Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

6 Dec 2012 Bank of New York Mellon Signature Leadership Forum

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

The forum focuses on leading business and market related topics, and will give participants the unique opportunity to gain insight and network with key members of the senior management team at Bank of New York Mellon.

How Good Leaders Fight Stupid Bias

Friday, June 8th, 2012

I recently came across an article in Diversity Inc that described racial uproar at UCLA’s School of Medicine.  A Black medical professor, Dr. Christian Head, was depicted as a gorilla as part of an annual “roast” by medical students. The racist prank ignited national attention as a petition on, had collected nearly 85,000 signatures.

Being outraged by this stupid behavior is understandable, but not particularly helpful. Nor will some of the recommendations in the article—having CEOs hold people accountable with zero tolerance policies, requiring mandatory diversity training, and promoting resource groups—really change the root causes of this behavior over the long run.

I agree that accountability from leadership is absolutely crucial to fighting this kind of bias, but zero tolerance is not the way exercise accountability. Leaders have to take responsibility for being discerning about what behaviors merit the severest reprimands (censure or termination) and what behaviors can better be served by engaging the perpetrators and other stakeholders in learning opportunities. Zero tolerance can be a cop-out: it allows leaders to abdicate the responsibility for being thoughtful about how they deal with diversity in their organizations.

In addition, “mandatory training” recommendations should always be accompanied by the qualifier “good.” Mediocre diversity training can be more damaging than no training at all. It can heighten resistance to diversity and can stoke resentment toward the people who are different it was supposed to support.

Resource groups are clearly helpful, but only if they are supported unequivocally by leadership and strategically aligned. They must wholly be a part of the organization and must be both a resource for its members and a resource for the organization.

Outrage gets old. Informed, deliberate, and sustained leadership action is what eliminates ridiculous incidents like the one at UCLA.

UVa Facilities Management Leadership Forum

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

This annual event provides Leadership Tools for Supervisors, Managers, and Directors of Facilities Management. Martin will be speaking on diversity and inclusion, and the principles from his new book, The End of Diversity as We Know It: Why Diversity Efforts Fail and How Leveraging Difference Can Succeed.  

University of Virginia Leadership in Academic Matters

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

Leadership in Academic Matters (LAM) is a faculty development opportunity focused on supporting, inspiring, and rewarding those who have demonstrated leadership characteristics and future potential. Sponsored by the Vice Provost for Faculty Development, LAM provides participants with concrete resources, access to expertise, and experiential learning opportunities focused on a variety of topics including teambuilding, negotiation, managing change, strategic decision making, financial management, developing successful networks, and finding life balance in a dynamic and growing career.

Martin Davidson will be speaking on Friday, January 20, from 9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. in the South Meeting Room in Newcomb Hall on the principles of Leveraging Difference from his new book, The End of Diversity as We Know It: Why Diversity Efforts Fail and How Leveraging Difference Can Succeed.

For more information, contact

Making Diversity Work: Leveraging Difference is the Right Thing to Do

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

With the recent release of my new book The End of Diversity as We Know It: Why Diversity Efforts Fail and How Leveraging Difference Can Succeed  I thought it would be valuable to reiterate some of the key leadership points by posting this piece that the Darden School did in their “On Thought” series last year.

October 13th, 2010
“Unfortunately, ‘diversity’ has become a dirty word. When all is said and done, it just doesn’t work in our company and I don’t care what all the zealots say, facts are facts.”
Fortune 100 corporate executive

I interviewed a large firm’s leadership team recently that had abruptly ended virtually all of their traditional “Managing Diversity” work. This company’s leaders genuinely want to create a more inclusive and diverse environment, but the CEO was fed up with years of dead end initiatives that had done little to create meaningful change. That firm is far from achieving the change the leaders say they want, and ending all of their existing activities was probably not the right approach. But their discontent was legitimate. If leaders really do want some kind of shift toward greater inclusion in their companies and if they don’t really see compelling value from Managing Diversity efforts, then what should they do?
My work on Leveraging Difference—which I explore in much more depth in my upcoming book, The End of Diversity as We Know It: Why Diversity Efforts Fail and How Leveraging Difference Can Succeed—lays out some critical principles for moving forward the right way:

Strategy first (and I don’t mean diversity strategy). The greatest challenge that diversity professionals grapple with (and HR professionals, too, incidentally) is having command of the business’ strategy. This is important because doing diversity right requires an enterprise view—not just a talent or HR management view—of the company. The starting point for doing diversity well is having the same understanding of the business strategy that a senior line executive has. That way, exploration of how difference can make a difference is well aligned with the purpose of the company. This step has two powerful implications. First, any activity that is well aligned with the business strategy is much more likely to last! If you are looking for sustainable change in diversity, this is where to start. Second, and more challenging, is that this means that the common diversity agendas, like closing racial or gender disparities, may not be the most important work for an organization to do. Instead, their focus may be on greater diversity of educational background, or age, or level of divergent thinking. The best diversity work comes from following the business strategy.

