As a child, my family often traveled overseas. My parents, both professors at Yale, were invited to lecture in various European cities, where we would rent an apartment and spend our “vacations” immersed in the local life. Their favorite outing was visiting museums, arming me and my three siblings with pencils and notepads, and sending us off to find our favorite painting in each wing, which we were tasked to then sketch.
My sister Rebecca would always go for the Monet. She found the landscapes calming and enjoyed focusing on the brush strokes. My interest, on the other hand, was peaked by the work of Pieter Bruegel, a 16th-century Dutch artist.
I would skip quickly through the surrounding galleries of portraits, the more common art of the period; scanning for the peasant scenes and detailed landscapes Bruegel depicted. My eyes would dart across the painting, trying to absorb all the stories that fit into one canvas: the woman bandaging a man in the corner, a man cooking a fish over a fire, two dogs digging a hole, a man fanning himself in the sea, are just a few of dozens he
Raising children of my own, we typically skip the museums, my children preferring active vacations to Paris, France. This past summer on our way to Cuba, we spent a few days in Disney World, at the request of my 19-year-old daughter as a very late present for her high school graduation. The roller coaster rides made me nauseous and the crowds claustrophobic. But when it came time to join the line for the “It’s a Small World” ride, I jumped. Sitting in the “boat” floating through the various country scenes, my head bobbed quickly from right to left and back again. Was I absorbing all the nationalities? Did I miss anything? What are all the stories that are being told?
This same curiosity, to absorb the narratives, to explore the multidimensionality of a canvas, is what
initially attracted me to coaching, and what keeps me engaged. Each person is a composite of different values, experiences, and roles, that collectively shapes who they are.
In leadership, those differences can be tough to manage. Today, more than ever, we hear of the importance of shared purpose, values, and connection. With diverse genders, cultural backgrounds, ages, ethnicities, etc. we add a whole other level of complexity. It takes an inclusive leader (or leadership team) to be able to effectively integrate different perspectives and harness them for creativity. Throwing heterogenous individuals into a room alone, however, does not guarantee high performance. Leaders must thoughtfully bring together those diverse individuals into a coherent organization for optimal results.
Linda Hill, Professor at Harvard Business School and Chair of its Leadership Initiative, calls this process “creating a collective genius” (and has published a book by that name). In this process, which focuses on a culture of innovation by bringing individuals together to work on a problem, one experiences some discomfort called “creative abrasion.” This amplifies the differences in an organization in order to see things in a new way and with greater insight.
The benefits of this work are not just found in innovation, but also in higher financial returns – up to 35% according to a recent McKinsey report on 366 public companies– and research studies show the potential is even greater. Additionally, teams with inclusive leaders are more likely to report their teams are high performing.
The key to developing a work of art, whether it is Bruegel, a Disney attraction, or a business innovation, is the ability to harness those individual pieces (images, individuals or dolls) and work in an inclusive way so that they are all fit together cohesively and let their differences shine.
As my 12-year-old son, wrote on a drawing he created, “Art is not a portrait of color against color. It is when they come together that the masterpiece shows.”
Why Inclusive Leaders Are Good for Organizations, and How to Become One by Juliet Bourke and Andrea Espedido
Diversity Doesn’t Stick Without Inclusion by Laura Sherbin and Ripa Rashid
Collective Genius by Linda A. Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove, and Kent Lineback