I recently attended a workshop that considered poverty from a class based lens. Boy was it an eyeopener. For people in poverty, the “rules” that help you survive are the exact rules that will get you in trouble in a middle class environment like the workplace. In fact, we all carry a set of unwritten rules about the world. For the middle class, our rules include achievement, living for the future, consequences, and more. We value work, achievement and material security. Those in poverty value survival, relationships and entertainment. No wonder we don’t understand each other, and often fail to help each other, when we come at the world from such a different set of driving forces. People in poverty don’t understand the unwritten rules of the work place, are driven by different forces and have a different set of skills, beliefs and values, mainly because of a culture of poverty in which they grew up.
It occurred to me the other day, that this is true for the leadership culture of an organization. Every organizational culture has a set of unwritten leadership rules. And these rules often mean that those who don’t fit the traditional leadership mold, may be at a disadvantage, because no one shared the rule book with them. This is one possible explanation for the lack of diversity in the leadership of most organizations.
If one way to leadership in your organization is to foster strong personal relationships across your organization, then you should be helping your future leaders to do so. If your leaders rs all need to have MBAs, do a stint in sales and have at least one international experience, let them know that these are the expectations.
So, if your organization is wondering how to engage with diverse leaders, maybe the first question to ask is what are our implicit, unwritten rules about leadership? How do we make them explicit? Which of our unwritten rules discriminate against certain groups of people? How do we communicate them to our future leaders?
Remember, it’s easy to unwittingly break an unwritten rule. So write them down.