The United States continues to experience unrest along social and cultural divides, especially when it comes to race, gender, and sexual identity. Those who grew up identifying their culture only as “American” may have a difficult time identifying their unique cultural lens, which is a prerequisite to valuing the lenses of others. We’re not experts in social movements or political science, but we offer these notes from the science of organizational and leadership psychology for your consideration.
Leaders who experience success know the work it took to build a fulfilling career, financial stability, and influence within their organization. For many, reflecting on the grit they displayed along their journey leads to belief that their personal success, and the success of others like them, is earned; that it’s a reward to a certain type of person willing to do the work.
When leaders hear others who seem to be saying success comes to those with a head start in life, it calls into question all the blood, sweat, and tears expended on their journey. These leaders have a choice. They can protect their personal narrative of success, and maintain their identity as someone who earned all they have. Or, they can pause for a moment and consider the humanity of those who speak about privilege. They can consider that the world in which they fought and won might also be a world where large numbers of people expend the same grit and determination, and engage every challenge with the same fire in their hearts, but never win.
Those who are willing to pause and listen face a risk: they may lose their personal narrative of success. But they also face a reward: they may gain a new level of gratitude, and a new perspective. They may begin to understand that only through gratitude and perspective can they contribute to building a level playing field for the next generation of leaders clawing their way toward success. We hope you value truth over psychological security. And that you pause. And listen.
Research shows that until the minority viewpoint is represented by about 30% of a team, it’s very difficult for the individuals representing those viewpoints to be up front and honest about their unique perspective. For example, studies of teams composed mostly of men, but including one woman, have discovered that the woman will act more masculine and adopt the viewpoints of her male counterparts more often than when in teams made up of at least 30% women. The 30% principle applies to race/ethnicity, thinking styles, and other dimensions of diversity.
Exceptional leaders know it is hard to fight alone, want better for their people, and aren’t afraid to design teams in which diverse viewpoints are business as usual.