Snakes, Spiders and Leading for Diversity
As I was doing my (mostly) daily walk by the North Thompson river today, a garter snake whipped across my path.
I love snakes! I like the way they look, move and feel.
That said, I am well aware that the stomachs of a large segment of the population twist at the very word “snake”.
I know this because my best friend is one of them. She can carry a spider on her bare hand to take it outside, but she has trouble even looking at a picture of a snake.
I’m the exact opposite. It’s part of what makes us good friends; she deals with the spiders; I deal with the snakes.
And that, of course, takes us to leading for diversity.
As human beings, we are generally drawn to those who are similar to us – in looks, or beliefs or interests.
An organization or team, however, will not thrive on sameness. A baseball team will never win if they only have pitchers, or even just an infield.
We, as not-for-profit leaders, need to build our organizations with people who are different from ourselves and each other.
Yes, conflict will happen; but even conflict can be productive if handled well, and can lead to improvements in products and processes.
The more diverse your team, the more perspectives it will have, which leads to more creative solutions, which leads to more impact in our communities, which leads to better outcomes for everyone.
I’m reminded of this when I see companies bragging about how they are “like one big family”.
Families tend to have the same backgrounds, the same perspectives, the same way of looking at the world and at problems.
Which is nice and comfortable, but it limits their ability to change, see new opportunities and handle major crises (COVID, anyone??). I’m generalizing, of course; some “family” companies encourage inclusion and thrive on diversity. They are, however, the minority.
The teams that prosper are those that focus on leading for diversity.
Those that not only accept but encourage – actually go out and look for – members with differences.
Those that see the value of voices unlike their own.
Those who pair the snake people with the spider people, so that the team is held up with many strengths instead of a just a few.