Guest blogger: John Brooker, Open University Business School MBA Alumnus, Managing Director of Yes! And. John is a former Senior Vice President of Visa, author of ‘Innovate to Learn, Don’t Learn to Innovate’ and Board Member of the Association for the Quality Development of Solution Focused Consulting and Training.
This article suggests that people are not diverse because of their age, their race, their sex or any other attribute. They are diverse because of mental “walls”. It suggests that successful leaders can dissolve diversity and help people to achieve greater things by facilitating people to interact, co-design their future, take small steps and notice signs of progress.
“I never feel age…If you have creative work, you don’t have age or time.”
Louise Nevelson (American sculptress, at 80 years of age)
Last year, I facilitated a group of young people in an innovation workshop in the Middle East. They felt that older, more senior managers rejected many of their ideas because the senior managers did not listen, were too set in their ways or were risk averse; or all three. Senior managers have told me that when they reject ideas from younger people it is often because they are poorly thought through, solve the wrong problem or are sold badly, due to inexperience.
There seems to be diversity of opinion between the age groups when it comes to innovation and many other topics in organisations, yet I doubt that it stems from age. I have met younger managers who did not listen, were set in their ways or were risk averse. A glance at the news proves that the young do not have a monopoly on poor thinking, solving the wrong problem and selling ideas badly.
If not age, what is the problem? I believe these type of issues arise because people work in a mental “room”, with “walls” they build from:
- Assumptions that may be unwarranted
- Egos (small, medium and large)
- Fixed mind-sets.
Are these “walls” age related? I think not. Consider this. My daughter, 19, mentioned that at work in the office of a multi-national company, before university, she sometimes felt that she could not address people in an equal way because she was younger than them, “but that’s probably due to my mind-set.” I celebrate the sixth anniversary of “birthdays with a zero” this year; when I enter a room full of strangers of whatever age and I have no role (e.g. as a host), I feel trepidation. It’s not my age; rather, it’s my mind-set.
You could spend much time trying to understand and change the different assumptions, egos, prejudices and mind-set of any diverse group. I doubt you will move forward very quickly. Rather, I believe that successful leaders in organisations metaphorically “dissolve” these metaphorical walls. To do this, they engineer and stimulate interaction between diverse people, whether that diversity is age, race, gender or even job roles.
Successful leaders help diverse people to co-design a preferred future, where they work together successfully and achieve much. They encourage them to avoid blame, to seek what works well between them now and to focus on their positive differences and relative strengths, not weaknesses.
To create progress towards this co-designed future, they inspire people to take small steps and notice what changes. When people achieve progress, they inspire themselves and others to take more steps, notice more change, create yet more progress, in a virtuous circle.
When they are truly successful, leaders notice that people in their organisation no longer talk about, worry about or even celebrate diversity. Why? Because those very diverse people no longer notice it. May it happen to you.