The Consultant's Desk

The Consultant's Desk
Poring over the details on your behalf

Friday, October 11, 2013

Nine Tips for Diversity Leaders

This morning, a discussion on LinkedIn finally grabbed my attention. An editor wanted to know (paraphrasing) what tips the group members have for future diversity leaders in terms of necessary skills and expertise. It was the type of question that a nurturing personality has difficulty letting get overlooked. So I responded.

  • Ability to listen carefully, process the information, and respond with an appropriate response. Most would call all of that "good communication skills" but communication involves more than just talking at people or reciting anecdotes about 'this happened to me.'
  • Ability to operate as a professional without projecting an air of pride or smugness. Become a beacon and role model but first, and most importantly, be human.
  • Use your maturity. It's important to have the maturity to deal with human nature and various age demographics in order to learn from them as well as convey useful information to them.
  • Communication is critical. If your message isn't getting through, take some time to review what you're saying and how you're saying it. Then modify your strategy so that the vocabulary and voice are not only understandable but also heard. Also consider aligning yourself with someone who more closely identifies with your target demographic so that they are speaking the language. Then the message more easily reaches its destination and becomes effective.
  • Choose a specialty area and learn as much about it as possible. The learning should not be solely classroom- and textbook-centric. Those are clinical settings based on what others are telling you. In many instances, the best experience is to be out in the field interacting with the people and situations that constitute your specialty area. In order to gain that experience while still learning your specialty, it would be good to do volunteer work at a nonprofit that specializes in your calling or intern for them.
  • There are many ways to gain an appreciation of the needs and wants of your audience. Some people have walked and lived among their specialty constituency (sometimes not on a willing basis). That can be extremely dangerous if it's done with no safety tether (others outside of the situation who can help you get out of harm fast). However, that type of immersion provides real life awareness and the ability to develop meaningful strategies to address issues.
  • Having a real appreciation of the constituency needs leads to engendering trust from the members. That is extremely important to being effective as well as developing respect.
  • A leader needs to have the sophistication to appreciate when transparency is mandatory.
  • Recognize that privacy and confidentiality are imperative.
  • It's important to do proper screening, usually couched in casual conversation that makes the person comfortable enough to share their philosophies that wouldn't ordinarily be verbalized (or demonstrated) in an employment interview setting. That will make proper selection of the most effective personnel possible.
Someone recently asked whether it's possible for a White person to be a leader of a Black organization. The ancillary query related to whether a woman could be an effective leader of that same group. As that conversation evolved, we looked at the NAACP as an example. It was founded by mutually concerned individuals from all ethnicities and walks of life. Among the founders were abolitionists, Jews, Gentiles, Blacks, Whites, men and women. One of the most pivotal of the founders was Mary White Ovington. The first "president" of the organization (who served in that capacity for ten years) was a White man, Joel Spingarn.

A few words about being a leader, no matter what the cause or organization, is having foresight and vision. Those skills will allow the leader to see most of the pitfalls before they arise. That will then enable them to develop strategies to avert the difficulties, use them to the organization's advantage, or overcome them with as much ease as is reasonable. In order to garner the support to execute the plans and goals of the organization, a leader must have excellent communication skills or a trusted adviser and speaker who can communicate the rallying cry on their behalf.

Finally, it's extremely important that the leader be able to understand the psychology of their opposition. Doing so will empower them to gain the ear of those who resist. Sometimes resistance is nothing more than fear dressed as aggression or hate. The ability to allay those fears by showing the benefits of becoming aligned takes significant skill and ability while yielding results useful for more than the constituent group.

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HBR's 10 Must Reads on Communication (with featured article "The Necessary Art of Persuasion," by Jay A. Conger)