We’ve seen that diverse leadership is a necessity for businesses that seek to compete and succeed in today’s global idea economy, spurring innovation, insight, and agility in a deeply interconnected marketplace.
But simply creating a diverse board doesn’t ensure success. How can a board achieve optimal results? It must build its collaboration on the individual self-awareness of each of its members.
A cornerstone of trust
Trust is the cornerstone of any board. Yet trust can be easily and disastrously undermined by unconscious biases.
For example, if an individual harbors a prejudiced view of a colleague based on a characteristic like gender, race, or age, this can lead them to discount the other person’s insights out of hand – without really understanding why they’re doing so. Worse, such a dismissive attitude may hurt and discourage the colleague, discouraging them from participating and fostering further distrust among the board.
This scenario leads to failed collaboration and poor decisions. And, it can work its way down into the departments and affect everyone in the firm, leading to a downturn in the business. All it takes is a relatively subtle expression of bias on the board – not the more far-reaching, systemic problems that may result, such as a failure to seriously considering hiring the best people because of their background.
Acknowledging the possibility of bias
How can an organisation avoid such situations? The answer lies in a pivotal quality for any successful executive: self-awareness.
One of the most essential components of self-awareness is the capacity to examine and understand one’s own thinking, particularly with an eye toward identifying problematic reactions or processes. No one thinks of themselves as biased, or at least doesn’t want to. Yet prejudices small and large are clearly pervasive around the world and throughout history. The ability to acknowledge the possibility of bias in oneself and work to uproot it is a hallmark of self-awareness.
When an executive has the self-awareness to identify and break down irrational fears and stereotypes, they bring those damaging thought patterns into the light – which makes them easier to dispel. This is difficult yet crucial, both for one’s society and one’s work.
By uncovering the hidden forces that influence thought, a leader can truly open themselves to the people and voices around them. That makes for a better business, a better community, and a better life.
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By Paul Butterworth MNI, Global Head of the Maritime & Shipping Practice at Odgers Berndtson