Who’s Norm Is It Anyway? Examining The Difference Between Diversity & Inclusivity

I recently had the enormous pleasure of speaking with Jenny Knott. I’ve known Jenny for a number of years and have found her to be an enormous source of inspiration and knowledge. In fact, Jenny is one of the two people in my life who helped me to actually understand blockchain. The other person was my wife. 

Jenny comes from a working-class background and has worked in predominantly male environments throughout her career. She’s a passionate advocate for inclusivity in the workplace, and in our interview, which you can listen to in full above, we discussed how diversity and inclusivity are actually very different. 

One thing we discussed was the difference between a numerically diverse workplace and an actually inclusive workplace. What do I mean by this?

Jenny raised the example of Lehman Brothers. They certainly ticked all the boxes from a diversity perspective. At one time, they had more black, female, and Asian leaders within their company than any other organisation on Wall Street. They reported this as such in their annual report.  

But were they actually an inclusive organisation? Arguably, not really.

Were they an innovative organisation? Absolutely not. 

And they did not survive the 2008 financial crisis. 

To better understand the difference between diversity and inclusivity, let’s define what they actually are.

What is diversity in the workplace? 

A diverse workplace is one that has people with a wide variety of characteristics. This can encompass race, gender, sexuality and socio-economic background.

Diversity doesn’t mean your workplace values these differences or makes accommodations for them. It simply means that there your workforce is filled with people from different backgrounds and circumstances.

What is inclusivity in the workplace?

You can have a diverse workforce without having an inclusive workplace. 

Inclusivity is how people are actually treated at work. An inclusive workforce is one where all employees are able to participate at every level of the workforce.

Think of it like this: diversity is who is in your workplace, inclusion is how they’re treated within that workplace.

Inclusivity is about a balanced relationship within the workplace

A topic Jenny and I discussed was the idea of “the norm”. Diversity implies you have people from a variety of different backgrounds, but the implication is they are outside “the norm”. 

Who’s norm?

I have wondered whether the diversity revolution is actually a white, middle-class, western revolution.  

Inclusivity is about saying what norm? What standard? Genuine inclusivity says there is no norm which is the preferred behaviour here. In society, the “norm” or “status quo” is often seen as that of a white, middle-class, male one. 

There is a type of inclusivity that says “Yes, I will invite you into my Western, middle-class behaviour of norms.” In other words, it still others. It suggests you are being invited into a space that has been built specifically for someone else. 

True inclusivity says yes, I absolutely care about where you come from and about your background because it brings richness to my own viewpoint and our organisation. It’s going to make me think differently. It will make me consider things that I have not considered before. It’s about building an all-encompassing space that doesn’t focus on any particular “norm”.

How inclusivity impacts how innovative your organisation can be

We have a far more in-depth discussion during our conversation, but Jenny raised an excellent point I’ve been pondering since. A company without inclusivity is a company that is bound to stagnate. 

An example Jenny uses in trainers. When you look at the senior leadership of a global trainer company… Does their board of directors look like their consumer base? Probably not.

But why does this matter?

Because human nature is to prioritise issues close to you. If your board shares many of the same experiences and values, you’re going to focus on a very small circle of needs. 

Think about lace-up trainers. There are many people for who lace-up trainers are not necessarily an accessible option. For example, look at Michael J Fox who has been incredibly public about his Parkinson condition. His condition has made certain motor tasks very difficult, including lacing up shoes. His work with Nike on self-lacing trainers, which were later auctioned to fund Parkison’s research, was widely applauded. 

Nike now sells a number of accessible trainers that don’t require lacing. The question remains if Nike had not worked with someone this issue had directly impacted, would the changes have been made? 

This is why inclusivity in the workplace matters. You will be able to better represent your consumer base and take a far more inclusive look at the world at large. 

You can impact inclusivity even from outside of an organisation 

If you’re not in a position of leadership, it may seem like a futile conversation. You know why inclusivity is important, but how can you make the world a more inclusive place?

Jenny is a big proponent of voting with your wallet. Rewarding companies who represent you and your value with your patronage. Companies have no choice but to adapt to their consumer needs. If enough of their consumers are willing to speak out and say actually, we don’t feel like you represent our values at all… Change can be forced.

Your skillset is another good way. While we don’t always have the luxury of being able to move, prioritising working at places that do value inclusivity will help you shine. You can help companies who reflect their consumers and drive forwards on issues you care about thrive, leading the way for other organisations. 

