What if We Got it All Wrong?
Back in the days of yore when I started my consulting career, diversity issues dominated the agendas of military social action groups and the burgeoning human resource movement. People wanted inclusion, equitable pay, and fairness in hiring and promotion. New terms like “affirmative action” and “quotas” started to creep into the vernacular, and people reacted with varying degrees of confusion, delight, and angst.
Paradoxically, in an attempt to advance inclusion, exclusive identity groups started to spring up. Many groups started including “women,” “black,” or “Latino” in their titles. That drifted along for a while and then generationalism set it, because apparently we didn’t have enough ways to allow separatism to establish a foothold in our lives. Then, in addition to the labels that already existed, we started stereotyping people by the year of their births.
According to this new pervasive “ism,” Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Tom Hanks, Michael Jordan, Jay Leno, and Osama Bin Laden are all alike because they’re all Baby Boomers. Through the years we abandoned some of the discriminatory practices that kept good people from doing their best work in our organizations, but we added some ridiculous ones like this too.
Why? It’s big business. Scan the shelves of your local bookstore or pick up the business section of any metropolitan newspapers, and you will see notices of group meetings for these various identify groups. Too many of these groups prey on the fears of their members, seemingly sending the message: “If we’re right, and this sort of discrimination exists, you better stick with us because we can help.”
They also encourage a victimization mentality. Recently a female consultant asked for my insight about her business, which specializes in helping companies “hear the voices of their women.” I told her I thought her value proposition was flawed because most successful woman don’t want to see themselves, or have others see them, as voiceless, impotent employees. They want to be noted for their exceptional contributions, not their need for another HR initiative. This comment was not well received, as it wouldn’t be from someone who aspires to build a business on helping these women.
Business people don’t need support groups; they need support from other like-minded, top-performing business professionals, and strong role models. Race, gender, age, religion, and ethnicity have no relevance.
Nearly every week someone asks me what I call a separating question: “What do leaders need to know about managing ____?” Fill in the blank. Women managing men. Boomers managing Gen X’s. Gen X’s managing Boomers. People from St. Louis managing Canadians. It never stops.
Each time I have the same reply. “The goal does not change when the target changes.” Best practices in leadership are just that: the best way to lead your best players. These people won’t all look alike, dress alike, or be alike—except in one distinguishing way. They will differentiate themselves by consistent superior performance.
If you concentrate on being the best performer, selecting top performers, and leading the best of the best, all the other things will take care of themselves. We can’t afford the tribalism that has surfaced in misguided attempts to correct historical wrongs.
(No Canadians were harmed in the writing of this blog).