How Positive Leadership Can Guide Your Diversity Efforts

As I write this post, we’ve had about two weeks of anti-racist protests, both here in the U.S. and around the world. During that time, there have been calls to reform police departments, George Floyd’s brother testified in Congress and called on our elected officials to overhaul policing laws, and some municipalities have already banned the use of chokeholds in policing.

Corporations are also getting in on this wave of change. Numerous organizations have committed to substantial efforts and investment in changing how they operate. For example, Adidas, the sports apparel company, has committed that 30% of new hires will be black or Latino.  Best Buy’s CEO, Corie Barry, sent an email to customers, letting them know that they are dedicated to listening and making changes.

“For me, it starts with seeing the situation for what it is, acknowledging these experiences for what they are and, quite simply, apologizing for not doing enough. As important, it includes committing the company I lead down a path of systemic, permanent change in as many ways as we can find. 

I don’t have the answers, but I am no longer OK with not asking the question: If everything were on the table, what could Best Buy do? With that in mind, I am appointing a diverse group (by demography and level in the company) to challenge one another and, ultimately, our senior leadership team and Board of Directors, with substantive, enduring ways we can address the inequities and injustices to which all of us bear witness every day.”

Several other well-known brands have followed suit – pledging money to Black Lives Matter, and leading initiatives to bring more diversity, inclusion, and equity to their organizations.

All of this is real progress.

And, at the core of every single effort is the need for positive leadership.


Because positive leadership is about doing what’s right, because it’s the right thing to do.

The research shows that there are three crucial elements in being able to do the right thing: practicing compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude.

1. Compassion is about listening openly and deeply to others. It’s about really hearing what they are going through and putting yourself in their shoes. It’s about caring and being willing to lift up others. Now, more than ever, we need compassion in the workplace, particularly if these recent diversity and inclusion efforts are going to manifest as long-term cultural changes. Indeed, compassion can transform your organization from somewhere people work for a paycheck to a place employees want to work because they’re committed to the cause and proud to be part of a company that is making positive change.

There are three ways you can cultivate more collective compassion in your organization:

  • Collective Noticing is tasking employees to vigilantly look out for each other and alert leaders when someone needs help.
  • Collective Feeling is realized when employees are asked to share how they are feeling. This allows employees to feel connected and be seen, heard, and understood.
  • Collective Responding can manifest in a myriad of ways, such as recognizing acts of compassion, allowing employees to donate paid time off and personal days to colleagues in need, or coming together to support specific causes. 

The bottom line on compassion is that when you take the time to listen (and I mean, really listen), recognize what people are dealing with, and respond with support, employees feel seen, heard, safe, and valued.

2. Forgiveness is fundamental in healing wounds and moving forward together. And, if you’re offering an open forum for employees to share and feel heard, grievances will come up. So, how do you handle this and begin the healing process? The research shows there are five steps to this process:

  • Acknowledge what happened and the trauma that ensued, then define it as an opportunity to move forward.
  • Identify a purpose for employees by associating the organization’s mission and intentions with personal values to help replace feelings of victimization with purpose and fulfillment.
  • Communicate that forgiveness does not excuse or condone past behavior; instead, it allows those involved to move on without dwelling on the negative.
  • Provide social support for all involved to ensure they feel humanized instead of victimized or alienated to help them move forward.
  • Watch your language and incorporate such words as compassion, humility, and love into the organization’s lexicon to model a natural expression of forgiveness.

These five elements of forgiveness have helped many organizations to successfully navigate turbulent situations and come out stronger. They can also help you as you work to move forward in your diversity efforts.

3. Gratitude is the third essential component of doing the right thing and building a positive organization. The simple act of thanking and expressing appreciation is a powerful resource. People are exhausted right now. As George Floyd’s brother told Congress this week, “I’m tired. I’m tired of pain…”. Many of your employees feel the same way. They were already worn out by the upheaval caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. Now they’re dealing with the harrowing event of George Floyd being killed in broad daylight, violent rioting, and decades of systemic racism. If ever there were a time to express gratitude for your team, for their resilience in showing up day after day, and doing the best they can under challenging circumstances, it’s now.

There are numerous ways you can engage in gratitude for yourself and with your team. Take your pick from these tried and tested practices:

  • Gratitude Journal: Record three things for which you are thankful every day; have your employees do the same.
  • Gratitude Letter: Write and deliver a letter to someone who has had a positive impact in your life—tell them what you are grateful for and what they mean to you.
  • Gratitude Cards: Write and send 3-5 cards a day to people in your organization.
  • Open Praise: Positively praise employees in front of their managers.
  • Spread the Gratitude: Create a ripple effect by letting families of employees know how grateful you are for them.

When people feel appreciated, they feel valued, included, and on purpose—and we all need to feel that way if we are to heal collectively.

So, as a positive leader, as you consider how to create more diversity, inclusion, and equity in your organization, remember that you have three simple, but highly effective tools to help you do the right thing: compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude.

Thank you for being a positive leader, and thank you for doing the right thing.

If you want to share how you’re using positive leadership to guide your diversity efforts or you have questions on this topic, write to me at [email protected]. I always love to hear your inspirational stories.

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