitch to forgiving their mistake to wanting to work with them.  So it won’t be surprising to hear that it is also our bias – more specifically, our Confirmation Bias – that gets in our way of truly appreciating other input.

What is confirmation bias?
Confirmation bias is our tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of our existing beliefs or theories.  This means that when we look at information we embrace evidence that confirms our belief or view, and ignore or reject evidence that casts doubt on it.   In other words, we are prone to believe what we want to believe.   This makes it difficult to appreciate a point of view that is different from our own.

Examples of confirmation bias
Let me explain with a few examples:

When researching, we are more likely to look for evidence that backs up our opinion by only going to sources that hold similar views.  Once we believe something, evidence to the contrary is very difficult to accept.  We become selective with the information we include in our conclusions and tend to avoid anything that might challenge them.  Consider, for instance, Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 study that linked the MMR vaccine to autism. It was retracted from the British Medical Journal in 2010 after evidence that Wakefield manipulated and ignored much of his data. Wakefield’s mind  was so set on linking the vaccine to regressive autism that he ignored all evidence to the contrary.

Another common example is how we interpret things we see based on our confirmation bias.  Take, for instance, a man who thinks dogs are inherently dangerous.  When describing to the police his eyewitness account of an altercation with a dog, he recounts it as a vicious dog that attacked an innocent child.  A different person who loves dogs might have described the same situation as the dog defending itself against a menacing child. Neither eyewitness account is reliable due to confirmation bias.

Finally, have you ever called or texted someone, only to receive no reply? Most people would assume the recipient is busy, but people with low self-esteem are often held hostage by their confirmation bias and decide that the person must dislike them. They already thought this beforehand, and the lack of response simply “confirms” this preconceived idea.  Confirmation bias can also damage romantic relationships if one person believes that their partner is cheating on them. Any interaction, positive or negative, is now “proof” that their cheating theory is correct.

How can confirmation bias manifest itself at work?
In the workplace, confirmation bias can be the reason team members don’t share the full range of available information or may only tell a leader what they think that the leader wants to hear. This can lead to poor decision-making, missed opportunities, and negative outcomes.  This will also discourage the creation and sharing of new ideas or concepts.

Confirmation bias can also lead to the formation of a ‘yes’ culture and groupthink, when the team are heavily influenced by the thinking of the most dominant/eloquent/expert person in the room and discount insights from others.

Bias toward or against an applicant may affect the types of questions they receive in the hiring process.  Employers who tend to see women as less confident than their male counterparts, will often overlook them for positions and promotions based on their confirmation bias. Similarly, general dissatisfaction with an employee may lead to a manager viewing their work performance in a more negative light, regardless of the actual input.

Three simple things we can do to overcome confirmation bias
Now that we know how susceptible we are to confirmation bias, it becomes easier for us to address it.  Here are 3 things each of us can do to ensure we don’t get caught up in wanting to confirm our own view and that we properly value the difference in other people’s diversity of thought:

1. Be curious.  Ask questions that come from a place of interest.  What makes them think that way?  How have they reached their conclusion?  What is it based on? Polite curiosity helps others open up and share their individuality.  And if we can suspend our own belief or view by being open to challenge, we are less likely to fall foul of confirmation bias.

2. Assume they are also right.  More often than not, there’s more than one right answer or way to do things.  If we enter a situation with this assumption in mind, we will be more open to others’ opinions and evidence to the contrary.  Once we’ve done that, we’re also going to be able to benefit from different insights and learn.

3. Invite opinions.   Even when we think we’re the expert on a particular topic, if we show interest in others’ views, if we ask them for their open and honest input, we might surprise ourselves.  Furthermore, simply asking for another’s input makes them feel valued and included, which means they’ll be more likely to contribute with their views in the future.

Valuing difference requires a level of curiosity and humility, and understanding that we don’t have all the information to be on the right side of truth, plus an acknowledgement that we can all be blindsided even when we think we’re open minded and curious.  Watching out for when we might be susceptible to confirmation bias will make it easier to appreciate and benefit from the diversity of thought of our colleagues and peers.

own difference - a red flower in a field of blue

How to Own Your Difference!

Guest Blog By Sian Rowsell

Dr. Sian Rowsell

One in 40

“Hi, I’m Sarah!”

“Hi, I’m Sian”

“I know!”

Sarah pointed at the 200 headshots of our Physics undergraduate class – standing out amongst them were five women, of which we were two…

Daring to be different

In the coming years, I continued to stick out. My pink Ballroom dancing costume hung on the back of the door to our office in the BioPhysics department, complete with rhinestones and feathers – much to the amusement of my fellow PhD students.

