Thursday, August 25, 2011

Is your nemesis part of your solution?

I have always been a supporter of diversity, both professionally and personally.

Since an early age, my friends have always come from a wide variety of backgrounds, cultures and interests. Often, the only common ground across my varied groups of friends was the fact that they were friends with me.

When I went off to college, I rejected the idea of joining a sorority, despite its philanthropic fundraising efforts and its central role in social life on campus. I felt at that time that any group that had to judge its members prior to being included was not a place I wanted to be. Despite these feelings, I never held it against anybody if they choose to be a part of it. In fact, I had many friends who were actively engaged in a variety of sororities and fraternities.

But, cliques have never been my thing.

I have struggled with the fact that cliques are commonplace in most social structures, especially in the workplace. An unfortunate result of the fundamental human need to belong is the formation of cliques. The intent is not mal-intended, but the result can be detrimental You have the exempt/non-exempt clique. The execultive/non-executive clique. The Manager/non-Manager clique. The Company lifers/ newbies clique. The women/men clique. The Hispanic/non-Hispanic clique. The line job/support job function clique. And the list goes on.

The thing I hate most about cliques is that by mere definition of a clique; you are either in or out. Cliques foster exclusivity and exclusivity always limits progress and productivity.

I was reminded by this on my recent trip to South Africa.
I wasn't particularly attuned to all of the history and details about Apartheid prior to my visit, but being immersed in a post-Apartheid South Africa, it became clear to me that this country is progressing and healing simply because Nelson Mandela saw that the solution required changing the country's clique mentality.

You see no matter what side of the clique you are on, a clique mentality always perpetuates the clique by maintaining the judgments and blame towards the other side.

Mandela saw that it was futile (and common) to perpetuate the clique by blaming the other side. He saw that the other side of the clique ( ie: the white people of South Africa) had to be part of the solution.

Too often, I see the same dynamic at play in the workforce. Cliques continue to exist and don't progress forward because each side keeps the other at bay and in blame of the problem. Women blame men for their career advancement problems. Hispanics blame non-Hispanics for their career problems. Exempts blame non-exempts. And the list goes on.

However, the fact is that your nemesis (the other side of your clique) needs to be part of your solution. Your nemesis must become your ally for the situation to change. Great leaders like Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King understood this very well.

Much of my work today supports women entrepreneurs and corporate executives to become more effective leaders. This work can lead to having women-targeted workshops, meetings and events. Many men colleagues and men friends have often given me a hard time about that, feeling that these activities exclude them and other men.

But, this isn't true.

From the inception of many of these seemingly "exclusive groups" there is a fundamental belief that sponsors and members are needed from the other side of the clique to help solve the problems being faced. Perhaps even sororities and fraternities operate under this same premise today. Many men are on my list and many are included on the invitation to attend these events because they can be women's best advocates and are in fact, an essential part of the solution.

So what about you? Can you lead your situation to a better place by making your nemesis an ally and becoming part of your solution?

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