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Leadership In The New Workplace
By Joe Love
The world today is no longer a place of hierarchical authority. Of course, it never really was, but there may have been a time when it seemed that way. Now that we are well into the Information Age and the 21st Century, talent, hard work and character should determine who far people go in their careers and their personal lives and the closer we get to that ideal the better we'll be.
Today's leaders must be able to get along with everyone, not necessarily as a best friend, but certainly to the degree that race, national origin, religion, or personal lifestyle choices do not intrude. It's estimated that over the next five to ten years eighty to eighty five percent of the people entering the work force will be minorities, woman, or immigrants. So unless you want to avail yourself to only fifteen percent of the talent out there, you'd better get comfortable with diversity, starting now!
Historically, ignorance has always been at the root of intolerance, and here's the flip side of that sad fact; the best way to gain respect for another culture, or any form of diversity, is to educate yourself about it.
Exposure to anything new can evoke very different attitudes in different people. Corporate executives and managers in the Industrial Age often felt self-satisfied and even haughty about who they were as individuals and about the culture they came from. They often looked down at people who had another sort of background. Maybe they weren't as technically sophisticated, or as well-educated, or even physically healthy.
Leadership in today's workplace requires that corporate executives and managers look at these same people in a whole new way. They need to say: "Yes, their present circumstances are not that good, but they may come from a rich theological or cultural heritage. They may have seen things I've never seen. They may even know things I don't know."
The first step toward leading in a diversified environment is a very simple one: A Leader needs to put himself or herself in the other person's place. No matter what their differences, were all living, breathing human beings, and our similarities are actually a lot more pronounced than our differences. We all have pressures at home. We all want to succeed. We all want to be treated with the same dignity, respect and understanding.
Leaders must show empathy on a daily basis. People want to be treated as individuals, but today they acknowledge their individuality in many new ways. So it's not just a matter of saying good morning or thank you anymore. Leadership requires that you put ethnocentric assumptions aside, and have a lot more awareness.
In some parts of the world, and within some races and religions, it's considered rude to seem friendly or inquiring. There are people who want routine business encounters to be just that, without much small talk or questions asked and answered. It's not hostility, it's just a sense of social distance. Other cultures, of course, have very different expectations. It's considered insulting if you don't smile, say hello, and pass the time of day for a while, even if you're pressed for time.
If these two view points meet head-on, with neither one knowing much about the other, there's going to be problems. That's what happens when people haven't educated themselves about diversity, to that real empathy can become possible.
These issues aren't just for top managers. Today everyone must be a leader in addressing issues of the new workplace. Everyone, regardless of his or her job title, will go further and accomplish more by respecting and understanding other people. This is perhaps more important now than ever before, even though it's hardly a new concept.
For the new groups now taking the reins of influence, the challenge is more complex and perhaps even more difficult than for their predecessors. Unless you're of Native American ancestry, your forebears were immigrants at one time or another. As leaders emerged from what were originally minority groups, they often felt pressure to shed their ethnic identity in keeping with their new found positions of power.
The United States was often been described as a melting pot, in the true expression of Americanism was dissolving into the molten mass, but the new group of minority leaders feel no such need. With the context of their power and responsibilities, most are determined to retain and celebrate their diverse backgrounds.
It will be interesting to see how this trend changes our expectations of leaders in the 21st century, not only of how they look and of how their names are spelled, but how they dress, where they went to school, and what messages they send out into the world.
Whether you're someone who makes new leadership possible in the changing workplace, or someone who's just starting out in this exciting new landscape, two things are certain; from top to bottom, the need for leadership will abound and it is critical that we fill it at every level.
Copyrightę2008 by Joe Love and JLM & Associates, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.
Joe Love draws on his 25 years of experience helping both individuals and companies build their businesses, increase profits, and success coaching programs. He is the founder and CEO of JLM & Associates, a consulting and training organization, specializing in career coach training. Through his seminars and lectures, Joe Love addresses thousands of men and women each year, including the executives and staffs of many businesses around the world, on the subjects of leadership, achievement, goals, strategic business planning, and marketing. Joe is the author of three books, Starting Your Own Business, Finding Your Purpose In Life, and The Guerrilla Marketing Workbook.