That feeling of being the minority continued throughout my corporate career as a research scientist in the pharmaceutical industry. As I progressed up the career ladder, I started to notice that very few of my colleagues looked like me.

Not long after I started, I attended a training course and discussed with one of the other women, how all five of the women we knew in the company at senior levels (at the time called ‘black book’) were single and/or had no children.

Soon I progressed to leading a team of scientists. While pregnant and then having two young children, I trained and qualified as a Ballroom and Latin American dance teacher in my ‘spare’ time.

On corporate training courses, we would have to take turns to share a little bit about ourselves – my introduction was that I was a research scientist by day, and a dance teacher by night. It worked to make me memorable. On future courses the trainer would say, introduce a bit about yourselves, for instance on our last course, we had someone who is a research scientist by day…

Bucking the trend

A few years later as my career was progressing, I was asked about my ambitions. My most pressing ambition at that time was to spend more time with my two young children, but I didn’t know anyone in the organisation who was at my level and also worked part time. It wasn’t the conversation they were expecting, but HR agreed to help, in order to keep me.

Our HR business partner found me someone in a different part of the organisation who was successfully managing to lead a team, working 80% and having one day at home with her children each week. I was encouraged to do the same.

My partner was concerned I’d never get promoted again; my line manager was concerned that my development would stall. However, my team embraced the change, and some took the opportunity to take on additional responsibility as I ensured I cut down my workload by 20%.

It was also important for me to reduce the time spent away from home for work, to cut down on my travel to Sweden or to the US. I was the only woman on my leadership team and when we had leadership team meetings overseas, I was the only person to join remotely by video.

I wasn’t the only parent; I was just the only one who didn’t have a wife at home to look after the children. But I made it work.

Doing it my way

Two years after starting to work part time, I was promoted to a role with a much wider remit. I had reached ‘black book’. I remained working four days a week, with Fridays focused on my children. My son, when he was 4, would say that Fridays are the best days of the week!

Fast forward six years and I made the decision to leave my corporate role and set up my own coaching business, helping women in STEM to progress their careers, realise their full potential, and enjoy a fulfilling life inside and outside of work.

Working for myself meant that when my children were of school age, I could work during term-time only. As my client base consisted mainly of mums, this suited them too. And yes, I continue to meet my need for variety in life with my side passion of Ballroom dancing, spending one day a week teaching dancers from 3-93.

What about you?

Do you feel you stick out at work for being different? Are there few people in your workplace like you?   How can you turn this to your advantage, use it to make you memorable, make it your superpower?

What workplace norms can you challenge? Who can help to champion you?


Dr Sian Rowsell is an award-winning coach, helping women who are leaders in science forge ahead in their careers, realise their full potential and achieve the perfect work/life balance. Following a PhD at Imperial College, and a post-doc at the University of Leeds, Sian enjoyed a very successful and varied career in pharmaceuticals before moving into her new career, coaching and facilitating others to find their passion and direction.

For more information, please email sian@sianrowsell.co.uk, connect with Sian on LinkedIn or visit www.sianrowsell.co.uk

What’s more persuasive that the business case?

By Inge Woudstra

We all know how valuable it is to have a wide range of insights, different perspectives, new ideas. Or do we?

Diversity sounds great on paper, and its benefits seem undeniable. The reality however is that – despite all the evidence – we tend to prefer to hire, work with and ask advice from people like us. People we trust instinctively, or simply people we know. Increasingly, we at Voice At The Table are asked by clients to work with middle managers to help them see the value that gender diversity brings to them and their teams.

We start by sharing the facts: The numbers from McKinsey about increased profitability. The numbers from Credit Suisse on Return on Investment. The numbers from Harvard Business Review on how diverse teams are smarter. Research by the Centre for Talent Innovation, showing the link between diversity and innovation.  Or the research from Glassdoor on how the best people value working in a diverse team and an inclusive company.

However, facts alone don’t seem to lead to change. They don’t quite resonate.

So, how can we show people the value of difference? 

We find that stories are infinitely more impactful than numbers. They resonate more deeply, and stick in people’s minds. They show people what valuing difference feels like, and give them inspiration for how difference might benefit them and their team.

For this reason, I would like to share some of the stories I use to illustrate to clients the value that a different approach brings.

  1.      Better decisions by the Board

A chairman told me, ‘I invited a woman onto our board and was grateful when she accepted. The way our meetings run has really changed. We used to hammer through decisions quickly. However, she asks more questions, and brings in different ways of looking at the issue. We now have more discussions, and our meetings are longer. I know we are making better, more robust decisions.’

