Diversity and Dissent over Conformity and Consenus

This is the second thesis of the Manifesto for Human 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 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

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.”

Hi, I'm Marcus. I'm convinced that elephants can dance. Therefore, I accompany organizations on their way towards a more agile way of working. Since 2010 I regularly write about leadership, digitization, new work, agility, and much more in this blog. More about me.

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