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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #98: Flattening the Hierarchy Curve Through Diversity and Inclusion

August 5, 2020
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #98: Flattening the Hierarchy Curve Through Diversity and Inclusion

In leadership, it’s easy to surround yourself with people that look and sound a lot like you. If there is a large gap between you (the boss) and them (the followers) you are establishing a culture where everything is dependent on your thoughts and ideas alone. When you flatten that curve and invite others to have a point of view and speak into the direction and operation of the business you open the door of possibility.

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Read the Transcript:

Perry Holley: Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable result! Hi, I’m Perry Holley a John Maxwell Facilitator and Coach.

Chris Goede: And I’m Chris Goede, Vice President with The John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining! Just as a quick reminder as we get started, I hope that you’re enjoying the sound quality again for the next couple episodes we are back together. It’s always good to be in a room with Perry as we—

Perry: —This isn’t social distancing, this is excessive distancing.

Chris: This is right, we’re 12 feet apart. Jake is doing a good job making sure that we take care of it. But listen, we are just glad that you’re joining us. This is something we enjoy doing and we love getting together and hopefully just adding value to you and your leadership journey, kind of, where you’re at. But as a quick reminder before we really get started in today’s content, if you want more on The Five Levels of Leadership or even perhaps, consider maybe Perry or one of our Executive Coaches walk on a leadership road with you and coaching you, if you’ll just do me a favor, visit You can also leave a comment or a question there that Perry and I would love to, kind of, address moving forward in a future podcast. Well, there’s also a learning guide there, Perry does an incredible job developing the content for us, and if you want to kind of follow along with the learning guide, you can find that there as well to take notes from. So, today’s topic, and I’m really excited about where we’re going, this is I think, a message that everyone needs to hear these days and kind of be thinking through, and so, Perry kind of went and spent some time thinking and over the next four episodes we’re going to really talk about the diversity and inclusion from our standpoint, and we’re not going to dig in too deep. You know, we do have the privilege of doing that with some organizations, but we want to just kind of give you some high level thoughts and kind of what we’re hearing, what Perry’s hearing, and specifically what he’s been working on, and so, we hope you enjoy it. But today, we’re going to start out on this podcast, this episode, and you know, Perry always gives me great titles, and so, I have in front of me, because I don’t need to mess it up, but really, today we’re going to talk about “Flattening the Hierarchy Curve Through Diversity and Inclusion”. Now, I have no idea what that means, but we’re fixing to figure that out, and there’s no doubt that it sounds like you kind of pulled something out of the COVID-19, you know, curve, so tell us what you’re thinking about here, Perry.

Perry: Flatten the curve, let’s flatten this one. You know, in leadership, I’m finding that it’s pretty easy to surround yourself with people that look and sound a lot like you do, and we just have a bias for doing that sometimes. And, when I say flattening the curve, the hierarchy curve, I’m talking about inviting more voices into your leadership and that if there’s a large gap between you at the top and the others, the subordinates, people that report to you on your team, if there’s a large gap there between you and the followers, you’re really establishing a culture that’s dependent on your thoughts and your ideas alone, perhaps. And so, I really wanted to think, “How would I go about flattening this hierarchy curve so there’s less gap between me and the followers, and invite others to have a point of view, speak into the direction, operation of the business, open the door possibility?” And I know at John Maxwell, you guys have a pretty flat hierarchy, and you do that on purpose, and you also have a diverse set of voices in speaking. I’d love to hear what your thoughts are.

Chris: Yeah, there’s an expectation here in John’s world, I say here in our enterprise, with all four groups from the standpoint of there’s an expectation for your voice to be heard. It doesn’t matter, and this kind of goes back to our thoughts on influence, right? Leadership is influence. It doesn’t matter your title, doesn’t matter how long you’ve been here, doesn’t matter your background, your experience, there’s an expectation that you will voice your thoughts. It’s why you’re in the room, it’s why you’re on the team, and we also encourage a lot of cross teams, kind of, cross functional discussions and perspectives, and we don’t always do the best job when it comes to, you know, especially cross functional, we’ll make sure that we’re not communicating with the other team and, “Hey, this is going on.” “Hey, what do you think?” “How’d this affect you?” “What would you’ve done differently?” The other thing, too, is one of the things I love is Mark our CEO, sets the tone from the get-go, and that tone is, “Hey, I really want everybody at any time to be able to step into anybody’s office and just check in, ask him a thought, ask him a question, whatever it might be.” He goes, “So just know as the CEO, I’m going to do that, as a leader of a certain group, I want you to do that to other groups. It doesn’t matter who the individual is.” And so, they’ve kind of set it up that way, you know, from the get-go, and that’s kind of, you know, how we try to kind of flatten that curve when it comes to allowing other people to kind of speak into that. So, Perry, I know that you have some ideas, right? On even just how we can help those that are listening really kind of leverage a diverse workforce and make their organization more successful. Talk a little bit about that to us.