  1.      Better results and a more open work culture in a leadership team

A senior manager shared, ‘I was appointed to a new team as senior manager. My company is really pushing diversity, so 3 of my 8 direct reports are female. In our industry that is highly unusual, and it is the first time I have worked with such a mixed-gender team.  I admit that I was sceptical. However, I have found that women tend to be more open about issues than men. This has really changed the conversations in the team, and now we are all more open about looking at issues together and jointly finding solutions. I am convinced it gives us better results, and it’s more enjoyable to work like that too! No matter how many times they tell you that difference brings value, you have to experience it.’

  1.      Increased productivity and fun in a team

A CEO shared, ‘I am dedicated to diversity. It’s because in the first years of my career I worked in a very diverse team. We had an equal number of men and women and a wide range of nationalities. It was fun to work in the team and it was by far the most productive team I have ever worked in. Wherever I have managed a team after that, I have tried to bring in diversity and have seen similar results. It’s the only way I want to work now.’

  1.      Better engagement and higher scores in a panel debate

An event organiser told us, ‘We were organising an event on diversity and inclusion. I realised all our speakers were white, middle-aged women. Great experts I really trusted, but it didn’t look good. So we extended our feelers, put in more effort and ended up with a very diverse panel: a Black man, a young Asian woman, a gay man and a white woman. Personally, I wasn’t certain about the quality of the speakers as I didn’t know them very well. I hadn’t seen them speak before and they didn’t have the same level of in-depth expertise as our other speakers. When going through the feedback forms at the end of the day I was astonished to find our most diverse panel had the highest scores of all our sessions. The audience had loved the variety of views and the lively debate. Difference really does bring value.’

It follows that if you are looking to create more commitment to diversity and inclusion in your organisation, you should share your stories. Connect with colleagues and gather their stories. It can also be very powerful to get some of your senior managers to share how they have experienced working in a diverse and inclusive team in a fireside chat, a panel interview, or a talk.

Would you like help to gain commitment from middle and senior managers? Do get in touch, we are always happy to have a conversation and offer support.

expectations too high - person pointing to a range of arrows pointing at them

Are Our Expectations Too High?

By Inge Woudstra

This month, we’ve been talking about humility and vulnerability, in leadership and as part of our own self-reflection. Humility & Vulnerability is the 5th of our 8 Inclusive Behaviours.

There’s another area where we could be humbler so we can be more inclusive: our expectations with regards to change.

The pace of D&I change. Is it glacial? 

When we get involved in leading the change towards a more diverse and inclusive organisation, we are asking people to change attitudes and behaviours. We expect them to join our events, training programmes and initiatives, to soak up the learning and implement it immediately.

But, of course, this is not what happens. Usually, this takes longer than we anticipate. This is when we need to be more humble with our own expectations.

This isn’t easy.

Because we’re so passionate about D&I, we often (secretly) believe that change needs to happen NOW, or rather, should have happened yesterday.  So when the change doesn’t come fast enough, or when people question or challenge us, we are quick to dismiss them or even label them as dinosaurs, racists, sexists or bigots – or a number of other unfavourable terms.

This is, of course, counter-productive. We need to realise that people (and this includes us) need time to change.

Some people take more time than others to commit
Introducing the Change Adoption Curve from Rogers. This model helps manage expectations and see progress, and gives guidance on where to focus efforts.  Most importantly perhaps, it helps reduce levels of frustration.

The Adoption Curves classifies groups of people by their willingness to adopt new ideas, technologies, or trends.

  • The Innovators – These are the people who are willing to try anything to get better and to test new ideas even without proof.  These are the people in your organisation starting a network, or asking you if they can put up a rainbow flag before you have even thought about D&I. Typically they form about 2.5% of a group.
  • The Early Adopters – These are people who are willing to try things, but not without proof. They use the experiences of the innovators as proof.  They are the ones attending your events, putting themselves forward to be champions, or are happy to accept when asked. They are the senior leaders who experiment with best practices, or give you a D&I budget. They tend to represent 13.6% of the group.
  • The Early and Late Majority – The early and late majority need proof, so they look to the early adopters to see whether the change is working for others, and are recording their successes (and failures) as well. The early and late majorities represent 68% of the population.
  • The Laggards – The laggards are those who require a substantial amount of proof. They are the last ones to come along and some of them never do. These are the people you may hear a lot from. The ones who flood your mailbox with difficult questions. Together, they form 16% of the population.

How to use the Adoption Curve 
This model helps us understand that some people need more proof than others.  It helps us see that some people need more time to gather their proof. Knowing this, we know what can be done to expedite change: we need to show proof.  We can, for instance, share best practices and early wins.

