A New Look At Diversity And Leadership

Think of all the ways in which the two people in those chairs can be altered. The possibilities are nearly endless. To my way of thinking, we’re experimenting with a creative application of diversity in leadership.

Their races, ages, genders, health, personal backgrounds, upbringing, family status, experience levels, home regions, and on and on—change any of them and you introduce the possibility of an alteration in how this story unfolds. Make Sullenberger or Skiles even slightly different people and you can sense the beginning of a change in dynamics.

To me, this is a very creative way to rethink our approach to leadership and diversity. Diversity is a fact with many forms.

The diversity in this story is secondary to something else. I’ll wager that you regard Sullenberger and Skiles’s training and professionalism as outweighing every other fact. That’s what makes their relationship work. If you want a symbol of their training and professionalism, look no futher than their uniforms. With the substance of those uniforms in place, you can shake up the mix any way you want and you still arrive at the same ending. The two chairs work together.

Hold on a second. As I always like to do and say in my ministry as a consulting leadership historian (that’s a mouthful), let’s go to the history. Sullenberger will tell you straight out that this story tore the checklist from his hands. And what’s a checklist other than an expression of training completed, training tested, and training reinforced? But Sullenberger asserts that he began to rely less on “checklists” and more on experience. When the engines ate the birds, the checklists became useless. It wasn’t Sullenberger’s training and professionalism that drove his actions, it was his experience as a whole, his experiences as a collection. He started thinking about what to try, what to do without knowing whether it will work or not. The training was just a comparatively minor part of who he was in that moment. The checklist was as pertinent as the poop of those birds.

Certainly, the uniforms in the two chairs will embody those experiences in whole and collected form. But here’s what I think this story helps to show you: you will also need to watch actions in the other chair moment by moment, as the seconds tick off and the minutes run by. You will need to judge actions of the person in the other chair within the moving veil of time we call the present. You will need to be prepared to act on those judgments. And you will need to understand that the person in the other chair ought to be doing the same with you.

The uniforms give you a temporary foundation for expectations and predictions. As the hourglass empties, however, you begin to add to that foundation with observations that affect your confidence in the person next to you, whether building it up or tearing it down.

Does your understanding of diversity in leadership extend to these lengths? I urge you to take action to see that it does.