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Perry: I thought maybe you’d comment on the fact that I didn’t have five ways to do something or five thoughts or—

Chris: No, I’d thought I’d take it easy on you.

Perry: Okay, thank you. I’ll go ahead and give away the ending now because it all boils down to me. It’ll sound simple, but the magic bullet of being a leader that sees diversity and inclusion as a positive way to grow the business is valuing people. And I can’t say enough about that sounds easy, but if you do not value others, it really doesn’t matter how much DNI you talk about it just won’t be a part of who you are as a leader. And so, it really depends on how you see people, how you treat people, and how you value people. Especially, we’ll talk a little more about differences and how you see that but to me, it really comes down to value.

Chris: Yeah, and not only—sorry, what I was thinking about when you talked about valuing people is, if you only value people like you, right? You set yourself up for failure. I was thinking, you know, we talk a lot about behavioral profiles and how when there’s similarity between the behavioral profiles there, you have an immediate connection, and you, kind of, like that, like, “Hey, man, we were separated at birth.” But when there are differences, you immediately try to disconnect, and so, a lot of us say, “Oh, no, I value people.” But what we’re talking about here is the second part of kind of what you’re saying is, we got to make sure that you’re just not valuing people that are like you in order for you to kind of flatten this curve, respect the differences, and then also be able to have that diverse thought process and feel and value. So, let’s talk a little bit about it, how do our leaders, our listeners, us, how do we flatten that curve?

Perry: Well, I know you’ll know that you have not flatten that curve if there’s a big gap between you and your followers. I’ve noticed, I think the authors of Crucial Conversations use the term, “Salute and stay mute”, is that I see people, kind of, you know, saluting and just going along, getting along, not commenting and just staying quiet; they won’t speak up. Another thing I’ve seen, we talked about on a previous podcast that came from David Marquet on his great book about share a voice is just noticing in your meetings and in your discussions as a team, who’s talking? Is it all you? Is it mostly you? Is the share of voice, if you partitioned out the minutes on the meeting and said it was 75% you, you’re probably not flattening that curve. And if people on your team are excessively good, I found it playing it safe, they just don’t want to risk a mistake, or a failure, they don’t feel it’s safe in your presence to speak up, to take a chance, to try something, then more than likely they’re viewing that hierarchy in the organization as, “You’re there, I’m here and I’ll just stay mute.”

Chris: Yeah, and at that last point, let me just add on there, you know, a lot of this really is accomplished, some things that we talk about, at the level two of The Five Levels of Leadership, the foundation that we believe you really need to build off, obviously, level one, you have the title, it’s a position, but where the foundation for your success of leaders built off of is at that level two, and there is where you’ve got to connect with your people, and the only way to truly connect with the people is to be authentic. And when you’re authentic, then that’s a trust accelerator, and so the best way for you to be able to begin thinking about this is to really keep in mind, you’ve got to do it with a pure motive. Listen to us, we’re not saying—this is not a game, you’re not playing a game, like you go in there and you be authentic, and you build that connection, your trust, that’s going to begin to allow people to begin to want their voice to be heard.

Perry: Right. One other thing I’ve noticed sometimes as leaders, we give the illusion, and it’s probably for good reasons that I have all the answers, and I just heard Andy Stanley say this, “The dirty little secret of leadership is I don’t have all the answers.” But we try to sometimes, we hang on to that, and people expect us to have the answers, and that widens the curve between me and the followers, and I realize, what would really bring that curve down to flatten that curve would be for me to say, even if I do have the answer, to maybe say I don’t have the answer, or what do you think the answer is? And invite people into the conversation to really lean on that diversity of thought, diversity of backgrounds that people can bring to the conversation.

