Make a difference: Work differently
(As originally appeared in Financial Post, 15 March 2011)
By Trent Henry, Canadian chairman and chief executive, Ernst & Young LLP
In our globalized economy, growth, innovation and talent can come from anywhere. Never before have opportunities, or indeed competition, been so evenly distributed around the world's markets, just as Thomas Friedman predicted six years ago in The World Is Flat. Globalization continues its fast pace, enabling the free flow of ideas, technology, capital and labour across borders.
Yet globalization does not mean homogeneity. The nature of the opportunities in those markets can be fundamentally different, requiring a depth of perspective, ideas and experience to respond to a complex global marketplace. After all, research has repeatedly shown that diverse viewpoints lead to better ideas, better teams and better decisions.
So how can you start tapping into what might just be your organization's greatest in-house resource -its own diverse talent pool? It starts with inclusive leadership, and it's the basis of the new leadership paradigm for global leaders of the 21st-century workforce.
The good news is that inclusive leadership is not an abstract concept. EY's recent report, Leading across borders: Inclusive thinking in an interconnected world, captures research we conducted with The Economist Intelligence Unit and interviews with leading thinkers and heads of global corporations. In our report, we have identified three practical things business leaders can do right away to hone their ability to benefit from multiple perspectives:
Collaborate in the face of uncertainty: 85% of the global leaders we surveyed agree that diversity of teams and experience improves reputation or financial performance; 53% agreed it improves both. Yet most are struggling to translate this into action.
The fact is, the old command-andcontrol style of leadership doesn't encourage diverse perspectives. Inclusive leaders foster imaginative collaboration. More than simply working together across geographic or organizational boundaries, it means bringing together people with different backgrounds, capabilities and experience. Expect friction and manage it positively by listening to the various voices in the debate. It's in this healthy conflict that fresh ideas and, potentially, new products and services, emerge.
Seek out different cultures and experiences: Leaders respond well to evolving global opportunities when they have the ability to engage with individuals from all over the world, grasp the nuances of different cultures and understand the actions that work best in various contexts.
A creative, globally savvy management team and workforce can only develop through immersion in a wide variety of roles, both geographically and functionally. That way, rising talent can develop new skills through exposure to different cultures, industries, individuals and ways of thinking.
It's a technique embraced passionately within The Coca-Cola Company. As chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent states in our report, a vital component of inclusive leadership is to "place people far outside their comfort zones and get them working in areas of the business they've never had experience in, with people they don't know and often in markets they have never visited before." The result is a broader perspective, and a collective strength in which "the whole is infinitely more powerful than the individual parts."
Sponsor people who are not like you: While mentoring is a tried-and-true approach to helping young professionals advance, a better approach to leading inclusively is sponsorship. Unlike a mentor, who is usually a senior executive participating as part of a formal internal program, a sponsor functions as an advocate, supporter and defender.
The problem is that we tend to sponsor people we like, or people who remind us of ourselves. But focusing only on people with the same leadership style and characteristics severely restricts the available talent pool.
Step outside your comfort zone -and remember that unintended biases are so ingrained that we must make conscious efforts to overcome them and to stretch to change the face of our leadership teams.
Lead differently to succeed differently. Complexity, multiple dimensions, fluctuating markets -in today's global marketplace, these are not factors that disturb the status quo, they are the status quo. Faced with such challenges, inclusive leaders who cultivate and marshal innovative ideas from a variety of individuals with different backgrounds, skills and experiences stand the best chance of creating success for their business in a dynamic world.