Inclusion? Inclusive? Respect…
This morning, on my way to work, I was thinking about the notion (yes, notion…) of inclusion. I’d spent a day and a chunk of change to attend a workshop on inclusion in the school community. I got to thinking…Inclusion? Inclusive? What’s the difference?
Have you ever joined a new group? They’ve posted a call for new members looking for fresh faces and fresh ideas and you think, “This might be someplace for me to contribute as well as to learn and grow.”
You put on your strongest face and brave the first meeting. When you introduce yourself, you explain that you saw the call and thought you could… well… contribute, learn and grow. You explain that you’ve been following the group or it’s chapter for some time. You’re a subscriber to their values and beliefs and really feel open to the possibilities you can bring to the table. They appear enthusiastic and you feel the possibilities growing in your heart.
But along the course of the coming months, you see the leader of the group at other events. The first time, you greet him/her warmly. But he/she seems ceremonious in his/her greeting. You think, well, perhaps he/she is busy with the events at hand.
But the second, third time you meet/see this person out and about, you’re sure that he/she has seen you. And you see that look. The one that comes from the corner of their eyes. Their eyes avert yours and you begin to feel uncomfortable. You’re not sure why. Not sure why they would avert their eyes. You’re not sure what you may have done. After all, you only see this person occasionally and most often at the group meetings.
I couldn’t help but wonder: do we know that we do these things? What is that about? Do we do these to our students? How does the ‘inclusion’ become ‘inclusive’? When does inclusion become more than a model?
As I pondered this idea, it occurred to me that inclusion moves to inclusive when respect is present.
I know I’m not the first to see this connection. In the workshop I mentioned earlier, the speakers spoke about the efforts they used to make inclusion their schools an accepted model. The speakers talked about character education; building respect was tops on the list.
During the workshop presentations, the speakers, as you would expect, spoke about how each of us have differences. They presented how their 4th graders worked with the pre-school disabled class. The students spoke of the empathy and compassion they developed from understanding that disabilities are nothing more than strengths in other areas. Again, as I reflected on the workshop, it was clear that the students were developing respect for the disabled students.
I wondered: Does that respect carry over to their peers? Are the students more understanding, respectful and thoughtful… more open to their peers with whom they are not friends after experiencing the positive outcomes from their inclusion experience?
As well educated individuals, we are aware that research shows diverse teams perform better. In 1999, (eons ago…) Stanford University Graduate School of Business published the results of Margaret Neale and her colleagues’ research on team diversity. Not surprisingly, Neale, the John G. McCoy-Banc One Corporation Professor of Organizations and Dispute Resolution at Stanford Graduate School of Business and her team found that diversity is not only limited to color, gender or age. “Diversity is also based on informational differences, values or goals that influence what one perceives as the mission of something as small as a single meeting or as large as a whole company.”
So.. what does this have to do with the ideas of inclusion, inclusive, and respect?
It is human nature, I presume, to fear bringing someone into a group that could, in effect, derail your best laid plans.
My father, a successful entrepreneur, used to say to me, “If we’re all thinking the same, then no one is thinking.” Thanks to the internet, I’m guessing he was paraphrasing George Patton’s famous quote. Truthfully, this has apparently been attributed to many people, but I will always attribute it to my dad…
The idea of seeking out an opinion that challenges your ideas takes bravery. It is not used by leaders who are faint of heart or just want to get on with the process.
It is an idea, though, that sits in the back of my mind at all times and I think its most profound influence is that I am open to dissenting opinions, perhaps, some might say, to a fault.
But as a leader, I am always interested in the person’s perspective that least agrees with mine. This could, I guess, be perceived as a weakness; I might appear unsure of myself or my decisions.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
I want to hear their perspective. Not because I am humoring them; not because I am unsure. Rather, because it is as my father had said, we can’t and shouldn’t all think alike. He’d explained that being surrounded by ‘yes’ people was not what had helped him grow his business. Quite the contrary. While he may not have embraced the idea proposed, he’d explained, it did give him something to consider. What and how he chose to use the information varied. But, he’d said that it usually gave him something to think about.
Which leads me to my question: When is inclusion inclusive?
I would suggest that it stems from my belief that inclusion isn’t inclusive if not accompanied by the respect for the possibility that another’s ideas, talents, and experiences could find a flaw in my thinking, my plan.
I explain this as my desire to turn the faceted apple to the light as many ways as possible in order to expose an unforeseen weakness or oversight in my plan. It is only when I am certain that I’ve uncovered as many of these possibilities, within the given constraints, that I will commit my team to a new path. (Even once committed, I am still listening for ideas that may tweak the path for the better.)
I believe that being open to finding that idea is one of the keys to effective leadership. Respect for ideas (and the unlikely people that may bring them) just might be the twist your plan needs to be the most successful idea ever.
- “Diversity and Work Group Performance.” Stanford Graduate School of Business. N.p., 1 Nov. 1999. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.