The Global Inclusive Leadership programme by Diversity Abroad. The first time I read that title, I scrolled right past. It might as well have been called Innovative Synergies in Entrepreneurship or some other jargon-filled horror. But COVID-19 gave me too much free time, so I scrolled back and read some more. I decided to sign up once I saw that it was going through theories of leadership and diversity. ‘Theory’ indicated depth and I was intrigued. I decided to give it a shot and apply. I got in.
Nine weeks of online modules on topics ranging from theories of leadership to Critical Race Theory. Three one-hour online sessions. A few written and video assignments here and there. Seemed manageable. Little did I know, this was not going to be an exercise in empty words and jargon – it had substance, and substance takes time and emotional introspection. The first week I discovered that I am a contrarian leader. All the features of my leadership style that I thought were unique quirks fell neatly into this unfamiliar category. My propensity to put off decisions until the last minute was not born from indecisiveness, but a desire to have fuller information and make decisions based on my most recent emotional position. My contradictory views reflected a rejection of binary thinking and embracing complexity. It validated and enlightened my knowledge of my own leadership style and taught me how to leverage the abilities I have because of my contrarian style.
Then leadership interacted with identity. This was the point where I feared repetitive narratives. There were ideas I’d already heard time and time again, but there were also fresh, rigorous ideas. I learnt the history behind some popular buzzwords, for example, cultural humility and cultural competency. It challenged my view that words such as these are inherently empty and almost meaningless. They have a rich history, sometimes a long history. Cultural humility originated in healthcare and is a process that challenges the popularity of cultural competence. It says that, in order to work and live well in diverse situations, you must adopt the right attitude towards difference, not merely have knowledge of the substance of different cultures. If you merely focus on cultural competence, then you may be unintentionally upholding harmful attitudes even as you think you are being inclusive. For example, you may impose your ideas of what a culture believes or values onto a situation without being open to learn from the situation in the moment, or being aware that individuals within cultures may not conform strictly to the norms within their communities. This idea spurred a variety of movements in healthcare and the workers rights movement.
If you are conflicted about whether a virtual programme is worth your time, particularly one to do with leadership and/or inclusiveness, I would strongly recommend giving it a go. Many people seem to think that leadership and inclusiveness are common sense – are things that come naturally that don’t need to be studied. I’m convinced now more than ever that that perception is wrong. If you think inclusiveness comes naturally, you are probably the exact person who needs to take the course and interrogate their assumptions. I sure needed to.