By Igshaan Soules
“Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful, living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.” — Rainer Maria Rilke
Difference is a gift worth celebrating. And, as a leader, you play a key role in determining the extent to which difference is embraced and celebrated in your organization. Embracing celebrating difference allows you and others to fully express yourself authentically without you or others feeling exposed as outliers.
What is Diversity?
Celebrating difference is not about managing diversity. Managing diversity has become synonymous with conversations about, and working with racial or cultural differences. It has achieved a level of association with race that is in my view unhealthy.
I hold a view that for as long as we continue to give power to the notion of race, we will never have a non-racial society. Somehow, managing diversity has an implied assumption that we are able to accomplish this through diversity efforts.
I am not for one minute saying that there is no such thing as race. However, for me race is but one of the constructs that creates difference amongst us as human beings.
When you as a leader place your attention and focus on managing race, you limit the possibilities of engagement and relationship you have with your colleagues.
Celebrating difference is more spacious – it’s about recognizing the uniqueness of each individual, their talents, their quirks, their gifts and eccentricities.
Celebrating the Gift of Difference
When we adopt a stance of celebrating difference we make a number of positive assumptions about others, key amongst which is that they have something of value to contribute. And, that contribution may challenge existing convention and beliefs.
Celebrating that which is different in others also enriches our lives on many levels – it opens us up to different experience and helps us become better people, parents, leaders, family members, and neighbors.
It helps define your relationship by what’s authentic within you and others rather than what’s different.
When you connect and engage with others’ authentic self, you have a solid foundation for lasting relationships with others able to withstand the toughest challenges.
How Difference Frames our World views
Yet, we cannot help but frame every interaction with others by our perception of how they are different.
For many, there is a longing for greater expression of what is authentic within them. Yet, for others, there is a vacuum of answers on how best to meet the challenges put forth by our differences.
I am often challenged with this by my teenage son, my adult daughter and spouse of 25 years. I sometimes catch myself holding world views I perceive as right and those of my family members as being wrong.
Whilst my outward expression asks and need agreement, what I am truly seeking for is alignment – alignment that we are moving in the same direction. In the absence of that assurance, I default to needing agreement.
How often do you see this in your life and work?
Just take a good look at your colleagues … your direct reports. Do you value that which is different in them or do you judge them on the basis of some idea of your world-view?
To what extent is your interaction with them framed by your perception of how they are different?
Every conversation … every interaction we have today has the potential for creating deep connection between yourself and others. Difference is a gift worth celebrating. Celebrating difference can be a enthralling “ally” within life and work. Embracing difference allows you and others to fully express yourself authentically with unashamed courage. And, all of this in hinged on moving the conversation from “What is diversity and how do we manage it?” to “How do we celebrate difference?”.