Wow - You're Different! Recognizing Differences as a Way to Launch Insight

It is not our differences that divide us.  It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.  ~Audre Lorde

Lately I've been thinking that it's not the obvious differences that make getting along difficult; it's the subtle differences that get under our skin, just simply annoy us, and probably make us a little judgmental. I've heard a lot of people say they are accepting of people who are different, but then I see behavior that tells another story. I'd suggest first that their definition of acceptance may really be tolerance. And second, I’d suggest that the understated differences in perspective and approach are what make us most irritated at the end of the day.

I was reminded of this recently in a conversation with my financial advisor.  I was describing some of the work I've been doing in consulting and coaching and he said the most critical lesson he'd ever learned was that people really are different. While that sounds simplistic, it's really quite insightful. In his case, for example, he recognizes that everyone has their own unique comfort level when it comes to their money. As he described me, some people like to keep a sizeable amount of money in their money market account so they have quick and easy access to cash, if necessary. While others, are okay to leave a rather small amount in their money market so they can immediately funnel any excess into their investments (which are not as readily accessible). He doesn't tell people what is the right way. Instead, he spends time learning their comfort level and then does his best to work with them within that framework. In other words, he recognizes, accepts and then celebrates his clients' differences.

In organizations I see leaders who get frustrated when others aren't sharing their perspective. For example, some leaders want to keep as many options open as possible and not be too confined by a narrow focus. However, their executive team may have a differing perspective and crave a specific focus so they can attack it. In other cases I've seen the overall pace, or at least perceived pace, cause angst among leadership teams. And I've had leaders say to me, “it would be a lot easier if everyone just thought the same way I do.”

Hillary Clinton said, "What we have to do…is to find a way to celebrate our diversity and debate our differences without fracturing our communities." While she was speaking on a more global level, I think the sentiment of that statement can certainly apply to organizations, both large and small.

Do we celebrate our differences or do we tolerate our differences and let them fracture our organizations over time? Synonyms for tolerate are stand, bear, put up with, endure, and stomach. Not exactly a culture most of us would want to be part of on a daily basis. Whereas synonyms for celebrate are rejoice, party, have fun, and enjoy yourself. That certainly creates an image that would make nearly everyone excited about showing up at work on Monday morning.

As leaders, are we celebrating differences or tolerating differences, even the subtle ones?

Dr. Kathryn Scanland is the president of Greystone Global LLC, a consulting firm focusing on strategic planning, leadership development and organizational design. This post is republished with permission from Tuesday Mornings.

New Website Shares Findings, Status of Three-Year Return on Values Research Project

CHICAGO:  Early results from the Return on Values research project display how CEOs of small and mid-sized businesses describe the relationship between their corporate cultures and their companies’ sustained growth and profit. These findings will be made available on a new website,, established by the project’s founding partners.
The Return on Values project (ROV) is a three-year, $1 million research initiative of the Inc. Small Giants Community (ISGC, and the Center for Values-Driven Leadership (CVDL, The study asks the question, “In small and mid-size businesses, what is the relationship between culture and profit?” >>Read the full press release and find links to videos, discussion guides, and articles. 

Hire, Fire, Develop and Reward: How Values-Driven Companies Leverage Culture for Growth

How do leaders in exceptional companies leverage culture to drive growth? Early results from the Return on Values research project highlight remarkable practices of leaders in companies that have exceptional growth trajectories combined with positive, people-focused cultures.
Researchers from the Return on Values project presented these early findings at the Inc. Small Giants International Summit in San Diego, June 8-10. The researchers noted four specific activities related to culture seen in exemplar companies.  Read a quick overview of the findings at our partner website for the Return on Values Project. >> Click here. 

The Problem of Leadership: Behaving All Day Long

Leadership requires a profound understanding of self.  The problem with leadership is you have to behave all day long.  ~S. Blanchard

A friend posted this quote on Facebook last week and I've been mulling it over ever since.  I struggle with the idea of leadership skills because I really don’t think leadership is a "skill." I've always put a skill into the category of something you can watch or observe and then copy or mimic. I believe that leadership is a way to behave and it's our behaviors that allow us to lead. 

This past week I facilitated a planning retreat for a client. The leaders in the room were divided into groups and given the task to come up with an implementation plan for the behaviors that they believe reflect the culture they are trying to create. I walked up to one of the groups who had been talking for some time but had not yet begun to write anything.  When I encouraged them to pick up their pace and begin to outline their plan they said they were stuck. They said, "You're really talking about changing someone's behavior and that's really hard." That was one of those moments as a consultant where inside I was jumping up and down and cheering because they got it. 

Changing behavior is really hard and that's why leadership is hard. It's not a skill. Many years ago, actually decades, when I was in high school I learned to type on a Selectric typewriter. One of those antiques with the metal ball that spins around and hits the ribbon as you type. We were told how to position our hands on the keyboard, which fingers were to hit which keys. Then the teacher would demonstrate so we could copy her actions. That's how I learned the skill of typing. 

Behavior, on the other hand, involves changing something that's ingrained into our routine or even into our being.  A physician friend often says that people don’t change their behavior until the pain of not changing outweighs the pain of change.    

William James, philosopher and psychologist, said that humans are biologically prone to habit or we are "mere bundles of habit." It is because of these bundles of habits that we are able to perform many of our daily tasks without thinking about it, like brushing our teeth. However, one could also conclude that trying to unbundle those habits, and change them, may not be an easy task.

Typing was a skill that I first learned in high school. Currently, I'm working to change my behavior to become more mindful, completely present for other people, and really listen. Even though this is a self-imposed goal and I can envision great benefits of reaching this goal, it's still really hard. Unbundling my current habits and replacing them with new ones is not easy. Synonyms for habit are routine, custom, tradition, and pattern. All words that imply something that's been around for awhile and sounds as if it might take an act of God to change it.

Continuously developing our leadership behavior is a challenge, no doubt. If it was easy, there'd probably be a lot more leaders. Blanchard said it well, "the problem with leadership is you have to behave all day long."
Dr. Kathryn Scanland is the president of Greystone Global LLC, a consulting firm focusing on strategic planning, leadership development and organizational design. This post is republished with permission from Tuesday Mornings.