I recently heard a webinar interview with Marcus Buckingham, author of the book, The One Thing You Need to Know…About Great Managing, Great Leading and Sustained Individual Success.

The book is a good read. If you are fans of Buckingham’s earlier books based on research by the Gallup organization (First Break All the Rules and Now, Discover your Strengths), you’ll find elaboration on themes he has previously addressed.

But this Blog post is NOT intended to be a book review. I wanted to write about a connection I made while listening to the interview… because it jumped out at me.

Buckingham was focusing on the distinction between great managing and great leadership. His position is that “the chief responsibility of a manager is to turn a person’s unique talent into performance”. He holds that great managers recognize that each person has unique talents and motivations and they seek to understand and leverage these unique qualities. Great managers treat each person DIFFERENTLY based on understanding each individual’s personality and motivations.

It struck me between the eyes that this is what has frustrated me about typical discussions on the topic of “managing diversity” for some time.

In Workshops on Diversity, I have often found myself sighing with despair when a participant (particularly a manager) says, “It doesn’t matter whether people are white, brown, green or purple… I treat them all the same”. Such participants will then look around the room with a boastful pride as if to say “look at how enlightened I am!”

For me, to look past “difference” and see this as a noble behaviour leaves me shaking my head. This “we’re all the same” thinking seems far too simplistic. Frankly, it feels like we are missing the whole point. For some people, their “green or purpleness” may well be relevant. To look past cultural context, history, personal story, is to look past what is core for that individual. Where’s the richness?

VALUING diversity, for me, means identifying what is truly unique and respecting those differences as the true gift that they can provide. In corporations, this “gift” has little to do with race, sexual orientation or gender, etc. PER SE. It has everything to do with the value of differences in perspectives, thinking, approaches, ideas, and behaviours. At the same time, I firmly believe that this diversity of perspective is profoundly shaped by our personal experience and cultural upbringing… experiences that are often impacted by what may appear to be little more than superficial, demographic differences of race, gender, etc.

And so, in our efforts to be politically correct and look past the “superficial” differences, we may miss the opportunity to be genuinely curious and to draw on that which is truly unique about each of us.

(I recognize that this is a bit of a rant. It really strikes a chord for me.)

At a certain level, of course, differences DO in fact become immaterial. Marcus Buckingham’s distinction between what makes for Great Management versus Great Leadership is helpful for me. He says that great leaders find what is shared among all members of a group and capitalize on it. In an organization, this means establishing a Vision that appeals to all employees, regardless of race, gender, academic background, level in the organization, right-brain or left-brain dominance and the list goes on. Great leaders tap into what is universal.

This is what great leaders do…connect to the person inside all of us where differences are honoured and yet they become small again or pale in comparison with our shared humanity.

And so the circle goes….

It feels to me that there is something important in these principles, whether we are looking at the great work that some of us are doing with our organizational cultures or whether we are looking at the one-to-one relationships that we are trying to enhance in our everyday lives.

Love to hear your thoughts!