Diversity and democracy go hand in hand

With good leadership, differences of opinion make us stronger, argue authors Chris Lewis and Pippa Malmgren.

by Chris Lewis and Pippa Malmgren
Last Updated: 03 Oct 2018
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Down to business

All teams need a diversity of thinking, not just a diversity of people. We must guard against simplistic solutions that swap one prejudice for another. If we condemn leaders for being ‘male, pale and stale’, then we swap one skin, gender and age for another. Masculine skills don’t reside solely in men, nor feminine skills in women. We need to be thinking less about defining people by skin colour and gender and more about the values and skills diversity brings. 

If we want more female thinking in leadership, then we need to make our cause more than just about a single gender. It’s about balance and shared goals such as modernity, aspiration and representation. All genders can focus on these objectives. It is not about men or their shortcomings. If one gender wins at the expense of another, then everyone loses.

Inclusivity is about democracy. Free markets and democracy walk hand in hand. Democracy, at its heart, is about sharing: sharing resources, sharing wisdom and sharing hope for the future. Democracy harnesses resources to make more resources. It does this because it harnesses the individual. The more democracies, the more resources we share. At the heart of this is a belief that the more we give, the more we receive. This is the essence of leadership.

We cannot be blind to the differences, but let us also direct attention towards common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved – through leadership. We cannot end our differences, nor should we.  Democracy and diversity should be synonymous. Of course, leadership is not a democracy, but it’s better when it is. Democracy is not just an idea that we stick to occasionally when it suits us.  Brexit, for instance, might not be to everyone’s taste, but we believe in democracy enough to put those with whom we disagree in power. This is democracy in action. Democracy is something that is shown, not something that is told.

Some lament how divided the democracies are. They point out that never before have there been such sharp divisions in opinions. They say this as if it were something to be apologised for. As if, somehow, division were a weakness. There are many parts of the world, however, where there is no division or difference. This is in no way a demonstration of strength. Quite the contrary in fact. If an idea isn’t strong enough to withstand the opinions of others, then it is no sort of idea at all. Ideas are made stronger by disagreement, not vice versa.

So let this be an abiding thought. When democracy is challenged by those who disagree with it, let that challenge make it stronger. Whether it be Brexit or domestic politics or our new approach to humanitarian aid. Because through it, we demonstrate our commitment to share democracy and our willingness to share the future. When we feed democracy, we feed inclusivity, we feed the future and we feed leadership.

This is an edited extract from The Leadership Lab: Understanding Leadership in the 21st Century by Chris Lewis, entrepreneur and Dr Pippa Malmgren, economist and megatrends analyst, published 3 October by Kogan Page (£14.99).

Image credit: rawpixel.com/Pexels

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