The Importance of Difference and Leadership

Difference and leadership

While in business most of us politely avoid Brexit discussions, it does throw up some interesting reflections on how we now approach difference.

Business is a social activity based on organisations, which come in many different formats from the sole trader through to the mega-national. But what ties them all together is how they cope with difference and how they are led through the challenges this brings.

Difference is Always Positive

Most businesses are not commodity businesses. They survive and thrive because they offer different products to their competitors. That difference could be higher quality, better service, lower price, easier accessibility, reputation etc.

Indeed the difference list has through marketeers’ efforts become very long as everyone seeks to be the best-known for X. Difference has become highly competitive, requires constant vigilance to maintain and promotes focus for businesses.

Difference is often however a perception, such as better value. Here the potential purchaser pulls together a bundle of attributes to decide which product demonstrates value to them. So here we may actually celebrate that we have bought the same product or service for entirely different reasons.

Negative Difference and Leadership

The children’s story of the emperor’s new clothes tells the danger of perception if nobody is able to disagree for fear of offending the leader. Or to see the situation from a different point of view as this is seen to be challenging the leader.

In bigger organisations this is the ineffective board filled with yes-people, who never cross the boss because they don’t wish to be forced out of the business. In smaller organisations there may be nobody to act as this essential critical friend.

Having a well-focused business is not the same as having only completely like-minded individuals. Innovation and advancement come from challenging and improving on the current situation through analysis, different questions and debate. The leader enables these discussions to go forward to a decision in a timely manner. If they cannot manage the debate positively, then they are not leaders.

The alternative is groupthink. We all think the same, so nothing could possibly go wrong, could it? Watching the collapses on the local High Street or car manufacturers with diesel models shows the current danger of this.

This Week’s Brexit Lessons on Difference and Leadership

The expulsion of Heseltine from the Conservatives and Alastair Campbell from Labour for admitting they had voted for another party in the European elections demonstrates an abdication of leadership. Brexit is not the only political issue; it has hijacked this year’s news. Why? Because there is a continued lack of decisive leadership to negotiate an agreed way forward only support for an entrenched position.

It is like getting rid of an employee who agrees with 99% of the business strategy. They disagree with 1% and voice that disagreement. Rather than discuss and understand, the bad leader despatches so neither learns or makes the necessary alterations for success.

An organisation and leaders who do not value difference will always fail, the only question is when. An intolerant or rigid approach only makes this likely to happen sooner.

Difference requires us all to respect that we can be wrong and will all learn, so that we can positively move on and deal with the next challenge we all face. True leadership is not about retribution and punishment; it is about positive solutions.