#13 Be. Leadership October 2013 - Reflecting on our diversity

by Prudence Walker

A strength for us as people - and even more so I believe for leaders - is to work with and acknowledge what we might see as our (or others') weak points, our insecurities, the things that really cause us to question our ability to lead. The truth is that we are all diverse and, while our diversity may lead us to question our own or others' ability, it is actually in this diversity that we find our strengths and our unique opportunity to lead in a way that is authentic for us.

What stood out for me during our Be. Leadership time together in October was the passion of the speakers, with whom we engaged, for what they do; how the questioning of ourselves and the searching for our authenticity never ends; and how we are all so diverse yet so similar.

My biggest experience of preconceptions in leadership was within an organisation where, at the age of 22, I was the Chairperson of a national board. The organisation was a branch of another national organisation, of which I was also a board member.

The organisation I chaired was a well-known not-for-profit, which at the time was going through a period of financial struggle. The other was a well-established organisation.

I was a young, female, and a student - three attributes that don't naturally fit with being a board member, let alone a Chairperson. The particular organisation I chaired was youth-related, so being young was a strength in this light and supported me to be my authentic self.

I allowed myself to embrace my diversity (some of which I clearly couldn't hide!) and not try to fit the box that some would believe I should as a board member. I didn't need to try to be anything else to bring my best to the position.

Sure, as a young person, I had never been a board member before and on one of the boards sat mainly middle-aged suit-wearing men. But neither meant that I couldn't embrace who I was and represent my organisation.

Of course, I questioned myself and I made mistakes - people always do. It wasn't because I was young or a female or a student. It was just because I was a person and, whether we like to admit it or not, we question ourselves. We make mistakes.

There were also times when my knowledge, gut feeling, or experience was most relevant to the situation and I was actually the one who could give the most useful input and make the best decision. Again, it wasn't because of any of the boxes people perceived I fitted in - it was because I was me.

We all question ourselves, we don't want to be the one who looks like we don't know what we’re doing. In a way, we self-manage ourselves and keep ourselves in check, just to make sure that we do actually know something.

We all know something about something, which we should embrace, realising that others know something else about something else. We are all passionate about something and if we follow our passions, others may just see what we are trying to achieve.

It is so much easier, when there is obvious diversity present, to make judgements about who people are, what they can achieve, or how they are different from us. Really, we are all so similar and, if we can embrace diversity and see it as a strength, we can support our own unique opportunity to lead.

We can also view the diversity of others as challenging us, building our resilience and supporting us in our own passions. Often, strengths don’t lie where we think they do - they lie in the people or places that we so quickly judge.