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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #99: Designing a Diverse and Inclusive Culture

August 13, 2020
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #99: Designing a Diverse and Inclusive Culture

Diversity and inclusion (or D&I) is often thought of as merely a compliance measure. We talk about it, we take the annual training, and then we don’t do too much else. Today, we want to talk about how a leader can intentionally design a diverse and inclusive culture in their organization.

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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 results. 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, thank you for joining. Hey, just as a quick reminder, if you want to download the learning guide that Perry created to go along with today’s discussion, maybe you have a question for us, give us some feedback, please visit We would love to hear from you on that site. Well, today’s topic, again, we’re continuing this theme around diversity inclusion, we absolutely love in having this conversation as we just talk about it from a leader’s perspective, and today we’re going to talk about, the title is “Designing a Diverse and Inclusive Culture”. You know, a lot of people, especially in organizations look at diversity and inclusion as just a compliance thing, right? It’s like we’ve got to check the box, and I think what’s coming to light and we absolutely love it is that it is more than that. It’s more than just, “Yes, I took that annual training on that.” We got to do a lot more about that. And, as leaders, it’s our responsibility, and really what we want to talk about today is how do we intentionally design a, you know, a diverse and inclusive culture inside your organization. That is part of your culture, that is part of what defines it. And at the end of the day, you know, this comes from John, we talk about all the time, everything rises, and falls on leadership. So, Perry, let’s go! Let’s talk about this, and let’s hopefully help some of our leaders.

Perry: Yeah, we’ve talked many podcasts ago about being cross cultural and cultural intelligence, but I will tell you that recognizing that as a need, and me to become more culturally intelligent, is one of the greatest things I did for my leadership, I just wish it was 20 years ago. One of the greatest truths I think I’ve learned in this cultural intelligence journey is how I see and relate to differences in people. And this has come up a lot recently in the United States especially, but if you just think for a second, there really is no one exactly like me. I know you probably like that. Everyone is different in one way or another, and these differences could show up in things that were really obvious like your nationality, ethnicity, color, gender, your generation, but there’s also probably a dozen or more other ways that are beneath that waterline on that iceberg that makes up you, that makes you who you are. And, I just am finding as a culturally intelligent leader, I recognize really that I value and respect these differences and I can leverage those differences to really help add value to me, and to the organization. So, it’s been a big eye opener for me.

Chris: Yeah, and I can see a lot of what you’re talking about there in you, and even just from your pen, and as much as you write and you create, I completely agree that there’s no one quite like you, and we’re grateful for that. Everybody on this team and everybody that has listened to one of our podcasts. Jake said he was really grateful, the guy who produces all of our podcasts. But listen, you know, I think one of the things I just want to comment on before we jump into the lesson is you became culturally intelligent because you were intentional about doing so. And leaders, we’re going to have to be very intentional about making sure that this is part of our culture, and that we continue to enhance it. And you were curious, you ask questions, you’re open to having tough, candid conversations, and you’re okay with people not agreeing with you. And all of those things come along with building this culture. So, let’s talk about this, I’ve heard people say this, I know you have as well. But it says, “I don’t see differences, I see everyone the same.” And that has been talked about a lot lately. Is that a good statement? And what are your thoughts on that?

Perry: I find that to be troubling a bit, if I say I don’t see difference, I’ve heard it, I don’t see you, I’m not recognizing you for who you are. I think the better way to value people is to really recognize and appreciate the differences in them and allow those differences to bring myself, bring my team an additional point of view. If I had everybody like me, if I thought we’re all the same, I really don’t need more people to think like me, that’s troubling. What I really would like to have is to recognize the difference in you see it, value it, appreciate it, and invite it to the conversation because I mean, I’m floored about what I learned, especially in this time of racial unrest in United States. I’ve been embarked on a journey there of trying to learn what I didn’t know, and I’m reading and studying a lot of things that have been very eye opening, really saddening to me for me personally, and I’m really trying to own up to that, and that’s been fascinating.

Chris: Yeah, you know, for those that haven’t heard Perry tell his story, when he was a younger executive, I think it was at IBM sitting across the table from his leader and the leader said, “Perry, what do you think?” And you were kind of caught off guard because you were sleeping or doing something, and you said, “I think what you think.” And he looked at you and said, “Well, I’ll tell you what, if that’s the case, both of us don’t belong at this table, and I’m not going to be the one leaving.” I added a little bit there for those who haven’t heard that story. That’s true in every area of your thought process, and the thinking that you need from your team. You know, I’ve also heard a lot about the term, “unconscious bias”, and it’s being used a lot with leaders and organizations and books and different kinds of case studies, and because of that bias, it’s really how we see and we respond to the differences in others. So, how can a leader, from what you’ve learned and kind of where you’re at, how can a leader go about really trying to avoid that bias and unconscious bias that they have already in their mind?

