March 28, 2024


If You’re An Aspiring Leader, Embrace Diversity

By: Aaron White

It’s no coincidence that business books often cited Sun Tzu’s Art of War or, more recently for capitalists with hang-ups, Buddha. Different cultures can offer novel insights and unique world-views. In our interconnected world, cultural diversity has emerged as a driving force behind creativity and success in organizations across various industries. 

Aspiring leaders who recognize and embrace cultural diversity are better equipped to navigate the complexities of a globalized marketplace, harnessing the power of differing perspectives and worldviews to drive positive change and foster inclusive workplaces. Whether it’s bridging linguistic divides or better understanding your colleagues, diversity in the office will win the day. 

The Power of Differing Perspectives

At the heart of cultural diversity lies a wealth of perspectives, experiences, and insights waiting to be tapped into. 

For instance, certain imagery or references may offend part of your market due to cultural norms, such as the number 4, being considered unlucky in China. When leaders embrace and encourage diversity within their teams, they open the door to a rich tapestry of ideas and viewpoints that can spark innovation and drive organizational success. 

It is important to note that diversity means more than the confines often placed upon it; race. Diversity can be defined by the scale of one’s religion or country of birth, or it can be more specific, as in the unique traditions found within one’s family and the customs an individual creates for themselves. It can even be referring to a viewpoint. 

Studies have found that companies with an above-average diversity of staff, spanning cultures, ages, and political leanings were found to drive 45% of revenue from innovation over the 26%, for those who came in under the average. Arguing for diversity shouldn’t be a political decision, but a business one. 

As an aspiring leader, there’s much to be offered from outside opinion. Seeking help or comment on a project can offer insight into whether it’s a good decision to use Comic Sans for an event graphic (it isn’t) or, how to best communicate a sales pitch to overseas clients with a colleague who may have lived or studied in the same places.  

Driving Innovation and Creativity

Novel ideas and breakthrough solutions often come through a marriage of existing ideas. Pasta, the food by which many college students and young professionals survive, was itself a breakthrough solution of noodles from off the Silk Road, adapted to European tastes and available agricultural products. 

When individuals from different cultural backgrounds come together, they bring with them a diverse range of experiences, knowledge, and skills that can be leveraged to tackle complex challenges and seize opportunities. It is from that range of ideas and experiences that outside-the-box and unconventional approaches can take shape. 

By encouraging the cross-pollination of ideas among team members from differing cultural backgrounds, aspiring leaders can foster a culture of innovation that drives their team to growth and success. 

To borrow from Sheryl Sandberg, this also means that aspiring leaders need to “lean in” to harness a culture of ideas in their work. Beyond showing up to do work, one must also be thinking about how to best mobilize others to get it done. 

Promoting Inclusive Workplaces

In today’s diverse workforce, effective leadership requires the ability to create environments where differences are celebrated and diversity is seen as a source of strength rather than a barrier to unity. In fostering an environment where every individual feels valued, respected, and empowered to contribute their ideas and perspectives, you’ll find success. 

We live in an interconnected world, one made all the smaller by the aid of technology. A competitive business advantage is no longer simply in the supply chain but in finding colleagues or a willingness to work with engineers in Denmark, political theorists in Israel, and doctors in Argentina. Understanding that the experience of your colleagues is also colored by their languages, cultures, and customs can work to make you more worldly and provide greater opportunities for personal and professional growth. 

By fostering a culture of inclusivity and belonging, aspiring leaders can unlock the full potential of their teams or their projects, and drive higher levels of engagement. 

The World is Your Oyster

Cultural awareness and understanding are increasingly recognized as traits of good leadership. Global experiences can also act as pathways to future leadership, as learning to interact outside the confines of one culture becomes both an interesting mark on your resume and an indicator of your ability to work with a multitude of possible clients or business partners. 

International fellowships and study abroad programs can grant access to language learning opportunities and cultural exposure and are often good for your resume, as regularly discussed in the blog of ProFellow, a global online resource for fellowships and academic programs. An Erasmus study found a majority of employers value international experience. 

By recognizing the power of differing worldviews, aspiring leaders can unlock new ideas and opportunities for promotion, drive innovation, and foster inclusive workplaces where individuals feel valued and empowered to contribute their unique insights to your team.

Aspiring leaders: embrace cultural diversity and you’ll be rewarded with opportunity, efficiency, and if not a direct line to the top, an interesting one, colored by your travels, your experience, and the benefit of a global community.