Eight critical leadership skills: creating a paradigm shift in corporate America

Twenty years ago my business partner, Bill Proudman, and I started facilitating diversity learning labs for white men. This led to the start of the diversity and leadership development firm, White Men As Full Diversity Partners (WMFDP).

We don’t like playing it safe — especially, when the stakes are so high — so we gave our company a name that evokes an instant response. Simply put, we hold discussion and examination to be intrinsic to what we do, so we took a no-holds-barred approach.

We founded our company on the premise that bias and discrimination hurt business in more ways than people could possibly imagine or would care to admit. One primary reason is that white male leadership is often left entirely out of the conversation. Let me elaborate with a few salient facts:

  • A 2012 study by the Center for American Progress determined the cost — in terms of lost revenue — of workplace discrimination to be $64 billion. Two million workers leave their jobs each year due to discrimination. Replacing them costs companies approximately $5,000 to $10,000 for each worker, due to lost workload, unemployment costs, litigation, etc. For departing executives, the damage is 10 times that amount.
  • A 2013 report from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation examined systemic racism on a fiscal level and extrapolated yearly losses from health care inequities, unjustified incarceration, employment and education disparity, and other economic facets. Total annual losses: $1.9 trillion.
  • The overwhelming majority of corporate leadership in America is white and male. There are five black CEOs and 23 female CEOs on the 2015 Fortune 500 list.

Add all that up and we saw a pattern emerging. Could it be that white male leadership is (at the very least) naively oblivious and blind to the everyday problems faced by people of color, women, and those from the LGBT community — and that these problems can cost millions in lost productivity and revenue? I’ve been working directly with leadership of Fortune 500 companies for two decades, and determined that the answer is unequivocally yes.

There is bias and discrimination, but a large percentage of it, I believe, is unconscious. What Bill and I do, through a process of experiential learning, is take the blinders off and lay the groundwork for transformation in a personal and fiscal sense.

These experiences of engaging leaders across every strata of corporate America form the core subject matter of my new book, Four Days to Change. And at the heart of that is all we’ve learned and our proprietary and unorthodox approach to transformation.

To highlight a vital aspect of our approach, I chose our Eight Critical Leadership Skills and examples of attitudes integral to each. Through these skills, leaders are able to forge new partnerships and build new pathways to success and prosperity:

  • Courage

I act to create change by speaking my truth, even when doing so may cause discomfort and conflict. I consistently speak my truth in a way that acknowledges it as my perspective, not the only perspective.

  • Integrating head and heart

I am able to talk about diversity and inclusion from my own personal perspective. I respond using both my head and heart as the situation requires.

  • Listening

I actively learn about my colleagues — who they really are. I notice and successfully control my reflex to debate instead of listening.

  • Balancing key paradoxes

I have devoted an entire chapter to the subject of The Four Paradoxes:

  1. Individual/Group
  1. Sameness/Difference
  1. Support/Challenge
  1. Not My Fault/I’m Responsible
  • Leveraging ambiguity and turbulence

I lean into discomfort as a way to deepen my learning and understanding. I display patience with conflict and recognize its potential to bring about productive change.

  • Managing difficult conversations

I acknowledge when something is not working and search for a better approach/outcome. I do not use lack of time as an excuse to avoid difficult conversations.

  • Seeing and thinking systematically

I understand unconscious bias and systemic privilege and the way it affects how I may hear others and how they may hear me. I encourage people throughout the organization to pay attention to issues of privilege, bias, and inclusion at work.

  • Being an agent of change

I encourage others to see new possibilities and take action. I recognize that when I commit to being an agent of change, I am going to change too.

Some of these skills may seem counterintuitive in the alpha male mindset. That is exactly why they must be developed, and we can do so without being any less proactive. These are skills that are possessed by people of strength, conviction to moral right, and a keen sense of discipline and accomplishment. By working with leadership teams of Fortune 500 companies, we can make a dent in the statistics above and effectuate tangible change and ultimately a paradigm shift in America.

 

Michael Welp, Ph.D., is co-founder of White Men As Full Diversity Partners (WMFDP) and author of the book Four Days to Change. In 1990, Mr. Welp journeyed to post-Apartheid South Africa, where he took a proactive role with non-profit Outward Bound while leading team-building projects within more than a dozen South African corporations. For mopre than two decades, he has worked extensively with Fortune 500 company leadership to build a culture where diversity flourishes and inclusion is the order of the day.