Why inclusivity is studentship rather than leadership

Tom Peters, author of Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism speaks about the importance and value of diversity and inclusion for hiring and team building, performance management, and lifelong learning.
Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer on

Tom Peters: Inclusivity is not strategic. Inclusivity is tactical, reflected in every recruiting and every hiring and every promotion and every evaluation decision.

We recently learned that the best ways to develop excellence in others is through positive reinforcements. This was a lesson taught to us about excellence and extreme humanism from a world renowned expert is management and leadership. Excellence is extreme humanism. That's what Tom Peters discovered from his lifelong research about excellence. Tom's best selling book In Search of Excellence set the standard for enterprise and leadership excellence globally. And sparked his lifelong passion to ignite an Excellence Revolution. During our first discussion, Tom revealed the new Golden Rule, the Leadership Seven, and the definition of Extreme Humanism based on his newest book, Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism.  

Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism is Tom Peters' 19th book. Towering bookshelves set the stage for our virtual visit about what every leader needs to know to be excellent now. Karen Mangia, vice president, Customer, and Market Insights at Salesforce, spoke with Tom Peters about his new book and advice for business leaders in the next normal. Mangia and Peters recently had a conversation about taking a deep dive into powerful people practices and why inclusion is tactical.

Karen Mangia (KM): Excellence is first and foremost a function of how you hire. You're in search of excellent hires from some unlikely backgrounds.

Tom Peters (TP): Excellence means looking at a broad base of talent. Not just defaulting to hiring people with business degrees. Michael Useem released some mind blowing research that got me excited about the results organizations can realize when they refresh their hiring practices. Michael quantified that upon graduation business and professional degree holders in general (MBAs, engineers, lawyers, and so on) have higher interview and hire rates, and higher starting salaries, than new liberal arts grads. By year 20, liberal arts grads have risen farther than their business professional degree holder peers. At one giant technology firm, 43 percent of liberal arts graduates had made it to upper-middle management compared to 32 percent of engineering graduates. At one giant financial services firm, 60 percent of the worst managers, according to company evaluations, had MBAs, while 60 percent of the best had only BAs. 

KM: That makes me want to go back to university and change my major! You emphasize the importance of lifelong learning and the responsibility organizations have to design and deliver excellent training.  

TP: If you don't think training is of paramount importance, ask an Army general, a Navy admiral, an Air Force general, a football coach, an archery coach, a fire chief, a police chief, a theater director, a pilot, the head of an ER or ICU, the operations chief of a nuclear power plant, or a great restaurateur. Training is a capital expense -- and no less than Enterprise Investment #1.  

These challenge questions will help you and your organization challenge whether or not your training program is truly excellent. Is your Chief Training Officer (CTO) your top paid C-level job, other than CEO / COO? If not, why not? Of course, I know you probably don't even have a Chief Training Officer. And your CTO is the Chief Technology Officer, right? That's short sighted.  

Are your top trainers paid as much as and treated as well as your top marketers or engineers? If not, why not? Are your training courses so good-awesome-excellent that they make you tingle? If not, why not? If you randomly stop an employee in the hall, can he or she describe in detail their training and development plan for the next 12 months? If not, why not?

KM: Some organizations hire well and train well then miss the mark on promoting with excellence. You have a simple philosophy about promotions.

TP: Every promotion decision is a "CEO decision." That is, do you want Maria or Mark or Saul or Hana Mei to be "CEO / Purchasing Department" . . . for the next five years? That's a B-I-G deal. Do you treat that decision as a B-I-G deal?

KM: Excellence in every people practice means organizations need to take a hard look at who's on their Board of Directors as well. You are emphatic about what every Board of Directors needs now.

TP: Every board -- and I mean every board -- must be comprised of at least 50 percent women. Period. No exceptions. Buckets of research support the fact that women are better collaborators, better investors and better decision makers. I've been a passionate, vocal advocate and ally for women since 1996. Including more women is common sense, and inclusion is better for business.  

Taking board diversity a step further, I detail a Sample 10-Person Board of Directors Fit for 2021 in my current book.  At least two members under age 30. (Youth must be served / guide us at-the-top circa 2021. This is rare!) At least four (or five? or six?) women. (Boards with female / male balance lead to very high relative hard-number performance). One IT / big data superstar. (Not an "IT representative," but a certified goddess or god from the likes of Salesforce or Google.) One or two entrepreneurs and perhaps a VC. (The entrepreneurial bent must directly infiltrate the board.) One person of stature with a "weird" background: artist, musician, shaman, etc. (We need regular, uncomfortable, oddball challenges.) A certified "design guru." (Noteworthy design presence at board level is simply a must in my scheme of things!) No more than one or two over 60. (Too many oldie boards!) No more than three with MBAs*. (Why? The necessity of moving beyond the MBA-predictable-linear-analytic-overquantifiedcertified-vanilla model.)

KM: The common theme you're highlighting is that Excellence Now means Inclusion and Diversity now.  Your point of view is that inclusivity is a tactic, not a strategy.

TP: Inclusivity is not strategic. Inclusivity is tactical, reflected in every recruiting and every hiring and every promotion and every evaluation decision. Inclusivity is not about tomorrow. Inclusivity is not about today. Inclusivity is about now, looking around the real or virtual table at your next meeting, which starts 15 minutes from now. Inclusivity is not about leadership. Inclusivity is about studentship -- reading and watching and talking and figuring out, individually and collectively, what you don't appreciate or observe or know, and moving up the learning curve a step at a time.

How could you make your next meeting more inclusive? What would it mean to your organization to shift diversity, inclusion and equity from a strategy to a tactic?

In the final installment of "How to Become An Excellent Leader now, we'll explore how to be excellent by design.

This article was c-authored by Karen Mangia, vice president, Customer, and Market Insights at Salesforce. Her work focuses on strategies for personal and professional success, and she regularly works with executives, managers, and future leaders at companies of all sizes globally. She launched two new books in 2020: Listen Up! How to Tune In To Customers, And Turn Down the Noise and Working From Home:  Making the New Normal Work For You -- both from Wiley. She has been featured in Forbes and regularly writes for Thrive Global and ZDNet. Committed to diversity and inclusion, she serves on her company's Racial Equality and Justice Task Force. She is a TEDx speaker and the author of Success With Less, a book that chronicles her own personal journey through a life-threatening health crisis. Her high-impact keynotes help organizations to access the future of work via innovative insights around the voice of the customer.

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