Do you ever feel like the whole world is looking to you for leadership -- even if it’s just your own world? Today we find ourselves in similar places regardless of our business or organization. The pressures are on. Demands for new ideas and new talent are real. Growth seems to be on everyone’s mind, whether it is to grow your business, expand your influence, multiply your supporters, increase your diverse talent pool, or gain market share. And, by the way, make it fast.
A respected leader once shared with me that the word leadership has a Germanic origin meaning to “find a new path.” What is encouraging amid all the chaos today is there is a constant stream of achievements rising up from individuals and organizations across the world finding new paths that are creatively addressing the problems we face with new thinking and a resurgence of our pioneering spirit as people.
I wrote this book for you to experience walking on some of those new paths and, at the same time, take away everything you need to forge your own. The idea for this book arose out of observation, experience, participation, and inspiration from what seems a lifetime of study and practice that has involved putting our differences to work. The most meaningful part of the journey has come from those I met and learned from and with along the way. Writing the book grew out of first asking myself a number of new questions, and now I ask you to consider them, too:
Who needs to become a leader today?
What skills and qualities do we really need in our leaders at all levels?
What role do people and their differences play in our achievements?
How well are we utilizing the talent we have?
If innovation is the “engine of growth,” what fuels the engine?
Where is the greatest opportunity for innovation?
How can everyone contribute and reap the benefits of innovation?
The answers to these questions hold the promise of healing, enriching, and transforming workplaces, marketplaces, communities, and our world, and they formed the premise of Putting Our Differences to Work. The ideas in this practical guide change the prevailing rules of how to think, behave, and operate as leaders and innovators in three specific ways.
First, we learn that all we already know about leadership is valuable. However, to strengthen our portfolio of skills, five distinctive qualities of leadership are introduced. They fundamentally change the rules in how we think and act. They reframe old notions that no longer work to our advantage in our organizations or wherever we find ourselves having an opportunity to have a positive influence on others. These qualities are needed at all levels of leadership, including individual contributors and aspiring leaders who may not see themselves as leaders. Our distributed workplaces and communities mean that we all step in and out of leadership roles that require new skills to understand, interact, and relate with others different than we are.
Second, the ideas in this book draw together four diverse elements of business and society that have traditionally been handled separately in our work and our thinking if not by our words and processes, then certainly by our visible actions and practices: innovation, leadership, diversity, and inclusion. Putting Our Differences to Work reframes how these four elements are connected and proves the possibilities that reside with this powerful foursome. The outcome is measurable with meaningful benefits for individuals, business, society, and our world.
Third, the ideas in the book elevate the significance and importance of people. They put people and all their differences at the forefront of all achievement. We need them and all of their differences, talents, energy, new ideas, and expertise. Diverse people are the fundamental fuel for innovation to serve business and the society, for new levels of leadership in our respective fields, and for realizing the highest levels of achievement for our organizations. Through concrete examples, you will learn how it is our differences that multiply the possibilities for innovation, the “engine of growth.” You will also witness the profound influence that inclusion has to engage everyone, accelerating the process of acceptance, understanding, and ownership for new ideas, as well as new products and services. The ideas in this book ask us to reconsider where are today and reach beyond the trendy economic jargon that has come into fashion that defines people in terms of human capital and tends to overlook the importance of people considerations in the mainstream of our business and organizational strategies.
Everything about this book, from its cover to its content, reflects the results of putting our differences to work. Its pages are marked with many fingerprints. I wanted it to be a book that reflected its title—a true mirror of putting our differences to work. This book holds the wisdom of many thought leaders, mentors, sages, and teachers crossing all segments of society. I’ve had the good fortune to know many of them. Some I’ve never met, but they are very present in this book. When all the differences are put together, it is a virtual gathering of great minds and pioneering spirits coming together across time and distance to share knowledge and know-how with you.