The Adoption Curve also lets us realise that we tend to spend a lot of time and effort on those who aren’t on board yet, missing out on the supermajority that we could more realistically win over. Instead of focusing on the Laggards, we should be focusing our early efforts on the innovators, then on the early adopters. Indeed, once 30% of people are on board, the rest tend to follow.

Most importantly, however, we ought to accept that some people will take much longer (or may never quite fully) come on board, and that’s okay too. We are all different, and inclusion is all about valuing difference. Allow people to have different views, and to change at their own pace. That is inclusion. And that requires you to be humble with your expectations.

Vulnerable at work - kid dressed up in a pink and yellow superhero costume

Being Vulnerable At Work Is Good For Our Mental Health

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

The reason we don’t like to feel vulnerable is that we don’t want to expose ourselves to potential criticism. Let’s face it, what we really want is to feel valued, acknowledged, appreciated.  This type of positive nurturing reinforces our self-worth.  That’s probably why our Facebook posts are a collection of the best parts of our lives and the best snapshots of ourselves.

But that’s not who we really are – at least not all the time.  Not even most of the time.   Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable means acknowledging the fact that we are not always going to be liked and appreciated by others.  Knowing this and feeling OK with it makes us stronger, more resilient.  It’s only then, when we let our guard down, that we might discover that others do accept us that way.  Besides, they too then have the ‘permission’ to be vulnerable and can be accepted for who they are without pretence.   Knowing that we can be liked when we’re not perfect makes us feel an even stronger sense of belonging and appreciation.

Being vulnerable encourages a more nurturing environment.

So by being vulnerable, not only are we encouraging others to be themselves, we’re also developing a more nurturing environment around us.  An environment that:

  • builds trust by allowing us not to be fearful of showing our true colours,
  • encourages collaboration and cohesion by building deeper, more meaningful bonds between colleagues,
  • eliminates the fear of making mistakes and encourages learning,
  • promotes respect for each other as human beings and helps us speak up, be more honest and less political, and
  • develops psychologically safe teams by knowing that we won’t suffer negative consequences having shared unpopular views or spoken out of turn.

Being vulnerable reduces emotional tax.

If we are allowed to be vulnerable, we can reduce the emotional tax we pay when we have to hide behind a mask, to cover up who we really are in an effort to blend into a culture that isn’t authentic to who we are deep down.  And that has got to be good for our mental health.

Of course, being vulnerable at work takes courage.  Especially in teams that don’t encourage vulnerability.  But, like a virtuous circle, being courageous can pay off.  And when it does, it pays dividends.  It makes us more emotionally resilient.  It makes us more confident in who we are as a person – warts and all.  It makes it easier to say what’s on our mind, without fear of retribution.  Above all, it makes it easier for others to find that courage within themselves.

In the context of Inclusion, being vulnerable invites others to bring their whole self to the table.  In this way, the entire team benefits from each person’s talents and experiences.  We become more creative, better at solving complex problems and develop deeper empathy and understanding of colleagues and clients.

With all that we stand to gain from being vulnerable, isn’t it worth trying to take the plunge and find that inner courage?  I think so!

seeing ourselves accurately - picture of a woman holding a question mark poster in front of her face

Do You See Yourself Accurately?

By Inge Woudstra

It’s true. It’s easier to think of humility and vulnerability as it applies to others. But what about ourselves? Are we willing to view ourselves accurately? Can we admit we are not as good at something as we think? Are we open to learning? Are we willing to be led by others? More specifically, in my case, am I?

To answer this question, I want to share a story with you.

Recently it was suggested that I join a course on the application of the Thinking Environment – a coaching methodology proffered by Nancy Kline that we also embrace here at Voice At The Table.  The aim of the Thinking Environment is to support others in achieving their best thinking – a practice that we regard as an integral part of Inclusion.

I was truly doubtful this course was for me. To understand my doubts, you have to know more about me. See, I really value my own expertise in Diversity & Inclusion.  I have been working in this field for a long time. I also bring a wealth of experience as a leadership trainer, having attended many courses on leadership, influencing, advanced facilitating techniques and designing effective training programmes. So, you can understand I wasn’t sure I needed another course on a similar topic.

When discussing my doubts, I was subtly encouraged to see beyond what I already knew and focus on what I don’t yet know. When put like this, I had to admit that, when it comes to being open to new ideas and to really listening, with curiosity, there’s a lot I can learn.  But why, I thought,  focus on what I don’t do well?

Of course, it is important that we, as leaders, keep learning and evolving, so we can offer the most novel and creative solutions for our clients. So, in the end,  I enrolled.

