I love talent management. I have a passion for solving organizational problems, coaching and helping people and organizations thrive. Organizations spend billions on talent related initiatives every year because it’s an important field. The only issue that I have with the talent management field overall is that frames of reference almost always represent a homogenous perspective. The “thought leader” prototype is remarkably uniform and there is a pressing need to include other perspectives.
Let’s take leadership development for example. While often the centerpiece of talent management strategy, the content is almost always written by the same author prototype, white men that could not be more different from me. The subjects and examples in these books often mirror the author. I am not here to boycott books written from “traditional” authors. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I own hundreds of these books and regularly incorporate learnings from these books in my daily work. However, I think that since the field was built by homogenous authors, we have come to expect that pioneers in the field are older white men. But, what if we all questioned this approach? Wouldn’t we have better talent programs if we incorporated diverse sources?
Now, back to a few of my ageless staples. These include books such as “Good to Great,” “The Leadership Pipeline” and “Drive.” While these books offer insightful nuggets, they are all written from a homogeneous perspective. You may challenge me and say, “but LaTonya, these books aren’t written with the purpose to be inclusive, they exist to provide guiding principles around talent and leadership development. Right?”
The answer to that question is yes, obviously. When you read a book written by a person that has an opposite identity from you, albeit possibly disparately treasurous, only a fraction of it actually applies to you. Take one of my staples, “Good to Great” for example. If you haven’t read it, the book’s author, Jim Collins, identifies and evaluates the factors and variables that enable a small fraction of companies to make the transition from good to truly great enterprises. Two of his most significant findings were 1) That the majority of great leaders and companies attribute most of their success to luck and 2) To attain “level 5,” or actualized (great) leader status, humility is key. Many people that have read this book concluded that, with a little luck and humility, you can become a great leader. However, there are some issues with this logic. First off, the author based his entire book on CEOs that led Fortune 500 companies from the 1970s to early 1990s. His sample size and perspective were very narrow. How many Fortune 500 women CEOs were included (or even existed) at the time? How many non-traditional career paths were considered? Not many, if any at all.
Let’s move to humility. I was once told that I was a “brilliant humble leader” at a leadership conference I organized. The delivery was laced with awe and surprise. It felt like the person really meant, “I can’t believe LaTonya did this!” I deserved this because I always worked hard but was never very good at touting my accomplishments. Was this the image I wanted to put out there? No. I want to exude confidence while being humble. Humility in itself has not propelled my leadership competency. That’s the issue with making a blanket statement that humility makes a great leader. It’s necessary but it may not be THE required attribute for success. This is not to say that “Good to Great” isn’t still a great read and useful organizational tool. There are some wonderful nuggets in the book but it doesn’t provide a perfect roadmap for me or individuals that didn’t fit the typical profile of a CEO in the 1970s-1990s.
This is precisely why I saw a need for the workshop, “Influencing for Women of Color.” Women of color have to constantly find ways to translate foundational talent/leadership research and content to address the specific challenges they face. But, women of color aren’t the only ones left out. Fill in the blank. Influencing for ______________. If you can name it, we probably need it, and it’s not just influencing. Any leadership skill could apply. Instead of investing in separate diversity programs, why not embed D&I into your talent programs? This is what I would like to see and create in the future. The lack of omnipresent inclusion is a wicked problem that we throw money at but are never truly addressing. Workshops like “Influencing for Women of Color” address this wicked problem head on.
In my next post, I will also discuss how I built influencing for women of color, how it was received at the first conference in which I presented it.