Chris: Yeah, and I want to just add on to that, and I totally agree with kind of where Perry’s going with this of saying, “You know, I don’t know.” But listen to me, I don’t want you to do it in a way that, you know, they know that you know, and you’re just saying that to try to get their voice, I want you to be authentic about it, and so when you do know, you still want their voices to be heard, by the way, okay? Just a little bit of tip. If you want them to buy in, they need to feel like their voices are heard. And you want to be authentic about it, so maybe it’s even like, “Hey, tell me how you would…” And you get them to give you that feedback to help give you ideas. And most of the time, to be honest with you, I may think I know the answer going in, and so, I do it in a way that I go “Man..” Like in my mind, I’m going, “That is a much better way to do that.” Because I asked a question, and so just make sure you’re being authentic about it. Listen leaders, you don’t have all the answers and that’s okay to say I don’t know. But if you do know, then just make sure you’re doing it with a, kind of, with a pure heart behind it and ask the question a different way, and you can still attain getting that conversation from everybody in the room.

Perry: Well, a lot of times about this time people start looking at the word vulnerability and a lot of people don’t like that and seems like it’s weak, “Are you asking me to be more vulnerable in front of my folks?” Yes, but it doesn’t mean weak. It just means that you’re open, and I like the way you just put that. You know, diversity is really, to me, learning to appreciate each person on my team for their unique perspectives, their experiences, their contribution, knowing that they’re not like me, they’ve come up in a different way, have different experiences, different knowledges, may have different nationalities, may have different cultural come-froms, but I know that you’ve led teams for quite a while, what’s your experience with really looking at differences and inviting different voices?

Chris: Yeah, let me share an experience with you that I just personally had and I’ve had the privilege of leading teams for a long time, and then even the current team that I have the privilege of leading, we’ve been together for a while, and I want to encourage you, when you begin thinking about this, we talk a lot about ask questions, right? John wrote a great book on that, Perry, I talk about it a lot. It’s part of what we do, and how we lead, but I want you to think about when you’re thinking about this diversity of thought and encouraging people to speak up, it’s for the benefit. Remember, the motive is for them, for you, for the organization, like everybody wins when you go down this road. But I want you to think about asking different kinds of questions to understand the perspective or the diversity of thought and where it’s coming from, from your team members. And when you do that, what I found is that you will respect their insights at a greater level than you did before, because you may not understand it, but if you know where it came from, then it will connect with you. So, here’s the example, I had an offsite with my team getting ready for the second half of the year, and everybody, you know, knows, obviously, kind of crazy things going on, and you know, we’re innovating, trying new ways, trying to figure it out and I told the team, “Listen, hey, it’s halftime, right? It is halftime and we are going to win. We got to do things differently the second half, we got to make some adjustments. We’re going to get off site, we’re just going to talk about some things, do some things differently. We’re going to challenge each other.” And so, I brought in Rick VanDermyden. So, we believe, you know, our facilitators who’s on our facilitator bench just like Perry, brought him in, I said, “Hey, look, I’m going to give you the day, we got to get better. Let’s talk about this.” And so, he did his thing and spent an entire day, invested the day with us, and I set the story up to say this about the diversity of thought and respecting and where it’s coming from and appreciating it, so he asked a question, and I again, I set the stage of saying, I’ve led these people for a while. He asked the question, he said, “What is a memory that you have from your early childhood, high school, middle school, whatever, that has shaped the way that you currently live or act in this environment, at home or whatever?” And I thought, “Wow, that’s a really good question!” Okay? And I wrote down, by the way, leaders, when you hear stuff about your team, write it down, okay? I wrote down about every one of my team members what I heard, and I’ve known them for a long time, and I promise you, I didn’t know 80% of the answers that I heard that day. And I was like, “Man, shame on Chris.” But here’s where I’m going with this diversity of thought, so I have one particular team member that, oh, man…like, I just want that individual to speak up, because there’s so much knowledge, there’s so much history there. I want there to be a little more assertiveness, all those things that I want out of that individual and I can’t figure out, you know, why sometimes even though we have conversations about it, it doesn’t happen. And this certain individual came back and they’re like, here’s the memory that I have, they said, “HBF.” I was like, “Uh, oh…where are we going with this?” Like, timeout! And we’re like, “What does that mean?” She goes, “Stands for: Hold back family.” And she was saying, “As I was growing up, it was all about generosity and let others go first and all that kind of stuff.” Anytime they had somebody over, they would just walk around and be like, you know, “Hey, HBF.” Meaning they’re going to be generous and allow the other people to go first. Now, I tell you this story, because this leader in our organization is a gifted leader. But that’s what happens in our meetings is that she waits for other people to go first and then sometimes won’t even say anything, and I’m not getting the diversity of thought out of her that we want to have on our team, and now I completely understand why, and so, I just want to challenge you, as you think about this in flattening that curve, that you got to go about it a little bit differently, and there’s some opportunities that you can do to ask creative questions, to understand where it’s coming from so then as a leader, I can lead her out of that so that we get that diversity thought.Perry: Oh, that’s fantastic. Wow, that’s great! Last thought I had, love your thought on this was one of the diversities on my team was generational and experiential. There’s some people that were new, some people that were very experienced, and I tended to lean toward people with the greater experience, the longer tenure, and I realized one day I had really missed it. I read Liz Wiseman’s great book, Rookie Smarts, got me to thinking about how much emphasis I was putting on experience when really that the new people, the young people, if I could just shut up and listen, they are coming at it from a completely different point of view from me, which is a point of diversity that I had missed. And I know you’ve had some younger sales folks come through on your team and just the newness of thought there that I think the Rookie Smarts brings to the table.