Let all differences matter. The corollary to the “strategy drives diversity” principle is that the menu of differences that can be pursued is big. In the U.S., the “rule of 7 to 11” has traditionally applied to diversity initiatives. Diversity activity is restricted to incorporating roughly 7 to 11 traditional types of differences into the mix: race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness, age, religion, etc. But in leveraging difference, leaders get to step back and explore what differences really matter to achieving the organization’s goals and what differences don’t? If learning style diversity is more important for a consulting firm’s success than gender diversity, it’s legitimate to pursue the goal of integrating people with diverse learning styles as the primary diversity agenda. Here’s the caveat. Across the world, I continue to see one powerful reality for doing difference work: there is a tremendous amount to be learned from dealing directly with societal “hotspots.” Those differences that are most charged and contentious in a society are the most fertile ground for learning how to leverage difference. It’s hard to build a personal competency and an organizational capability for engaging difference if you aren’t willing to deal with tough differences directly.

Be a leader who sees the larger goal. To be the driver for leveraging difference, you have to clear your head and heart. What undermines sustainable difference work is the difficulty people have in subsuming their personal and emotional agendas to what is best for the whole organization. Diversity resistors are convinced that diversity is bad and they adamantly refuse to attend to the irrefutable evidence of the benefits that diversity—skillfully engaged—provides for their organization. Diversity proponents often avoid dealing with the legitimate discontent expressed by the executive I quoted at the beginning of this post, and advocate for—and bully people into acquiescing to—a diversity agenda. Both of these stances destroy the opportunity for the value of difference to be realized in organizations. Leveraging difference leaders take a realistic view of where and how difference helps and then drive that message through the organization with meticulous analysis, social adeptness, and the boundless energy that derives from doing work that really helps the organization do better and be better.

Jim Collins identified the “Level 5” leader who “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” That same blend is critical for anyone who wants to leverage difference.

How I Learned To Be Black (Part I)

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

(This is the first of a five part series of unconventional reflections on race)

Lesson One: How I Discovered I am More than Just Black

I gave an informal talk last month to a group of leaders on what I have learned about myself and my leadership over the past seven years. I reflected on how I have used the tools and techniques I learned from attending leadership seminars facilitated by Learning as Leadership (LaL), a San Rafael, California-based leadership development organization. There, I participated with managers and executives from all over the world to learn how to grapple with my unproductive habits and behaviors and how to institute new ones.

On this day, I was inspired to talk about being black. I was one of only a handful of black people in this largely white gathering, but this was important, I thought. I had always taken comfort in the fact that I’m a black man. Even though being black in the U.S. is challenging, seeing myself that way has provided a source of clarity. When I needed that boost of self-confidence, I could remind myself that I was an intelligent and strong black person. When I needed social support, I knew I could rely on other black folks—even those I didn’t know—to offer it. When unjust events happened to me, I could explain them as a consequence of the intentional and unintentional racial bias that permeates this country.

But the comfort of my blackness has also held me back. When I undertook this leadership training, I entered with the goal of deepening my understanding of myself and of diversity. I expected the exercises and reflections to help me with this. To my surprise, though, over the course of the 12 months in which I participated, race came up infrequently. I found myself much more preoccupied with new concepts like “desired image” which captures behaviors I’ve taken up—both consciously and unconsciously—to try to get others to see me in a particular light. Or the “driving idea” or prevailing anxiety I hold that deep down, I’m really a fraud and not as capable or competent as I think, and worried that others will figure it out and I will be exposed. This was very weird stuff that may have been affecting me in my work and my relationships. With these kinds of things on the table, race fell into the background for me, important, but not central. Had being focused on myself racially kept me from attending to these other really important issues?

The real “aha” emerged when I learned about my “mattress.” That is the term for the psychological habit of preparing ourselves for failure in the activities we undertake. In short, we all have ways of thinking that protect us from the painful thoughts and feelings that emerge when we fail at something we really want to succeed at. A mattress, like a soft landing surface, does just that. One of my stronger mattresses is that that the odds were so stacked against me because of my race that I just couldn’t succeed this time. In fact sometimes this is true and sometimes it isn’t. At times, I am the victim of systemic biases that favor others and disadvantage me. And sometimes I just didn’t prepare well enough. And sometimes (heaven forbid) I’m just not good enough. The beauty of the mattress is that these more ego-based, painful options disappear in the outrage of the blanket assertion that I could have been successful if factors outside my control weren’t conspiring against me. In other words, “it’s not me, it’s you. Or him. Or them. Or the system.

My insight that I have these habits does not negate the fact that real discrimination happens and that I and other black people suffer when it does. For me, that is a fact of life and if you don’t believe it, I have a long list of resources to help you with that one. What I realized was that I was not always skilled at knowing when the real discrimination was happening (and needs to be fought) and when I was protecting myself from feeling pain that had little, if anything, to do with my race. This was not about “playing race cards” or any other such nonsense. It was about learning to be skillful in separating my authentic but incorrect belief that I was suffering because of discrimination from really suffering from discrimination.

I felt like I was beginning to have an experience of myself as larger that only being a member of my racial group. I realized that with expanding and deeper understand of history and culture, my blackness was becoming a huge and nourishing vessel in which to live. And as I said, it helped me in many ways. What I was beginning to explore was that there may have been an even larger, more nourishing vessel in which I was embedded. I was beginning to understand in a much more profound way that I was more than my race. That was lesson one in learning to be black.

26th Annual SIOP Conference

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Martin will participate in a panel on Leadership and Diversity at the Society for Industrial Organizational Psychologists 26th Annual Conference in Chicago, Saturday, April 16 at 12nn. For more information or to register, visit