Diversity and Dissent over Conformity and Consenus

This is the sec­ond the­sis of the Man­i­festo for Human(e) Lead­er­ship. In this sec­ond part of the expla­na­tions to the Man­i­festo, the con­cept of diver­si­ty is quite cen­tral – not so much in the clas­si­cal soci­o­log­i­cal sense of equal oppor­tu­ni­ties and equal rights for peo­ple of dif­fer­ent sex­es, ages, ori­gins, etc., but rather in the sense of indi­vid­u­al­i­ty, per­son­al­i­ty struc­tures and prob­lem-solv­ing behav­iour. This diver­si­ty of dif­fer­ent ways of think­ing and find­ing solu­tions nat­u­ral­ly leads to dis­sent and dis­course. This is an uncom­fort­able process, but it promis­es bet­ter solu­tions than too har­mo­nious group think­ing. The task of lead­er­ship is to con­scious­ly uti­lize and nur­ture this diver­si­ty and to strive for a cul­ture of con­struc­tive dis­sent.

Diver­si­ty has its ori­gins in the civ­il rights move­ment in the USA, which was con­cerned with the enforce­ment of civ­il rights for African Amer­i­cans. Since then, diver­si­ty has been a high­ly rec­og­nized and con­tro­ver­sial issue in many orga­ni­za­tions and in soci­ety in gen­er­al. Usu­al­ly it means the equal par­tic­i­pa­tion of peo­ple of dif­fer­ent ori­gin, gen­der, reli­gion, age, etc. In this respect, diver­si­ty is usu­al­ly under­stood as equal oppor­tu­ni­ties and the absence of dis­crim­i­na­tion. This is just as desir­able as it is self-evi­dent, but remains too much on the sur­face and pos­si­bly inef­fec­tive.

At the BMW Group, “diver­si­ty” and “equal oppor­tu­ni­ties” refer to a holis­tic con­cept for han­dling work­force diver­si­ty: Employ­ees’ unique­ness and indi­vid­u­al­i­ty are impor­tant val­ues and con­tain poten­tial for the indi­vid­ual employ­ee as well as for the com­pa­ny as a whole.
BMW Group

After all, what use is per­fect diver­si­ty in the sense of the usu­al dimen­sions of age, gen­der, ori­gin, etc. if the orga­ni­za­tion­al cul­ture is com­plete­ly ori­ent­ed towards con­for­mi­ty and con­sen­sus? Then there would be per­haps as many women as men in lead­er­ship posi­tions (which would be desir­able), but they would all fall into the same raster regard­less of gen­der, because cul­ture and assess­ment sys­tems can only pro­mote this one type of man­ag­er. Diver­si­ty there­fore is more about cul­ture. It’s about a cul­ture in which the indi­vid­u­al­i­ty of peo­ple, how they think, how they solve prob­lems, which expe­ri­ences they made and which val­ues they fol­low are con­sid­ered an impor­tant asset.

Such a cul­ture in which the indi­vid­u­al­i­ty and unique­ness of human beings are val­ued — and with it the ensu­ing dis­sent and dis­course — results in the clas­si­cal soci­o­log­i­cal diver­si­ty in the above-men­tioned and well-known dimen­sions. Diver­si­ty should there­fore be seen more as a char­ac­ter­is­tic of such a cul­ture or at the most as a nec­es­sary but not suf­fi­cient pre­con­di­tion. It all depends on what cul­ture does with this het­ero­gene­ity: fight­ing and align­ing or encour­ag­ing and uti­liz­ing? This sec­ond the­sis of the Man­i­festo for Human(e) Lead­er­ship, “Diver­si­ty and dis­sent more than con­for­mi­ty and con­sen­sus”, means there­fore to strive for a sup­port­ive cul­ture in which indi­vid­u­al­i­ty is val­ued more than con­for­mi­ty and in which con­struc­tive dis­sent is seen as a nec­es­sary part of the com­mon deci­sion-mak­ing process­es.

May we nev­er con­fuse hon­est dis­sent with dis­loy­al sub­ver­sion.
Dwight D. Eisen­how­er

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For this rea­son, Peter F. Druck­er in his book “The Effec­tive Excec­u­tive” advis­es not to make any deci­sions with­out pri­or dis­sent. He men­tions Alfred P. Sloan as a prime exam­ple of this, who alleged­ly said at a meet­ing of his top man­age­ment: “Gen­tle­men, I take it we are all in com­plete agree­ment on the deci­sion here.” Every­one around the table nod­ded assent. “Then,” con­tin­ued Mr. Sloan, “I pro­pose we post­pone fur­ther dis­cus­sion of this mat­ter until our next meet­ing to give our­selves time to devel­op dis­agree­ment and per­haps gain some under­stand­ing of what the deci­sion is all about.”

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