The times they are a-changin. I couldn’t get the words of this old Bob Dylan song out of my head as I prepared for a recent conference keynote. In fact, they disturbed me so much that I was inspired to sing verses one and three at the beginning and the end of my conference talk.
As someone who has not sung in public since the age of nine, this was a truly terrifying spectacle and yet, somehow, it needed to be done. I needed to capture the essence of the whirlwind of change that will be unleashed on the world of leadership in the coming decade.
‘Come gather ’round people wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
This change will come in many forms but, most acutely, the diversity and inclusion agenda promises to turn our world truly upside down. The ‘Bob Dylan’ keynote took place as I travelled east to deliver Trusted Executive workshops in Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore courtesy of Kexxel Group. My audience was incredibly diverse with multi-national attendees from UAE, India, China, South Africa, Thailand, France and Malaysia. Prior to the first workshop, I was so nervous I felt physically sick and I thought, ‘How come I am so nervous when I have done this so many times before?’. The answer, of course, is that I am more conditioned into my white Anglo-Saxon comfort zone than I realise. You can take the man out of Yorkshire but you can’t take Yorkshire out of the man!
On my return to the UK, I chaired a roundtable at the Institute of Directors (IoD) open house on ‘Inclusivity’ in Manchester. I sat in the audience mesmerised as our Nigerian master of ceremonies, Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, whipped us into a frenzy of African smiles, yelps and sparkling eyes. I then got chills up my spine as Thomas Duncan Bell took us on an alarming and disarming tour of his life as a sufferer of debilitating mental health issues. His acute vulnerability and ‘nakedness’ on the stage made my tone-deaf rendition of Bob Dylan’s classic song a few weeks earlier seem like a relative walk in the park. As a long-time member and follower of the IoD brand, I was genuinely shocked at the juxtaposition of the IoD’s WASPY tradition and this admirable new world of inclusivity and diversity.
And then I thought of the nine habits of trust. In my book ‘The Trusted Executive’, I deliberately steer away from the perceived minefield of diversity and inclusion when assessing the behaviours that inspire high trust cultures. I realise now this is no longer an option. It is time for a second edition! We all need to have a voice on inclusivity and diversity. The link to trust needs to be further explored because as prejudice, privilege and stigma fall away, trust will need to be a stronger and stronger glue that holds us all together. As we no longer accept the unwritten rules that defined previous organisational behaviour on topics such as race, gender and mental health, we will have to make explicit the rules of trust to create the necessary boundaries and behavioural norms that are required in high-performance cultures.
Whilst this is a topic that requires much further research, I can offer some initial thoughts on which of the nine habits of trust will be key to the facilitation of this diverse and inclusive world. Firstly, we are all going to need to be braver (habit no.8). We need to be brave to step out of our conditioned comfort zones to fully engage and speak up for the inclusivity agenda. Second, we are going to need to be so more open in our leadership style (habit no.5). We will need to display levels of human vulnerability that would make our grandfathers (and grandmothers!) turn in their graves. Such radical openness will be necessary to create the shared human bond that underlies all other more superficial elements of our perceived diversity. To use author Richard Rohr’s words, we will need to learn that ‘love is the base stream of reality.’ We will need to learn that there is more that unites us than divides us. Finally, we will need to insource kindness (habit no.9). Without the feeling that we each care about ‘the other’, whoever ‘the other’ is, our human spirit will atrophy amidst a dystopian technologically-dominated, robot-ridden future. Kindness will indeed be the final stand of humanity in the face of our silicon-conceived friends.
So, there you have it. Diversity, inclusion and the nine habits of trust. If the Yorkshireman is in Singapore and the IoD is the flag-bearer of the new inclusive leadership agenda then the times are a-changin indeed. Hold on tight and hold on to trust. Make the nine habits explicit in your leadership style, your team performance and your organisational culture. Despite the desperate populist backlash, this tide is not for turning. For the times they are a-changin.
‘Come senators, congressmen please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls