Beloved Leadership #4 - Seek Difference

Beloved Leadership #4 - Seek Difference

Welcome to the fourth article in the Beloved Leadership series. This series examines the practices within organizations that lead to breakthrough innovation. Jess Rimington and Joanna Cea uncovered these practices and detailed them in their book Beloved Economies.

“Seek difference” seems so eye-rollingly simple that I feel like Rimington and Cea are saying it elicits a sigh and commentary on the state of initiatives for expanding demographics within business-as-usual organizations.

They clarify that instead, it is “a commitment to continually seek out relevant forms of diversity and create team cultures that effectively engage differences.”

The authors note that “something magical happens when [teammates] come together as peers and respected collaborators across the false lines of separation…” It entails consciously breaking down the “assumptions about who should be at the table.”

Difference isn’t a metric to be achieved; instead, it is seen as a catalyst for curiosity, respect, and care. When people are open to having their perspectives challenged and engaging in complex and brave conversations, “there is a far greater chance for the diverse perspectives each of us hole to inform bolder thinking and innovation.”

Seeking difference invites multiple perspectives on diversity and requires creating conditions that support people to communicate safely and bravely.

Rimington and Cea tell us that “seeking difference works best when decision-making power is shared even in the process of how a group defines and acts on including the diversity needed.” If you don’t have diverse perspectives, a good starting point to make a plan for cultivating the diversity needed is to ask (repeatedly): “Who is impacted by this work or has a perspective on this work that isn’t present at this table?”

This could mean bringing people to work together across silos or in different hierarchies within the same organization. Also, they recommend paying attention to people who are skeptical of the project. There are tensions and resistance within all healthy systems.

Sometimes, though, you’ll need to seek out differences beyond your organization. Be careful not to tokenize the diverse people or differing perspectives that you are seeking. The authors suggest that to avoid tokenizing, be clear about why someone is in the group to build trust and value their specific insights.

Systems supporting safety and bravery are the same as active engagement in creating a psychologically safe environment. Creating systems that enable everyone to share insights and be heard so they can deconsolidate the rights to design and enjoy the profound value of having diverse perspectives present.

Working together with a multitude of perspectives requires recognizing that “people may require varying on-ramps to the work” and co-creating those strategies together. This means co-creating ground rules and working principles that support everyone involved in voicing their questions, ideas, and concerns and actively valuing everyone’s time and insights.

Getting people with diverse perspectives to come to the table may require more than sending an invitation for people to trust that their time and perspective will be valued.

The authors share an anecdote about an organization working with consultants who suggested the organization recognize the people with diverse perspectives participating in the shared work, who were not paid employees, be paid. The organization members responded, “We don’t know how to do that.” And the consultants returned with, “Just like you wrote in the budget that you’re paid; you write in the budget they’re paid!” This consultant noted that every budget they write has a “living expert stipend.”

Providing a meal, childcare, and/or gas money have also been effective strategies for some organizations to support participation from people with perspectives that an organization needs to do excellent work.

Using a variety of approaches to achieve an intended outcome means having people actively involved in all parts of a project with diverse perspectives. Moving away from seeing other people as “beneficiaries” who are passive recipients and toward viewing people with diverse perspectives as peers who are central to the process can mean a need for deep reflection and acknowledgment of power structures and everyday procedures that can be both empowering and limiting depending on who you are and the perspective you have. 

And then you need to take action.