Earlier this month I was the
keynote speaker for the Wichita, Kansas Hispanic Chamber
of Commerce's 10th year annual awards
Despite my many years of
domestic travel, this was my first time in Kansas.
For me Kansas has always conjured up film memories of
Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz saying "Toto, we're not in
Kansas anymore", thanks to a twister. Because of the
famed movie, it's also common to associate Kansas with
tornadoes, which is also apparent from all of the
tornado memorabilia available at the
Hispanics in Kansas?
bet. But it's not the usual place we associate for
Hispanics to live. But like in the rest of
the USA, this demographic has a growing social and
economic presence in Wichita and in Kansas
preparation for my speech, I thought about wearing ruby
red shoes and clicking my heels three times while
reciting "there's no place like home." But then I
realized this would not be very novel or funny. It
would be like the joke I've heard my entire life when
I've told people I grew up in Long Island. People
would always respond by saying "you mean 'Lawnge Island'
as they stress the "g" and laugh out loud.
these jokes are only funny if you don't live there and
hear it all the time. So I passed on the idea of
pretending to be Dorotea (that's Dorothy in
Spanish). The theme of the evening was "embracing
diversity" and somehow I knew that they didn't mean the
tin man, the lion, or the scarecrow.
I am not
a diversity speaker, but I am a leadership speaker and
one thing is clear: Great leaders know how to
embrace and leverage diversity around
them. It is a crucial leadership
ability. Yet, the reality is that diversity is no
longer just about race or ethnicity; it is about age,
introversion/extroversion, geography, experience,
religion, gender, political affiliation, sexual
orientation, and more.
diversity in the 21st century is as basic to business as
understanding and managing a
has fast-forwarded us into a world where business is
beyond global; it is borderless where knowledge and
ideas are the currency that matter regardless of who you
are, where you live, or if you have years of experience
or not. Just think about Mark
Zuckerberg. You no longer have to be 50 years old
with 30 years of corporate experience to be a CEO of a
essence, the elements that used to define diversity in
the past are no longer the only elements at play in the
21st century. "Embracing diversity"
doesn't simply mean that because you have a boomer, a
gen-exer, a Hispanic, and an African-American on one
team that you are guaranteed the best, diverse and
innovative thinking. "Embracing diversity"
means when you have a team of diverse players, do you
and your team have the right leadership skills and
abilities to draw out the best thoughts and ideas from
every single person in your organization regardless of
their background, orientation or make-up?
all, diversity of thought is the most important in this
knowledge economy and seeking out the brilliance of all
of those around you is the greatest of leadership
the most common "embracing diversity" example can be
best personified by a parent and teenager
relationship. Whether you have or have had the
responsibility for a teen, or not, we all recognize that
this prototypical relationship (when gone wrong) is
fraught with misunderstanding, mistrust and angst.
There is a fundamental breakdown in communication and
connection. Each party can regard the other as a
complete stranger or foreigner.
scenario is not far off from what occurs in the
workplace when two people with seemingly different
agendas and values come together. A leader faced
with a younger employee with a different mindset about
"face time" in the office may mistakenly believe that
hard work is not valued by this youngster.
Oftentimes, these conclusions can be very far
off from the truth. But unfortunately,
these conclusions are made and the result is that
neither player is embraced or understood for their
uniqueness and perspective.
parents of teens, like those leaders faced with
diversity challenges, can ask more questions and judge
less, the health of the relationship can flourish to
benefit both parties. The leader, like the parent,
can also learn and adjust... just as the teen or
subordinate are expected. Both sides need
to stretch their bandwidth to have a meeting of the
minds. These leadership skills are not reserved to
those in leading roles, but to all
tech-driven, ever-changing and diverse 21st century
world we live in requires new leadership skills and
abilities from all levels of an organization.
After all, embracing diversity is something that
needs to happen at the top, middle and bottom of any
few tips to ensure you are doing your part as a leader
at any level to embrace and leverage diversity around
- Be curious and remain open.
Be sure to ask more questions and suspend premature
judgments and conclusions. Steven Covey told us
a long time ago in the 7 Habits of Highly
Effective People to "seek first to
understand." Assumptions and presumptions are
dangerous in a diverse world.
- Be receptive and yield.
Challenge yourself to be receptive to ideas and
opinions that you do not share. It is easy to be
receptive to others when you agree, but the true test
of receptivity is when you don't.
- Learn to step aside.
Leaders that can embrace diversity in the 21st century
know that they don't have to be in the driver's seat
to lead. In a knowledge-based economy, the old
model of leadership where "telling", "directing", and
"controlling" characteristics ruled will only lead to
adversity and counter-productivity. Instead seek
to guide and inspire through a shared base of
understanding and connection. This is the kind
of leadership that will prevail in this ever-changing,
Are you looking for an inspiring
and engaging speaker for your next event?
Laura to bring home your message to your
you interested in developing yourself as a better leader
and understanding what your next step should be?
Consider one-on-one business
coaching to help you get clear on what's next and how to
position yourself for success. Contact Laura for
and personalized coaching.
Laura Lopez is an
award-winning author of The
Connected and Committed Leader. She is also a
consultant, and a Birkman Method certified business
coach who has been featured on the Today Show ,Latina
Voices Smart Talk, Living Smart and Fox News
In addition, her
accomplishments have been highlighted in several
business periodicals including Personal
Excellence, The Long Beach Business Journal, The Houston
Chronicle, Latina Magazine, and Central Valley Business
Times. Her articles on management and leadership are
regularly seen in Leadership Excellence.
Laura can be
contacted via her Web site at: