CEO coach: diversity of thought means making room for everyone to be heard

From left: Larson-Green, Scott and Wood
From left: Larson-Green, Scott and Wood

Too often, leaders tend to forget to let the quieter members of their team be heard causing them to miss out on valuable input, best-selling author and coach to chief executives Kim Scott revealed.

Scott was speaking on a panel that discussed the role of leadership in creating a diversity inclusive environment at X4 Europe, an annual event by experience management company, Qualtrics. 

The former Google and Apple executive shared some advice she received from her former mentor and current chief operating officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg.

"Your job as a leader is to get stuff done by listening to what your team wants to do and then clarify their ideas. While it's very tempting as a leader to say 'bring me solutions not problems', the fact is your job is to be a thought partner, and if you’re telling people to do the thinking on their own you’re not being a thought partner," Scott said.

This advice to listen also plays a key role in incorporating and understanding how diverse viewpoints, characters and backgrounds can add to the strength of a team, Scott explained. 

Fellow panellist Julie Larson-Green, chief experience officer of Qualtrics, agreed with Scott and shared her experience with an employee who was very quiet and thought by doodling through meetings. "At first, it was easy to ignore him with excited tech people pushing their ideas forward. I knew he was brilliant but it was hard to create a space for him to talk and create an inclusive environment for him, but I also knew that I had to because his contributions were valuable."

"A leader I really admire - Jony Ive, chief design officer at Apple, says that one of your jobs as a leader is to give the quiet ones a voice," Scott said. 

One way Andy Woodfield, a partner at PwC who was also a panellist, has learnt that the way to do this is to become absolutely obsessed with the strengths of the people he leads, he shared.

"People spend their whole lives obsessing about the things they can't do well and taking the things they do well for granted. Help them learn about their own strengths in their own words. Not corporate masturbaiton stuff like 'I'm a collaborator or a team-builder'... not that shit. But that who you are as a person is a good and valuable thing," Woodfield said. 

Scott refers to this as "bringing your whole self to work" in her book, Radical Candour. "Leaders have to really get to know for and care about the people they manage before employees will feel comfortable enough to let this happen," she said. 

"You can’t hide from the fact that if you want to unlock potential you have to learn who they are," Wood agreed. 

One of the most effective cultural change tools used by PwC is reverse mentoring. This, Wood said, went beyond having a young person guide an older colleague through social media. It was about pairing partners of the firm with someone who was of a different gender and background as well as age. 

"They spend an hour together every month talking about their experiences at the company. A young black woman will have a very different experience of the company than an a white male partner who's been there for 30 years. We found that both participants have an emotional experience with this programme."

This initiative has been especially helpful in creating a culture where senior partners of the company start to understand the problems faced by women and ethnic minorities. 

"Most guys start to get gender balance and the challenge of female leadership when their daughters go to work. But who can wait for everyone to have a daughter that goes to work?" Wood asked. "This works."

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