In Leading in a Diverse Environment, Teddie E. Malangwasira, PhD looks at the steps leaders must take to create effective growth in an organization that also values diversity, makes everyone feel included, and seeks to develop individuals’ unique skills. Dr. Malangwasira draws upon his personal experiences as a leader, and as someone who has worked in diverse environments to make his points and provide examples of effective leadership. As an immigrant to the United States from Malawi, he has witnessed firsthand what happens when organizations do not celebrate diversity, and he has developed beliefs that diversity is more than just hiring people of different racial or cultural backgrounds. No two people are the same, so even if you have an organization composed of people, who all appear to be of the same cultural background, they will still have diverse skills and talents; therefore, you must find ways to use those skills to the organization’s benefit, rather than just hiring people to do jobs that may not always match their skills. This broad view of diversity makes the book relevant for any organization no matter who its team members may be.
Leading in a Diverse Environment begins with a Foreword by Dr. Blanche Wallace, Director of Dynamic Strategic Leadership Coaching and author of The Competent Coaching Leader. Wallace points out the many values of Dr. Malangwasira’s book, including that he advocates for developing the skill of self-awareness. Dr. Wallace states, “A leader who is not self-aware is operating from an uninformed position. To effectively connect with one’s environment requires awareness, authenticity, and avidity. These characteristics cannot be feigned.”
Throughout the book, Dr. Malangwasira focuses not just on the skills leaders need but also their own blind spots or weaknesses. As he states in the preface, leaders must “explore the differences between what people think is happening when leading others and the reality of how people feel when they are being led. This paradigm shift will help us look at diversity from a different perspective and remove the pretense that everything is all right when reality proves otherwise.” Dr. Malangwasira goes on to state, “We need to understand how we are different from other people. However, this understanding is not enough; we also need to understand how we can work with other people and leverage our differences to build a strong team.” I find these statements valuable since when I first became a manager, I often found myself surprised that other people did not see things the way I did or had different motives for working. Leaders need to embrace all these diverse characteristics of their team members if they truly want to lead.
Beyond knowing themselves, leaders also need to be clear what their goals are and align them with a strategy to achieve them; a big part of that strategy is motivating their diverse team members to adopt those goals as their own. As the tagline on the book’s cover states, this is “a journey of working independently together.”
Dr. Malangwasira divides the book into ten chapters that help the reader work toward this goal of using diversity to accomplish a shared goal rather than letting it hinder the goal from being achieved. In Chapter 5: Inspiring Others, he outlines the important steps leaders can take to inspire others. One of the most important, in my opinion, is being approachable. In Chapter 6: Attracting and Retaining Talent, he talks about how “you need to make sure when you have talented people that those people and their talents are recognized, developed, refined, and leveraged.” He also states that you must develop “an inclusive approach to the talent pool.” He gives examples from a company he worked for where people were hired for specific positions but then expected to work wherever the company needed them at the time, leading to high turnover and a lack of continuity in their work and the company’s overall progress. Dr. Malangwasira concludes, “It seems obvious, but through experience I’ve learned I have to say it. People in leadership roles need to understand that human beings cannot just be put anywhere the boss wishes them to be. Talented employees excel in their chosen fields. Let them do the jobs they interviewed for.”
To ensure diversity, Dr. Malangwasira also advocates for creating an individual development plan (IDP) for each of your followers. Building off the work of Peggy Simonsen in Promoting Development Culture in Your Organization, he argues that leadership cannot have secret plans for developing an organization’s culture, but rather, “individuals must be active participants in their development while leaders should make sure they support the agreed upon IDP.” I think this concept of an IDP is brilliant because it allows employees to feel included in their own development as well as that of the organization.
I’ll conclude by saying that I appreciate how Dr. Malangwasira writes in an easy-to-understand language, breaking down concepts to their simplest points. This book would be an excellent resource for college students in business and leadership courses because it not only offers the basics of what is required to be a leader but will challenge them to think about what kinds of leaders they will be when they face diversity in the workplace. Each chapter ends with a series of questions for the reader; this makes the book not just a reading experience, but a personal development experience; and that’s what a book that seeks to educate its readers should always accomplish. Once you read this book, I think your eyes will be opened about what a diverse environment truly is and how you can effectively use diversity to achieve the greater good for your organization and everyone involved.