Leader on the GO! Valuing differences across the miles
by Mike Horne, Ph.D

Travel incessantly challenges and shapes our ideas of who we are as leaders. Successful leaders incorporate what they learn from differences encountered during travel to strengthen their leadership potential. Winning leaders, based on travel and other experiences, recognize that individuals are all unique, but rendered equal by our common humanity. When leaders enable unique individuals sharing a common humanity to come together, leaders create powerful organizations. Are you a leader who is able to foster an appreciation of differences?

Starting with your next trip, take time to sharpen your observations and to learn from them. Try this on your next trip. From the moment you leave the office, until the time you are comfortably seated on board the aircraft, what differences do you notice about others? For starters, you're likely to observe differences in age, ethnicity, gender, language, and skin color. As your travels take you further away from home and office, differences may become more exaggerated. Languages and local customs may be profoundly different from the base you call home. What are leaders to make of these differences?

Successful leaders acknowledge and value differences, and put them to work to develop high-performance teams and organizations. As you travel, a heightened appreciation of differences enables success. The appreciation of differences demonstrates a leader's capacity to manage situations of increasing ambiguity, span, and scope. An individual leader's ability to build inclusive work environments is quickly becoming a guarantee of long-term career success.

Begin your next trip with the forethought to appreciate and to understand differences. Your deepened appreciation of diversity will have both immediate and long-term affects on your leadership success journey. Here are ten tips to follow and to strengthen your abilities to value differences. Try putting these tips to use before, during, and after your next trip. Your followers will appreciate it!

  1. Develop self-awareness. Leaders have a keen sense of who they've been, who they are, and the person they are becoming. Without self-knowledge, it's difficult to introduce change or to lead others. The successful leader takes to heart the old adage, 'know thyself.' Regularly seek feedback about how you come across in new and unfamiliar situations. Challenge yourself to incorporate new behaviors into your leadership routines. Increased self-knowledge creates an open invitation to learning more about others.

  2. Pay attention. We often fall into patterns that block or constrain our views of the world. To increase your appreciation of differences, try to keep a fresh set of eyes on both the familiar and the new. Acknowledge that every day is a new start to increasing your leadership potential. Enhanced attentiveness to others provides a pathway to learning and to including others in your leadership activities.

  3. Listen carefully. In our over-extended workdays, it's difficult to find a moment for reflection. As leaders, people depend on us and want our opinions. We get so caught up in responding-and waiting to make the next point-that real listening often takes a back seat to simple hearing. When we listen to others as if we are hearing them for the first time, we increase the possibilities of getting to know others better. By listening deeply, you may hear things in completely new ways.

  4. Eat a meal. When you're on the road, take time to eat with someone with whom you normally wouldn't have a meal. When was the last time you had a meal with a business associate from a different generation? Have you recently had a meal with someone from another culture? Do you consider dining with someone whose opinions differ strongly from your own? A leader's ability to span differences creates long-term success. You'll be pleasantly surprised at what you can learn from others who are different from you. Go ahead; schedule a meal with someone different from you!

  5. Travel wisely. Travel is a great teacher, and leaders know it. Rather than see your next distant business meeting as "just another trip," take a few moments to reflect on what you have learned. Think about the differences you've encountered-what you saw and heard and what you didn't see or hear. In the end, these travel reflections will generate new insight and enduring leadership wisdom.

  6. Learn something new. Management guru Peter Drucker is famous for taking on a new avocation annually. Among other subjects, he has studied Japanese floral design and cartography. Drucker, now in his 90s, credits his creativity and open-mindedness to his long-term interest in learning. Learning makes us more interesting people, expanding our horizons beyond who we are today. Base your learning plan on your interests. As you acquire wider range of subjects and topics, you're likely to become a more interesting person!

  7. Check your perceptions. Before traveling to a new site or a new city, read up on what to expect. Be open to the possibilities inherent in travel. Watch how others behave. Look closely at differing customs. If you're uncertain about how you're coming across, get some feedback from others. Before going to an unfamiliar place, check with a colleague or friend who is experienced with the destination. Sometimes, things aren't always what they seem, so do your homework-before and after the trip.

  8. Ask a question. If in doubt, ask a question. If you're absolutely, positively certain, ask a question! The best types of questions begin with "what" as opposed to "how." For example, you might say to someone, "What should I make of that?" From an early age, we're taught that there are no dumb questions, and when it comes to valuing diversity, the saying holds true. Your honesty and genuine interest in others will offer deeper insights into others.

  9. Respect others. Differences of opinions, tastes, and values will always exist. An appreciation of differences does not mean assimilation. These differences give us our unique human character and the will to lead. When you lose or fail to give respect, your stature and integrity instantly diminishes. Respect is not an abstract or theoretical construct. It means saying please, and thank you. When you respect others, you increase the respect that others extend to you.

  10. Take action on your new insights. Learning without action is hollow. Regularly, leaders convert their new insights into action. They learn to accept themselves, and in doing so, open up the possibilities for personal and organizational change. Gifted leaders know that learning creates competitive advantage. Perhaps no more important learning is that which comes through an appreciation of diversity.

The key to valuing diversity is an understanding that it's about 'us', not about 'them'. Differences come in all forms. In developing an appreciation that we are all in this together, leaders emphasize common experiences rather than differences. Professional and organizational growth is likely to occur with deliberate efforts aimed towards inclusiveness. To ensure your success in valuing diversity, share your insights with colleagues up, down, and across the organization in which you work. Be ready to acquire new insights that lead to changed behaviors.

Today's challenging economic environment demands the best of leaders. Compared to others, successful leaders have an edge on learning and valuing the contributions of others. Competitive advantage depends on our abilities to live and work with differences. Leaders rise to this occasion by creating inclusive environments that capture the commitment of others to the leader's personal and organizational success. Get ready to travel and learn about the differences in others!

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