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Perry: One thing that helped me a lot in this area was hearing what bias really is. It’s part of your DNA, and it’s built in for a purpose. It helps us, there’s thousands and thousands of points of data flying at you every minute. Think while you’re driving a car and all the things that are going on and coming at you, and in order for you to sort and sift everything that’s coming at you to choose what’s important in that moment to make a decision, to react to whatever you need to do, it’s really a good thing. Where it becomes a problem is when we take in a lot of data or observations about people, about an individual person and then I turn that into a quick judgment based on something that I picked up in there look or sound or feel or whatever I’m taking in about that. There’s really not avoiding it, it’s unconscious, but the best defense I’m finding is to become more self-aware of these thoughts I’m having and not rush to judgment about them. So, we’ve really got to develop this self-awareness of my own cultural makeup, what are my identifiers? How this creates a lens through which I see things. We all see through our lens, and so, I see you in a certain way based on something and you see me. The cultural lens is that I really can, in the place of bias, it really is a story I’m telling myself about what I’m seeing and based on my lived experiences. So, what I really want to do is if I can evaluate and notice when it’s happening, become more self-aware of that and stop telling myself that story. Stop judging someone based on something that I might have taken in through my senses and pause through my own lens and then look at it through their lens and look at them differently.

Chris: Yeah, you’ve heard the statement, “How we see things is how we do things.” Let’s add to that, let’s say, “How we see things is how we lead things or lead people.” And to Perry’s point right there, just from the bias, unconscious bias that you have, you’ve got to continue to work on that self-awareness, that self-growth. Self-awareness is a highly needed skill for any leader, not just a bias skill, not just trying to improve it there. So, I love this statement right here, and Perry kind of gave this to me, it just said, “Bias unchecked leads to prejudiced and prejudiced left unchecked can lead to discrimination.” When you put it like that and you put it that simply, that pains me as a leader to think that I may have some unconscious bias that are creating me to see things the way that I’m leading things, and so, we need to continually, as leaders, to check ourselves, self-awareness. I think, you know, we talk about self-awareness so much in here because it’s at the core and the root of who you are as a leader, but I think, you know, a self-aware person, if you have an open mindset and open attitude to see different, to learn about different, respect the fact that there is different and be okay with it. We can love each other and still have different opinions when there’s different cultural makeups, and so, all of that, that the difference is in that doesn’t mean we can’t add value to each other. And, you know, that one of our principles around here, our values is that we want to add value to you, to leaders. And so, I think the more that you’re able to do that the more credibility that you will learn and be able to kind of cultivate those relationships and really build a solid foundation of level two influence with your team. And so, I think by doing that, as a leader, the other thing that will drive for your team is more efficiency, more effective team, new ideas, and then also, I think you open the door for teams that are able to be constructive with each other. I was listening to a webinar the other day with Pat Lencioni, credible leader, organizational health, and he was talking about until you can get to a point as a team virtually to have a constructive conversation and be okay with that, then you really aren’t a team and he says, we get comfortable doing it, maybe, in person sometimes, and now everybody’s on this virtual platform, and maybe they just kind of go and hide about it. Don’t let that happen, and so, just be open to those differences.

Perry: You know, becoming self-aware, to me, kind of, sometimes you have to acknowledge any privilege you may have and you may have privilege in the organization, you’re a senior leader, you have privileges that come with that that others don’t have. It may be one of your cultural identifiers, your race, your gender, you could have privilege there, this has been an eye opener to me, as well. It’s difficult to see privilege sometimes if you’re a part of the dominant culture and so that’s been coming up a lot in the United States about white privilege, and then I’m thinking in the company if I was a high level executive, I just think that’s the way things are. It’s not that way all the way through the organization. So, for me to be self-aware, I need to kind of put myself in other’s shoes and see things, not just only through my lens, but to see that through other’s. You know, and self-aware, I’m going to tell you, when I was first having these truths brought to my attention, I found I really do label, and I’m going to use that word label. I look at somebody coming through the door at the restaurant, and I label them somehow and I thought, “Why am I doing that?” I started just paying attention to, “What am I thinking?” Well, that person was covered in tattoos, I had a reaction to, “Well, why? Am I against that? No. Do I have a problem with that?” No, but I noticed them and labeled them because of that. And I thought, “How can I remove that and just see them for the person that they are?” So, I started the conversation with the person, fantastic person! I think we would truly be friends if we weren’t different in cities, I’m thinking why that could have been a block for me. Now, how much am I doing that in my organization? How much am I doing that with people that are my followers, people I’m trying to influence? Am I labeling people? Am I seeing people? Am I not aware that I’m doing that? And I want to be sure to take those away. That’s what the diverse and inclusive environment is all about. If I’m going to have that culture, it starts with me, and I need to be able to take away those judgments, take away that lens and really see people for who they are, not for something my bias tells me that’s there.

