21st Century: Leading For Diversity

We created Partners Life to be acutely focused on leading for diversity – not because it is a new wave trend we want to ride – but because our customers in today’s world are incredibly diverse – and appealing to our customers is the golden rule for the success of our business.

We think business in the 21st century is different;

1. Appearances are less important – historical rules about dress codes and the uniformity of the dark suit era have all gone. The ‘typical’-looking Kiwi no longer exists – there is more difference than sameness.

2. Communication is more important – historical hierarchical structures have been replaced by email, Facebook, Google – meaning information control no longer gives power.

3. Customers are more aware, more educated, more demanding, less loyal – you have to work harder to get and keep them.

4. Customers and staff are more diverse – many are only first- or second-generation Kiwis, so culturally New Zealand is much more diverse now.

5. People are working to older ages and are still actively pursuing careers at older ages.

6. Younger people are more technically savvy, more social, more globally connected and more open about their expectations.

7. Intellectual property rather than tangible assets is increasingly the most valuable asset of a business – meaning people’s brains matter more than their physical abilities.

8. Families are smaller and it is far more likely that both parents work, making flexible working hours more sought after.

9. There are more women in more high-profile positions.

10. International outsourcing is commonplace – meaning non-Kiwi accents are also commonplace.

And, because 21st-century business is different, leadership in the 21st century also has to be very different from leadership of the past

1. Leaders need to understand that customers and staff are individuals and need to be managed in a way that speaks to them individually. For example, applying ‘group think’ to determine something about someone will no longer work.

2. As a result, leaders who surround themselves with difference rather than sameness in their people will be much more able to understand their audiences/customers than those who surround themselves with people who are just like them.

3. Leaders must be able to build innovation, adaptability and change processes into the organisation’s core – relying on what worked yesterday will not deliver success any longer – empire building, hierarchies and organisational layers are not only no longer desirable, but are a death knell to businesses.

4. Decision-making ability, being able to analyse quickly and reach a conclusion, being able to get teams of experts to collaborate effectively and accessing and assessing on-time market information are all vital abilities in today’s leaders.

5. Leaders who believe it’s all about them, who see themselves as the fountain of all knowledge and who look for, and reward, subservience will fail. Leaders who want to surround themselves with people just like them, who look for, and reward, sameness will fail.

6. A great leader surrounds themselves with difference – and with people who are better than they are in different ways. Managing people who confront and challenge you, who communicate differently than you or who are culturally different than you is more demanding than managing people just like you, but the collective results will be much greater.

7. A leader doesn’t need to be revered by the team – in fact, it is the leader showing their team respect and admiration for what each team member brings to the table that will get the best out of them – that is true leadership.

Naomi Ballantyne, founder and managing director, Partners Life.

You can read more of Naomi’s columns here.