Do you want to find out more about leadership? I am a coach-mentor who specialises in developing top-level leaders and organisational cultures. My book ‘How Successful Leaders Do Business With Their World’ is filled with information on leadership and inclusive work cultures.

You can also get in touch with me here.

How Successful Leaders Do Business With Their World: The Balance of Power Series

I have been a corporate leader for many years. Later in life, I decided to undertake a doctorate on the subject of power and leadership. This led to me putting my years of research into writing my book: How Successful Leaders do Business With Their World.

So, what exactly does this phrase mean, how successful leaders do business with their world? In the third episode of my podcast series the Balance of Power you can listen to an extract from the introduction of my book. It explains how I came to write my book and study this subject. Here, I’ll share some of the topics the book covers, and how you can use this book. Not only to become a more effective leader but do a better job developing future leaders.

Challenging the key assumptions of what makes a good leader

The key question I was chewing on was around assumptions. Was it assumptions about the world that made certain leaders behave in a certain way or make certain choices? Or was it really what so many coaches and recruiters seem to be focusing on. Leadership style, leadership behaviours, and outcomes. What we see those leaders doing, rather than what drives them to do, or even what they intend to do. 

How I chose which leaders to interview for How Successful Leaders do Business With Their World

If you want to try and find out somebody’s assumptions, you need that person to be able to reveal something of themselves. Their view of the world, honestly and safely. If you want to find out about somebody’s leadership, style and behaviour… It simply needs you to observe and assess their conduct and their impact. It tells you nothing about the experience, the motivations, the priorities of the leader herself. 

As I went on to develop my coaching practice, I suspected that this was a huge gap. Why? Because as I say in the book, by understanding what our current and future leaders at their core feel about their world, and about their ability to do or not do in the world, we begin to understand how they feel about us, and what they will do to us with their power once they have taken office. And it’s not just a one-way street. 

Finding out what makes a successful leader by not talking about success 

To give one’s life some form of coherence, I wanted to make sure that those I interviewed didn’t feel that they had to defend, justify, or even make sense of anything publicly. And less by design than by sheer good fortune, I helped that process by not asking them to tell me about what had made them successful. I simply wanted to know about their experiences, and what they went through while they were leaders. That was my intention.

In their telling, however, they steered me one by one, and much to my surprise, to their childhoods. And that, in turn, opened up the doors to what I called their navigational stance. Their entry point into dealing with their world, based on what they’d learned to assume was their level of power, vis-à-vis that of their world.

And from there, I could build a model, a theory, about what objectively successful leaders had in common as far as their navigational stance was concerned, and what other assumptions, or worldviews, they had formed as a result. The book expands on that initial research. Both with further investigation, but also with how I use that model in my own practice. 

The face of future successful leaders, and how we can develop, or hinder, them 

There are three elements that as parents and educators we can influence. The first is space, we can provide a space which is relatively safe from abuse from those with greater power. The second: dealing with problems. We can stop protecting our children from problems and make sure that they see them as normal world-things rather than crises. And the third is learning by experience. We can give our children space both to understand and experience that problems, like life itself, can only be managed by being faced and tackled. 

We need to enable our children to learn to experience managing their world. A world where obstacles and problems are normal and not specifically designed to frustrate their uniquely unencumbered path to success. All we can do as parents is ensure, like lionesses, our offspring have the space to explore without invasion by hyenas… And if at all possible, without falling off a cliff. 

Those of us born in the 1950s, particularly in the middle classes, are responsible for a space distorting shift. Baby Boomers had to fit in around the rest of the family but when it came to raising their own children, they put them right in the centre. The family revolved and still revolves around the children. 

They have little room to develop their own relationship with the world in which they can manage problems without the smothering benevolence of their parents. We may not rule quite as openly as our parents did, but that’s only because we have robbed our children of the ability to be responsible for themselves. We may say to our children, my darling, you’re special, you can be whatever you want, as long as you’re happy. But make no mistake, they feel our disappointment when their chosen career or even ballet class is not special enough. 

And if they persist and choose their own path… They will always worry that they did not measure up to our standards of specialness. When problems do arise, they are seen as abnormal, or even crises, which by their nature trigger alarm and anxiety. Alarm, in turn, suppresses rational thought in favour of the faster fight or flight response. They may become very good at fighting or avoiding their world. But, not so good at living in, and with, it. 

