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How Leaders Can Ensure They're Not Perpetuating Privilege in Their Organizations

Last week, we talked about the maladaptive system trap known as Success to the Successful. If you haven’t read it, take a peek at it before proceeding with this post.

In the Success to the Successful trap, those who are successful are granted additional advantages that give them the ability to compete more effectively and therefore win more easily in the future. It causes us to double down on what we think has worked for us in the past. The result is the same ideas, the same people, the same tech, the same measurements and the same tools as we’ve always had.

It’s a recipe for long-term lackluster performance.

Here’s what to do about it.

Step 1: Focus on the environment that created the success

Where might there be an unfair advantage? Does your executive team hire people who are exactly like them? Is a lot of your team bonding done over afterwork beers, effectively eliminating those with children and other home commitments out of the mix? Do your policies make your less diverse employees feel more comfortable and your more diverse employees less safe?

E.g. A non-binary client of mine was made to feel unsafe at work when male coworkers were allowed to use their designated bathroom because it was closer than the men’s room.

Step 2: Assess what you’re measuring.

Are you focused on short-term gain rather than long-term vitality? Do the metrics you rely on tell the full story? Do they matter? Or are they simply the things you’ve always measured?

E.g. Which is more important: so-called "team fit", or results produced? The next quarter's profit growth or the next decade's community impact? Your own personal comfort, or the truth of what's actually happening around you?

Step 3: Embrace doubt.

Maybe, just maybe, your world view isn’t the only view. Don’t take success at face value. Take environment into consideration as well as character and background. Get curious about those who are different.

E.g. By virtue of being where they are, a person from an impoverished background has already achieved much more than a person in the same position who came from a wealthy background.

Step 4: Invest for the long term.

Why does the system only allow for one winner? Are their opportunities for more than one alternative to be developed?

E.g. In last week’s post, Bill’s product reached the market sooner, but Janet’s had greater potential for long-term success.

Step 5: Diversify consciously.

A team of likeminded people, while very comfortable, is in many ways essentially useless. Differences lead to the kind of tension, conflict and debate that create innovation and excellence. The trick is to overcome your own biases when hiring.

E.g. When Samantha Bee was hiring writers for her television show, audition scripts were submitted without personal indicators of gender or race. The result was a team that was 50 percent women and 30 percent people of color – a rather unusual mix for a late-night comedy program.

Step 6: Encourage collaboration and cross-pollination.

The more you and your team are exposed to new ideas and ways of doing things, the better your solutions and innovations will become. Creativity will thrive. Energy will increase. Healthy complex adaptive systems will arise… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

We’ll talk about that next week.

Hey there! If you’re digging this System Leadership Theory stuff, you can read more about Success to the Successful and other system traps in my book, The Unstuck Leader, available in print and for Kindle on Amazon.

The Unstuck Leader book is now available.
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