Why We Need More Diverse Leaders Now?

With increasing problems at all levels of society, the world needs more leaders, from all walks of life, and not rely on the powerful few.

Why We Need More Diverse Leaders Now?
We Need More Diverse Leaders Now!

In recent decades, floods have destroyed homes, fires have ravaged forests, businesses have shut down, and people have lost jobs and their colleagues, friends, and loved ones. Loss is everywhere. People from all walks of life are suffering physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

We need more leaders than ever more than before. We need leaders to gather, influence, coordinate and lead the community or their organisation. We need leaders to guide people out of the floods, fires, and digital chaos and show a path towards safety and better health. We need leaders to reinforce the humanity in our neighbours, our communities, our organisations, our nation, and the world.

We need leaders to work with the people and help the collective move towards a desired future—a future where people of diverse backgrounds feel welcomed and appreciated, where people need not worry about their next meal or making rental/mortgage payments, and where children can walk the streets without fear so that they can play, learn, and lead a healthy life.

Whatever the future, you must take action to make this future a reality as a community member or organisation member. We can no longer wait for others to fix our problems, solve our issues, or develop our community for the better. Even if an authority figure swoops in to save the day, nobody knows your colleagues, neighbours or family better than you.

We have the power and the resources to overcome any issues. The only limitation is our mindset. We are more than who we think we are.

The World Needs Many Diverse Leaders

When more people become leaders, there will be more solutions to problems. We have plenty of issues in the world. Economic instability, climate crises, homelessness, statelessness, racial discrimination, and lack of access to education and healthcare are only a fraction of the problems. Each of these issues needs skilled and diverse leaders in various locations.

Leaders are needed in all walks of life. People who make the best leaders are involved with the issue, motivated to change, and with essential leadership skills. We need women, young people, immigrants, people with disabilities, indigenous, gender non-conforming, low-income and many others to become leaders NOW.

The voices of the minority, the discriminated, and the marginalised need to be heard and raised. Leadership is not held only by the powerful few. Leaders from diverse backgrounds must represent the people who need help and are deeply involved in finding solutions.

What makes a leader?

A leader has only one crucial characteristic: when a person leads, others follow. Yet, there is an interdependent relationship between leader and follower.

The leader depends on the followers to help them understand their issues, emotions, thinking, environment, history, etc. Likewise, followers rely on the leader for guidance, instructions, role-modelling, etc.

Leaders can only lead if they consider their followers’ perspectives, needs, and well-being. Followers can only follow if they understand their leader. For a leader to be successful, they need the skill to communicate, engage and influence followers.

Three Types of Leader

When we hear the word leader, the image of corporate CEOs or politicians appears. This is the traditional form of Elected Leaders. Leaders are elected, though not always, into their position because of their skill, influence, power or charisma. Traditional leaders typically lead a group of employees in an organisation, or citizens of a region.

The second type of leadership consists of religious leaders, association presidents, and community leaders. They are also known as Civic Leaders. Civic Leaders represent the interests of a particular group or institution—their title signals to others their responsibility and their scope of authority. For example, the title "President of XYZ association" indicates that they are the leaders of the XYZ association. Their scope includes running the association, duty of care, and representation of its members when interfacing with other associations.

However, some leaders do not have an official title. Unofficial Leaders are usually unelected leaders, but others gravitate towards them. Typically, these leaders have the know-how and respect of the people in their communities. They are often seen as "unofficial" experts on a particular topic or issue. They can provide advice or insight. These unofficial leaders may also have the influence and connections to move people and resources to solve a problem or achieve a goal.

For example, an unofficial leader can be the coordinator of your neighbour’s book club, the person who runs an informal donation drive for flood/war/fire victims, or the person who teaches others or tends to people in distress.

Leaders Help to Shape Culture

Culture is difficult to change because it requires behaviour change. Change is necessary to solve problems, and to solve problems, leaders become responsible for shaping culture.

Yet even with a skilled leader, culture cannot change overnight. Culture is a learned behaviour. Therefore, the leader's behaviour is shaped by the existing culture. If your culture endorses and systemises discrimination, it takes great effort for the leader to recognise and unlearn these practices for themselves before expecting others to change. According to Edgar Schein, an MIT management professor on organisational development, says

If you do not manage culture, it manages you, and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening.

Thus, leaders need to self-reflect, unlearn, learn and role-model new behaviours to their followers. By demonstrating what is possible, followers can follow and propagate new behaviours, subsequently changing culture.

When is the right time to be a leader?

Depending on the type of leader you become, any time is a good time to lead. Leading can be fun, challenging, exciting, and rewarding. Some are motivated and driven to be promoted or elected into leadership positions because they inherently find this role rewarding.

Leadership is a personal choice. If you decide to be an unofficial leader, you can lead or engage in ways that bring excitement, energy, and growth and bring out the best in you. There is no point in leading if it drains you. Leadership becomes unsustainable and detrimental to you and your followers.

How do you develop leadership skills?

Many leaders learn from previous experiences or from observing leaders in their lives. Their leaders could be their parents, teachers, peers, club presidents, bosses, etc. Most leaders learn through trial and error. However, there might be more effective or efficient ways to develop leadership skills. Here are five simple tips on how to build leadership skills.

1. Get training

Join a management or leadership program. When you have the budget and time, join as many as possible. Leadership and management have plenty of models, theories, approaches, and frameworks to choose from. Continuous learning encourages self-reflection and improvement. By tapping into different models or perspectives, you have multiple tools to use when your situation suits you best.

2. Find a mentor

Is there a leader you admire? Someone who you aspire to be? Ask if they could be your mentor. A mentor will be able to provide their perspective based on their experiences. They can be your sounding board for your new ideas. Or they can forewarn the challenges ahead before trying a new leadership strategy. In times of self-doubt and indecision, having a mentor to call upon can contribute to your leadership development.

3. Keep up-to-date

If you don't have the time to join training programs, stay up-to-date with articles, books, talks or podcasts. There are abundant materials to help you keep in touch with the latest trends or refresh your knowledge with classical theories. You can access all this knowledge with a few clicks of the mouse. Why not use them?

4. Get feedback on your leadership skills

The people who know us best are the people around us. In the workplace, our colleagues, subordinates, clients, and bosses can provide feedback on our leadership. Don't look for someone who only paints rainbows and glosses over flaws. Also, don't look for an overly critical person, where everything you do seems wrong. You won't be able to learn or grow. Find someone whose opinion you trust, someone who can give you meaningful, specific, and practical feedback.

5. Connect with a community of leaders

As you look beyond your organisation and community, you might recognise other leaders. Take a quick look at social media platforms or attend local leadership events.

You can find a community of leaders. These people have experienced the same leadership challenges and learned their lessons. A community of leaders will provide diverse perspectives and creative ways of overcoming leadership challenges.

With all the problems that need fixing, the world needs more leaders, not less, and more diverse leaders, not the same powerful few. A leader need not have an official title, though having one helps. Anyone can be a leader with the right skills, motivation, and vision.

To develop leadership skills, you must constantly learn and get support from trusted people. When you become a leader, you are responsible for shaping the culture of your community or organisation, which is a challenging task.

Most importantly, we need more diverse leaders because we need more people to work towards solutions and discuss the problem. As Brian Tracy, a Canadian-American motivational speaker, once said,

Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems.

This post is updated from the originally published post on Culture Spark Global on 21 September 2021 and written by the same author, Ling Ling Tai.