How fight or flight can lead to success 

Ironically, a byproduct of this fight or flight may be very good news for our society. The generation of children born after 2000 has quickly become alert and alarmed at real crises. And, they have become sceptical enough of their own elder’s filters to push back.

A glowing example of this is the global climate change movement “Friday’s for Future”. It began with solitary protests in 2018 by the then 14-year-old Greta Thunberg in Sweden. This movement now includes millions of children throughout the world. At the time of writing, they strike every Friday from their schools to force their elder’s attention onto climate change. They do this consistently and peacefully every week. In the face of open bullying and abuse from political, and corporate leaders, and many media commentators. 

If this book does its job, it should say something to all of us, whether at work or in our families. But because I believe that our leaders have such a significant impact on us, particularly in times of crisis, much of the book is focused on helping us change what I believe is a flawed, if not a broken, model, about how we choose our leaders, how we develop them, and how we manage them while they are in power.

Let’s Talk About Power: Episode One

Battles, Balance and the Fasted Kid in Florida: Episode Two

Readings from ‘How Successful Leaders to Business with their world?”: Episode Three

Are you interested in learning more about power or are perhaps interested in leadership training? You can contact me, or learn more about my consulting services & speaking engagements.

Military Leadership In The Corporate World: The Balance of Power Series

One of my findings whilst conducting research for my book, How Successful Leaders do Business With Their World, was that we all have a foundational assumption about the balance of power we have with our world.

In the second episode of my podcast series, the balance of power I met with lieutenant-general Ben Hodges. We discussed how his childhood lessons impacted his leadership methods in the military.

Going into this interview, I had many preconceived notions of military leadership. I had thought of the military as being largely hierarchical and unquestioning of its leadership. I couldn’t imagine junior officers seriously challenging their superior’s conclusions. And when you come to think of it, isn’t the military’s sole purpose conflict, opposition? Aren’t they, in fact, the epitome of the oppositional stance? 

Someone who I thought was ideal to answer that question was lieutenant-general Ben Hodges. Ben retired from the US Army in 2017. He is currently the Pershing Chair in Strategic Studies at the Centre for European policy analysis. Before that, he was commanding general of the US Army in Europe, a top adviser to NATO, and worked, and served, in both Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Here I’ll share a few of the topics Ben and I covered. You can listen to the full podcast “Battles, Balance and the Fasted Kid in Florida” for more details on how to be an effective leader. 

What makes a good leader in the military?

Ben:  “So my experience is that the expectation was for me to use initiative to take risks, to accept responsibility. The times I got in trouble were usually when I failed to do that, not when I failed to follow a specific order… So that’s always been the expectation. That does, in a way, seem at odds with the stereotypical you know, Prussian “we all follow orders, unquestioning obedience”, that sort of thing but actually, that’s the opposite of the training.

My favourite, Clausewitz quote is “happy the army where ill-timed boldness occurs frequently; it is a luxuriant weed that indicates the richness of the soil.” So even Clausewitz, the ultimate Prussian, advocated, you know, young leaders who were willing to take a risk, and you just had to help that mature”

How the military’s role within a nation can remind us of the importance of purpose and responsibility to be effective leaders 

Ben gives a more in-depth explanation in the full podcast, but here Ben shares what he saw as the role of the military within a nation. 

Ben: “The Trinity, of course, you know, the state, the people, and the military. It’s had a role for thousands of years to protect, of course, it can be misused as a weapon. And so, as a member of the United States Armed Forces, in our history, our founding, if you will, the army is actually one year older than the country. The army was officially started one year before the Declaration of Independence, and without an army, the Declaration of Independence would have been an empty political statement.”

The action of declaring an oath to the constitution is actually something we can carry into the corporate world. As leaders, we have responsibilities and duties. When we feel out-of-balance with the world, as I discussed in Episode One: The Balance of Power, we can feel at odds with the world, and those around us. We feel in direct conflict and unable to work with, or for, them. Keeping a focus on your true goal, whether to uphold the constitution or support your employees, helps you step out of the every day to focus on the larger picture.”

The importance of scenario planning in military leadership 

The military is well-known for its tactical planning and wargaming. I asked Ben to discuss it in more detail and how it helped him become a better leader.