Chris: Yeah, and that’s the million-dollar thought and question right there: How do we do that? Because I think, you know, if we were all to answer that question that Perry just kind of answered for us, I think we all have a tendency, a thought process to do that. And so, I think it’s extremely hard, and so what you got to do is, and Perry touched on this a little bit earlier is that you got to be very attentive to the thoughts that are going through your mind that you’re thinking, as you see people, as you hear from people, as you, whatever, whatever all those things are, right? We will at times have a judgment that comes in for one reason or another. And so, you got to be aware of it, you got to be attentive to it, you got to step back and listen to that inner voice. Perry just said, like, what is he hearing when he sees an individual, when he hears something? What is that inner voice? And so, maybe you take your first thought when you encounter people that are different from you, and you ask your questions, “Why do I have that story?” Or go to get to know that person, and don’t go back to this, like, we talked, I can’t remember if it was earlier on other podcasts about millennials, don’t stereotype. Right? Like whether it is somebody that’s different from you, don’t put that stereotype until you have a conversation to truly understand that individual to be able to value them.Perry: Yeah, very good. Well, one of the things that comes up sometimes and that was, for me, was stereotyping and you don’t really think that you’re doing that, but you look at one person from a people group of some sort and you think that everybody in that group, so you think that everybody’s the same. So for me, it was a great friend of mine taught me this, don’t stereotype, you may say that, you know, all people from that culture are this way, but you can say, “In general…” So, generalizing, “In general, people in that culture can be that way, but let me learn about this person.” And it opened the door for me to say, “Don’t judge, don’t stereotype but generalize it but then learn.” And it opened the door for conversations that then I could really develop questions and you’ve mentioned that several times, it’s just getting to know people, it’s talking to people, understanding their come from. What is their lens? How do they see the world? And that’s where that diversity, I can now leverage that and make our team stronger, organization stronger because we have not just my voice, we have all these voices and they come from different places.

Chris: Yeah, and how do you learn from that? Right? Like, what are you going to listen, learn, then lead them. We talked about that, that’s kind of my little life phrase that I like to talk about. And I think to your point, we got to listen and learn to that, and so, what we’re talking about here is this thought of being curious, this curiosity is such a helpful tool when dealing with difference in others, and if you seek first to understand, by the way, right? Then that will drive the connection and you’ll be able to understand but be curious about other people.

Perry: You know, you have to genuinely want to know, and if you don’t, then you just tend to label and that labeling of someone, it feels like you’re excluding me is the opposite of inclusion, it’s exclusion. I’m not part of the inner group here, and then that really leads to disengagement. People pull back, it doesn’t feel safe to be who I am here. It just spirals out of control the other way. So, if you’re going to have a diverse and inclusive culture, that means that you’re going to welcome and value people of all differences, you’re going to be curious about who they are, and learn about them, you’re going to invite them into the conversation, it’s going to be safe to be able to speak up, and I’m going to feel included, like I belong in this organization.

Chris: Yeah, let me just wrap up with this, and I think you’ve heard kind of an overarching theme of this. But let me ask you a question, how many of you have been in a conversation, have been part of a team, maybe, it’s a leadership team, team at work, a team athletically, whatever it might be, where you’re having a conversation with them, and you know that they don’t value you as a person, you can tell they’re just going through the motions, maybe they’re not even asking the right questions or whatever, what’s your response to that? Do you value that other person? I know from my history, I can tell you I don’t. And so, I want you to think about those interactions that you’ve had with people that have cultural differences, that come from different backgrounds, all that kinds of stuff, I want you to think about that. And then I want you to make sure that you’re never the one on the other side of that conversation. And why I tell you that, it goes back to the statement that you’ve heard Perry and I talked about, which is when people know that you value them, their thought process, their voice, right? When they know that you value them, they value being a part of your team, your organization, your friendship, your influence, more than they ever would before. And so, as you think about this being intentional about building this culture that Perry’s led us down today, make sure that you are communicating both with your words, with your body language, with how you’re listening, that you value that other individual.

Perry: Yeah, very good. Well, I’ve heard John, just while you were talking it raced through my head again, that you said, it’s hard to value someone publicly if you secretly don’t think very much. I always think about, you know, even in those private moments, finding the value in others. Great conversation, Chris! Thank you very much. As a reminder, if you’d like to know more about The Five Levels or maybe think about having one of the workshops at your organization, you can go to We’d love to hear from you, you can leave a comment or a question there. We’re very grateful you would join us here. That’s all today from The John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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