Essential Future Skills (2) – Leverage Diversity

Essential Future Skills (2) – Leverage Diversity

Getting the most from people requires leaders to recognise, appreciate & leverage diversity. For the first time in history we have 4 generations active in the workplace. Advances in gender diversity and integration of racial, ethnic and cultural groups all play a huge role. In my interview with senior, experienced & successful leaders in South Africa I found some really interesting insights. This article shares their points of view. Who they are is summarised at the end of the article.

“Leveraging diversity starts with intentionality,” says Errol, “You don’t want people who will agree with you”. “Generations have different expectation and need a different style of leadership” says Kevin.

Dom of DUO Marketing, is crystal clear about diversity in her organisation and this stems from her personal experience. She was running the South African organisation of a large international and had a young family. She asked her manager for assistance – in response she was moved sideways into a “less demanding role” and replaced. This misguided “help” left her demotivated and with an exit strategy. She is now determined to create an environment where people in different life stages with their own “stuff” can thrive. The team is relatively small and relationships are very important. DUO have invested in using Marcus Buckingham’s Strengths Finder tool to identify each person’s strengths and play to them. “We try to make sure people don’t fit in a box, we encourage them to be authentic to who they are. We are very respectful, everyone here is quite different, just fundamentally different.” And she makes an active effort to avoid hiring more “same”.

At DUO Marketing an appreciation for individuality means appreciating that people have different work styles, preferences and personal commitments. Dom will ask people for their feedback or opinion but leave the time line wide enough to gather input from the early starters, through to those who peak at midday, and including the night-owls who do their best work at 2am. Gathering input using a cloud-based platform that allows people from all offices to participate equally is another proactive inclusive measure. Dom’s personal experience of being a working mom in a dual career family means she is committed to her own family time and appreciates that everyone has human-stuff that needs to be attended to and should be prioritised. One of her clients is clear about prioritising watching his son’s rugby match mid-afternoon, and she believes that leaders need to be balanced not only because real-life demands it, but to get the best out of themselves. It is important to role model balance and avoid answering emails at 11pm!

Richard of Dunvegan Primary School is managing a large and diverse team from ground-staff to highly educated teachers. He has implemented “What’s your story” groups (from at their staff meetings. Role-modeled by him and his deputies, each person is encouraged to share their story as a narrative or in answer to questions. He has seen enormous value and appreciation for differentness when we learn the back-story that shaped the person.

Ps Richard pastors a traditionally white church in an increasingly diverse community. “The church has made a conscious decision to embrace the diversity of the community and has taken steps to be more inclusive”, from changing the language of the words on the welcome slide to incorporating multi-languages in the songs. “At some point people need to hear the gospel in their heart-language,” he says. These are small changes but echo an intention that is around more than just race and crosses into other demographics as the church reaches to those unemployed and living on the streets in Edenvale. “Having this demographic mixing in with the more middle class traditional church go’er is a struggle,” he says, “But we believe diversity is the inevitable consequence of the Gospel.”

All the leaders I spoke to are personally very active outside work. Their commitments vary considerably, but include social time, community service and family are a priority for them all. Errol, Richard and Cathy are very active in their churches. Errol and Cathy have served on school governing boards. Kevin and Ps Richard are dedicated sportsmen, and all are very active and involved parents. Their own personal commitments to health & life-outside-work sets a tone for their organisation. Leaders who are future fit are balanced. In the past it was a mark of pride to be working a 70 hour week relentlessly; but future fit leaders work smarter, leverage data for its predictive capabilities, relentlessly prioritise and have learnt, or are learning how to say “no” (graciously!).

Diversity has a narrow lens in South Africa, but future fit leaders open the aperture on this considerably and know that diversity is required for creativity to flourish. Where there is diversity in thought, in life experiences and points of view we can have constructive conflict. The role of a future fit leader is to hold the group, set the boundaries and role-model what is expected from everyone in the organisation. This takes emotional intelligence, the ability to read a social setting and manage one’s own reactions and responses based on what is required and most effective at the time.

My personal insight on this was a lightbulb that flashed over my head a week or two ago. I had this epiphany that diversity and differentness is easily leveraged & appreciated when people share a common set of underlying beliefs and values. I have worked with a client on their organisational culture and setting these values and expected behaviours regardless of culture/language/thinking preference/personality/age is a core element of creating a culture of inclusivity. When there are unclear values or values that are not shared, that is where we see the darker side of diversity.

Top Tips

Be intentional about creating an inclusive workplace by being explicit about your organisations values and holding people accountable to walk the talk.

Examine the practices that could be more inclusive: Meeting times? Languages? Tacit over-time expectations?

We get the most out of each contributor when leaders view them as a whole-people, not an employee number.

How are you role-modelling the way?


  • Cathy Smith, at the time of the interview was the CEO of CISCO Sub-Saharan Africa & is now the GM of SAP Africa.
  • Errol Braithwaite is the CEO of Franki Africa.
  • Kevin Derman is Divisional Director at First Distribution, responsible for their Cloud Business.
  • Richard Laidley is the school principal of Dunvegan Primary School.
  • Pastor Richard van Lieshout (Ps Richard) is the senior pastor of Edenvale Baptist Church. Richard took over as senior pastor at the age of 34, when he was the youngest person on staff. 
  • Dominique Pienaar (Dom) is the CEO of DUO Marketing. DUO Marketing is a niche player in the PR and marketing field specialising in technology companies. 

No Comments

Post A Comment