Ben: “We were constantly Wargaming courses of action. As technology improved, for example, we were preparing for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, I was a Brigade Commander and by this time, we had a visual methodology that you could actually see the terrain. Now, this is 2003, obviously, it’s a million times better now. 

There’s a lot of potential for things to go wrong. The Wargaming, going through the planning process, was necessary to number one, figure out the timing, the logistics, what would be required? And then to figure out, you know, what do we want to do to have the best chance for success? 

At the end of the day, it was gonna be a lieutenant with a group of sergeants and soldiers that were going to be the key on the point so it had to be something, they couldn’t be long you know, obviously, they would rehearse multiple times but at the end of the day, it needs to be something that they understood when they get there and if the situation looks different from what we thought they still knew what the end state was.” 

The opportunity to train leadership from an early stage 

While I discuss the importance of a partnering start in my book; it is true that not all of us had what can be described as a partnering start. I am a firm believer though that we can learn these skills later in life. Ben explains the military’s focus on leadership development.

Ben: “The training that we did all the leader development was based on that. My goal was always that lieutenant sergeants and captains would say “if Colonel Hodges was here, and he knew what I knew, and he saw what I saw, he would probably tell me to do X, so I’m going to do that.””

How to nurture a future leader by removing yourself from the center of attention

I asked Ben the practical ways in which the military helped to develop leadership skills in younger recruits. 

Ben: “In modern warfare, you have to be able to conduct distributed operations. You’ve got young leaders all over the place. They’re out interacting whether it’s with the local populations, their own soldiers, Allied, or in partner formations… And, of course, the enemy. And so they’ve got to be confident. Able to act independently. Which means you’ve got to communicate to them in such a way that they feel confident. So that they can make decisions and take risks in order to carry out their assigned purpose. 

The Importance of Investing time

Now, of course, they don’t come in a box like that. You have to invest time in that. And so one of the things that I think the leader has to be conscious of and prevent is the gravitational pull of his or herself.

The norm in a headquarters, when you issue the order, the staff would always set up the briefing room where you, the commander, are sitting right in the middle, and you’d become the focus. 

And I remember looking at that, like, wait a minute, I’m the one issuing the order. This is my order to my subordinates. Why is the room, or if when we do it outside on a training model, why is it set up so that I’m the centre of attention?”

So by a simple technique of putting everybody, my subordinate commanders, in the front row, and I would sit off at the end, would number one, it would cause the staff to brief them because they’re the ones that have got to execute it. And then also I can kind of look down the row and watch their faces, and I can see… Mark, he doesn’t get it, or she doesn’t see what it is that’s expected, or okay, they got it. And it was a completely different dynamic and made us, I think, much more effective and, and also these guys, I mean, they were all now on it. I mean, I’ve just been told what I’ve got to do. I’m the centre, I’m the centre of attention and I own it. And those are simple techniques.”

Listen to the full podcast to learn more about Ben and military leadership. We discuss how Ben’s childhood readied him for military life. The importance of freedom at a young age. Plus, a more in-depth look at the purpose of the military within the US. 

Are you interested in learning more about power or are perhaps interested in leadership training? You can contact me, or learn more about my consulting services & speaking engagements.

Listen to all of the Balance of Power Series:

Let’s Talk About Power: Episode One

Battles, Balance and the Fasted Kid in Florida: Episode Two

Episode Three: Readings from ‘How Successful Leaders to Business with their world?”: Episode Three

What Makes A Good Leader: The Balance of Power Series

Many of us can explain what makes a bad leader. But if asked to explain what makes great leaders, it seems much harder to defne. The qualities of a good leader seem somewhat more intangible, perhaps because they are less about individual qualities and more about a relationship with the world around them. 

My late in life doctorate was in how successful leaders manage power which informed much of my book  ’How Successful Leaders Do Business With Their World’. 

My new podcast series, The Power of Balance, discusses exactly this topic. It is a series about power, and why it, and more importantly, what we have learned to believe about our relationship with it, affects every aspect of our daily lives. I’ve spent most of my working life with power and leadership. I’m a coach-mentor of leaders, and I used to be a corporate leader at one stage.

Here you’ll find extracts from Episode One: Let’s Talk About Power.

What is power in regard to becoming an efficient leader?

We deal with and talk about power every day. Most of the time, it’s about power over, whether somebody or something has less or more power than we have. Whether the government has the power to arbitrarily lock us down, whether the boss has the power to force us to do something we don’t want to do.

