Diversity Training and Leadership

I found myself in a conversation a week or so ago that has really stuck with me. Berkley Baker, a highly talented Master Facilitator for us at The Center for Leadership Studies, was in town conducting a Situational Leadership® workshop. To the surprise of absolutely no one, he knocked the ball out of the proverbial park once again! I made it a point to catch up with him as the last of the learners left our training room (primarily because he is one of the world’s best people to have a conversation with … and I hadn’t seen him in quite a while). We started out sort of wandering all over the place and somehow wound up talking about diversity training or, more accurately, bad diversity training! This was significant in my mind because Berkley is an African American Gen Xer … and I am a rapidly aging Caucasian Boomer.

As is the case with many informal discussions that wind up becoming meaningful conversations, we found common ground rather quickly:

  • Bad diversity training is the kind that raises awareness, then pretty much calls it a day. The overwhelming focus of the learning experience is on factors of separation as opposed to elements of commonality. Participants often emerge with either a heightened sense of underappreciated uniqueness or the preliminary recognition of an unconscious bias. The problem is that’s where the training ends. There is limited guidance or perspective on how those newfound states of mind can be translated to changes in behavior that help each participant (personally or professionally), let alone the organization they work for or the team they support
  • Good diversity training is remarkably like “good leadership training.” First off, you learn something about yourself. You receive insight (or perhaps confirmation) on your natural influence-related strengths, as well as aspects of the influence spectrum that (for whatever reason) you find yourself struggling with (or perhaps even avoiding/ignoring altogether). You are then provided with the opportunity to ponder that newfound awareness along with the implications of your current reality. Next, you are provided with These tools are by no means “magic bean” fixes that will turn your areas of discomfort/neglect into overnight strengths. But (at a minimum) they do provide confirmation for your strengths as well as a logical, repeatable process that can be leveraged to help you with people (and in situations) that have presented challenges in the past

The more we talked, the more our thoughts gravitated in the direction of the workshop Berkley had just facilitated. Upon careful review, and with our own biases on the topic duly noted, we discussed good Situational Leadership® training as an offering that, in many respects, is indistinguishable from good diversity training. For example, it features a model that actively discriminates based on answers to two, crucial diagnostic questions:

  1. What is the task that needs to be accomplished?
    1. This should be assessed at the lowest possible common denominator
  2. What is the Performance Readiness® Level of the person performing the task?
    1. A Performance Readiness® Level is operationally defined as the individual’s task-specific ability (knowledge, experience, skill) and willingness (confidence, commitment, motivation)

Simple, right? Actually, anything but! There is a discipline leaders need to employ time after time after time in order to develop anything remotely related to proficiency with those two steps. And proficiency is a function of objectivity. Unfortunately, objectivity is a lot like honesty. When we are asked to self-assess, we generally give ourselves very high marks! But it doesn’t really matter what we as leaders think about our ability to control our biases. What matters is the perceptions of the people we attempt to influence. Would they describe us as fair, consistent or objective? Those perceptions are driven by this: To whom do we assign meaningful work?

Would an objective third party describe the manner in which we orchestrate opportunity as equitable? This is key, of course. Once those decisions have been made, we at CLS we have long contended the most inconsistent thing you can do as a leader is to treat everyone the same. From that point forward, it stands to reason that leaders need to differentiate their approach based on answers to the two questions posed above … and very little else!

So, please consider that good diversity training is really all about leadership. And, at its core, good leadership training is really all about effectively managing diversity.


  1. Based on your own personal experience as a leader in an organization:
    1. What stands in the way of objective decision-making?
    2. What can be done to overcome those obstacles?