Several things prompted me to write this piece: An extraordinary client who is one of the most open-minded person I have ever had the privilege of working with; The aftermath of what happened to Charlie Hebdo and a request by ICF Poland for us to give a 60-minute talk in March- our chosen topic is ‘Working with Polarities’. The connector in my mind between the three things is ‘diversity’.

In thinking about this topic of diversity or and our ability to embrace difference, it struck me how open we really need to be in order to allow for difference to exist and thrive.  It is totally counter-intuitive to respond to difference with some form of defence or attack rather than to see it as part of life. Maybe even better is to look at differences in terms of ‘how we fit in each other’s world’, a lovely phrase used by Joe Sacco, Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2015/jan/09/joe-sacco-on-satire-a-response-to-the-attacks). My realisation is the extent to which we do not like negativity, dissatisfaction, disconfirmation, dissent. We fear being old, ugly, vile, out of control, lost, impotence.  But nature and life is all of these things so how is it that we have come to this place of denial, fear and rejection of nature?

Our fear of difference is especially true in organisation life- we want conformity, unity, consistency—‘alignment’- as close to 100% as possible. We don’t really want to hear ‘no’ and not too much ‘why?’ either. People who push-back are seen to be difficult and problems to be solved or challenges to overcome. Equally, positive people could also be seen to be wrong or fake. We end up in a blandland of political correctness. I am not sure whether we have yet learnt to give and take, to look for ways to accommodate each other- not yet.

If we were to step back a little and examine our expectations and behaviours, we might start to see that our way of thinking and our expectations are totally skewed, lop-sided and unrealistic! To deny that everything has upsides and downsides is to deny life itself: The yes’s and the no’s; the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. If we follow this train of thought, maybe it is not desirable to strive for 100% employee satisfaction. Maybe indicators of employee engagement is discomfort and controversy and in this environment, we would expect that everyone like some things but not everyone will like everything and there are many sub-groups and interest groups and that ‘majority’ is a warning sign? Maybe a grown-up organisation is one where we willingly give up something so that another constituent can get a little of what they want or need. In my view, this type of give and take is not the same as compromise where we feel we are losing something. This behaviour- of accommodating/ making space/ allowing is a feeling that although we are giving up something, we are gaining something as a whole- because someone else is getting something.

In such a diverse organisation, we would not expect someone else to ‘take control’ because we would understand that being able to balance giving and taking is core to maintaining this type of diverse community. Perhaps we would learn to expect that individually, it is normal we don’t always get our way so that others have a chance to get a little of what they need or want. In such a system, we would have an interest in the overall health and balance of the whole and understand that we are part of that whole and as such, we are always contributing to all as all is always contributing to us.

What is the role of leaders in such an organisation? Maybe leaders are the ones who help us individually and as a group to listen and learn from each other. Maybe their role is to facilitate flow- movement of ideas, information, configurations of people. Maybe leadership in this context is simply practicing and modelling an open mind-space and an open organisation space for everyone and everything to naturally flourish.