But also those everyday incidents, like how you feel when an overly boisterous bunch of kids gets on your carriage on the train, or when a driver changes lane in front of you, without indicating. They’re all about power too.

And until we understand that, and until we understand our own assumptions about our own power, we’ll be half-blind in our relationships. 

How does power affect how we view the world as leaders

Our ability to act, to do in the world, is regulated by what we have learned to assume is the nature of our relationship with our world. It’s a bit like ballroom dancers on a dance floor. Your ability to move is going to be affected by the number of other dancers on that floor.

If everyone is doing their bit and gliding around, then everything should go smoothly, and nobody bumps into anybody else. However, if you see one couple start to knock into other dancers, you might start getting a little alert and avoid them. But gradually, you notice that a lot of couples, the majority, in fact, are jostling and forcing the rest of you into a corner of the room.

You could assume that what’s happened is that a majority of dancers have decided to push the others into a corner of the room, deliberately, so that they have a bigger space or force the minority to dance badly for the judge’s sake. Or you could assume that the disruption happened when that original duo deliberately or accidentally bumped into another couple setting off a chain reaction that resulted in everybody being off-kilter.

In the first assumption, you’re fighting against a superior power, the majority. And the latter, you and your fellow dancers are in it together, you’re all out of balance. In the former, your choices are: you either have to get out of the room, or you push back, or you surrender.

Are leaders born or made? 

I conducted an academic research study over four years, and then expanded it in my practice, as well as in my book How Successful Leaders do Business With Their World. 

Very briefly, through their explorations and interactions with their parents, their families, peers, and communities children progressively build up a blanket assumption about how much space they can make for themselves. What they can and can’t do, in and with their world. In other words, they build up an assumption about the balance of power between themselves and their world.

Put very simplistically, they come to the conclusion along the spectrum that ranges from “whatever I do, my world always has the upper hand”, “I have less power than it has”, “I have no power all”, or right at the other end, “I can do what I want, I have more power than my world, I am all-powerful.”

Or “I can work with this world of mine, I can do business with it. And if I partner with it, we’re reasonably balanced.” There’s your spectrum.

And of course, they learn to behave differently according to that underlying assumption.

What are the qualities of a good leade

If your assumption tells you that you will always lose against the world, then you’re either going to try and beat it or surrender, or even avoid it altogether. If you believe that you can do anything you like, you will eventually discover that to be untrue. The world will inevitably in the form of someone or something get in your way.

But of course, your assumption will still insist that you really do have more power and that the blockage is an anomaly.

So, where your assumption is that you and the world have a reasonable power balance, you’ll know that the best way to behave is to partner with it, work with it, these are true leadership skills. Anything else would be a waste of time and energy. Why would I oppose it or manipulate it when I can just work with it? And, in fact, the combination may be even more powerful.

Can our perception of the world make us better leaders?

Einstein is reputed to have said later in his life, I think the most important question facing humanity is, “is the universe a friendly place?” This, he said, is the first and most basic question all people must answer for themselves.

Why did he think that?

I believe because if the universe is your opponent, you will build up defenses and weapons to control it or keep it at bay, and eventually, you will destroy it and it you. And if you think it’s friendly, your partner, you will work to preserve it, so that you can flourish together.

So in this series, I’ll be talking about how our assumptions of the balance of power between us and our world affects all our relationships. My purpose is not to uncover old bones but to hopefully help us all to find ways to better manage ourselves in our world. At work, in the family at the polling booth, in hospital, at the supermarket, or when we ourselves have power because here’s the good news, those assumptions are learned and what is learned can be unlearned.

I’ll be drawing on much of my own research, as well as the book that I’ve written on the subject but I will also be talking to others. Leaders, writers, victims, and victimizers and I will ask all of them the same opening question

“For you, is your universe friendly?”

Listen to the full podcast: The Balance of Power

Episode Two: Battles, Balance and the Fasted Kid in Florida

Episode Three: Readings from ‘How Successful Leaders to Business with their world?”

Are you interested in learning more about power or are perhaps interested in leadership training? You can contact me, or learn more about my consulting services & speaking engagements.

Trust the Process of the Heart

We worry so much about the future that we fail to manage the present. We build artificial visions of the future and then expect life to match up to them. And when they inevitably don’t, we burden ourselves with disappointment and a sense of failure. We use our heads and our gut – but not our hearts, the most formidable organ of them all.