Now I am halfway through the course, and I can truly say it’s already making a difference to my work. First revelation: I forgot how much I love working on my self-development. I enjoy the challenge of taking the techniques we are learning and looking at ways I can implement them in my work. But, most importantly – my second revelation – I can see the impact of those skills that I have always found hardest to learn: being open to new ideas and listening with curiosity. My new listening mindset is making a real difference to how I run client meetings and internal meetings, and I can see people responding differently to me already. It’s such a revelation to discover that it is possible teach an old dog new tricks!

So, today I thanked the person who suggested it, explaining how grateful I was that they insisted. I shared how surprised I was to find they were right, and how I can now see the Thinking Environment for the powerful methodology it is in bringing out a person’s best thinking. I am already finding ways to help clients with it, and I am only halfway through the course!

This demonstrates to me how human we all are. Sometimes we get things wrong. The key lies in knowing what to do with it. A truly inclusive leader shows humility and vulnerability. When we do that, it allows space for others to bring new ideas and encourages them to share their thinking. That way, we start to truly tap into the diversity of thinking of our team. Seeing this, others around me are also encouraged to share their ideas with me, and I will be more open to them.

I would love to hear what you have learned? What blind spots have you recently discovered? Where might you be able to learn more? What did you get wrong about Diversity & Inclusion? When was the last time that you, as a leader, learned  something new?

We don’t have to be super-human. We don’t have to know everything. All we need to be is humble and not hesitate to ask for help.

If you need help, know that I’m only a short call away. Why not book an Expert-on-Tap call with us, or join one of our (complementary) peer mentoring circles for senior D&I leaders.

Humility and Vulnerability in Leadership

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

When we think of humble, vulnerable leaders, we instantly think of people like Barack Obama or Jacinda Ardern.  The common characteristic to these leaders is their ability to be unapologetically human.  We can hear it in their words, how they position themselves vis-à-vis the world.  Here are a few examples from Obama’s speeches and writing:

I’m inspired by the people I meet in my travels–hearing their stories, seeing the hardships they overcome, their fundamental optimism and decency. I’m inspired by the love people have for their children. And I’m inspired by my own children, how full they make my heart. They make me want to work to make the world a little bit better. And they make me want to be a better man.

A lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me

My little girls can break my heart. They can make me cry just looking at them eating their string beans.

The words Obama uses convey his efforts to be seen on par with his followers – not in  front of them – learning as much from them as they might from him.

The characteristics of a humble leader
Here are some of the other characteristics that humble and vulnerable leaders possess:

  1. They are willing to view themselves accurately – acknowledging the fact that we are all human, no matter how clever, privileged or regal.  These leaders, like Obama, are able to see themselves as equals, irrespective of their position or title.
  2. They display appreciation of others’ strengths and contributions  – alongside with understanding who they are, these leaders understand how others can complete them, filling in gaps in their knowledge or skill.
  3. They are open to learning and being taught, and to receiving feedback – there isn’t a person in the world who doesn’t have more to learn.  A humble leader understands this and continues their quest for further insight.
  4. They’re willing to be led by others – similarly, if one is willing to learn, one is also willing to acknowledge that someone (or something) can teach them, so they can step aside as leader to be led by another.
  5. They’re able to be wrong and to apologise for it – humility wouldn’t be complete if we couldn’t acknowledge our vulnerability as human beings and, therefore, our propensity for being wrong.  A smart leader understands this; a humble leader also knows to apologise when wrong.

How humility and vulnerability help develop diversity and inclusion
Nancy Kline – another humble leader – says: I’m just like you. I’m nothing like you.  She recognises the fundamentals of our common bond – our humanity – as well as our individuality.  Moreover, this statement recognises that it’s only when we acknowledge this that we can embrace new views and opinions.  Knowing that we all have our demons opens our minds to the insights of others, making space for them in our minds.  Being humble and vulnerable facilitates this by allowing us to set aside our own self-importance and invite others to share themselves with us.  This is the ultimate goal of a humble and vulnerable leader.

How to be a more humble and vulnerable leader:
To become a more inclusive leader with the help of humility and vulnerability, remember the acronym CASS, which stands for the following:

  1. Look for a team of people with complementary skills to your own, plugging any weaknesses in knowledge.
  2. Accept ambiguity and the fact that you may not always have the answer or be in control of a situation.
  3. Developing self-awareness and understanding of your own gaps in knowledge and personality.
  4. Suspend your own belief for a moment, so that you might welcome a divergent view.

Many of us believe that we’re already there.  The truth is, if we were truly a humble and vulnerable person, we would know that we’re not.

If you would like to discuss how to help your leaders to become more inclusive, ask us about our Inclusive Leadership training programme.

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