Chris: Yeah, one thing I would just caution, everybody that’s joining us on this podcast is do not stereotype everybody into certain groups, right? We’re talking about this flattening of diversity, and when Perry just said the millennials, I remember a conversation I had with one of them, and it was like, “Hey, no, no, I don’t think that way. I don’t act that way, I do it this way, and I get frustrated when I hear people kind of just put me in as a millennial.” And so, I also want to challenge you guys just think about that. Don’t make an assumption of how their diversity of thought would come across because they’re part of, in this example, a millennial. But I love what you said, because how many times you bring a new team member on no matter where they come from, their experience, and you’re like, “Man, that is a great idea! Why hadn’t we thought about that? Man, we need you asking questions like that.” And so that diversity of thought of what we’re talking about right here and challenging us, it just gave us energy and it rejuvenated, kind of, where we’re at, and so, my question is, why wouldn’t we do that all the time? Why wouldn’t we be open to that type of questioning and that type of thought all the time? And so, we need to have those fresh ideas, those questions, and be open to that all the time and know that we do just get into a rut at times and just allow things to be and then that diversity doesn’t happen.

Perry: Yeah, I can hear me saying, “Yeah, we don’t do it that way around here.” And they looked at me said, “Why not?” I didn’t have an answer!

Chris: Maybe we should think about it.

Perry: Go ahead and wrap it up for us, Chris.

Chris: Yeah, hey, I just want to kind of go back to a very simple principle, it’s what everything that we do is based off of, and it’s leadership is influence, and if that’s the case, and we believe it is, everybody on your team, everybody in your family, your community, they have influence, and their voice needs to be heard. And as a leader, it’s your responsibility to kind of pull that out of them so that there is a diversity of thoughts, so that everybody feels comfortable with their voice being heard, and getting back to even, you know, the theme of today is just flattening that curve, because that’s how we are all going to be better. And so, maybe just take some time, and think about your team right now, those of you who have influence with, who are you not hearing from? Perry gave us a great example, right? It’s like, I need to hear from you a little bit more, and then maybe you have a meeting with them prior to the meeting, meeting before the meeting, and just say, “Hey, I really want to hear from you. I really want to hear from your voice. I really want you to be a part of this discussion.” And maybe that’s what it’ll take for them to be able to do that. And I promise you, if you can get into a healthy place as a team, and as a leader, you’ll have a hard time ending the meetings on time, because everybody wants their voices to be heard; and that’s how we should be leading. That’s how the best ideas win. You know, we talk all the time about John says, “Listen, if you don’t speak up and add value to this meeting, I’m not inviting you back to the next meeting.” So, just think about that with your own team and how you’re leading and the impact that you have on those people.

Perry: Fantastic! Thanks, Chris. Just as a reminder, if you’d like to learn more about The Five Levels of Leadership or perhaps bring a Five Levels Workshop to your organization, you can go to You can also leave a comment or a question for us there. We love hearing from you and we’re always grateful that you join us here! That’s all for today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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