Welcome to ‘People centred leadership: A different perspective’. In this series of articles, Kathryn Heslop reflects on the topic of leadership, drawing on her background in social work and counselling and her role as Executive Assistant to the National Leader of the Baptist Churches of New Zealand, where she is surrounded by incredible leaders every day.  

Diversity. Sadly, this word today may induce a leader to want to bury their head in the sand! In an increasingly polarised and divided society, diversity can often be seen as a threat—something which is sure to bring conflict, misunderstanding, and division. It’s far more peaceful to associate only with those who have the same views as you right? 

1 Corinthians 12 paints a beautiful picture of diversity in the body of Christ. For we are made up of many parts each with a different function and purpose, but we are one body. And only when we are united, do we make up the body. No one part can stand alone. No one part can say that another is not needed. Every part is valuable and of equal concern to the other. 

God created us this way for a reason—our diversity is to be deeply valued. 

We all operate out of a paradigm of beliefs, a unique lens in which we view the world. In a world that is changing so rapidly, we can quickly become disconnected and irrelevant if we don’t continuously challenge our thinking, views, and beliefs.[1]

Have you ever changed your mind on something? Imagine for a moment that we still believed women shouldn’t be given the right to vote, that children should be ‘seen and not heard’, or that people of colour are inferior. What a tragedy that would be!  

In my own life, I once misunderstood a biblical passage to mean that as a woman I could never hold a position of leadership, either in my family or in a church context. As a young woman at the time, this thinking limited me, my actions, and my dreams for the future. I now no longer believe this—I have changed my mind.   

Diversity is a gift that enables us to develop and grow, to challenge our ideas and rethink our positions. Take a leaf out of nature’s book—either you are alive and growing, or you are dead and decaying.[2]

Leaders, we must actively invite participation from and inclusion of people different to ourselves. Those who sit on the fringe, those from minority groups, those with different paradigms and beliefs, abilities, and disabilities. 

We must ensure that all people are valued and heard, not letting the dominant voice control the conversation. Listen to people in the way they want to be listened to. Put aside your agenda to allow for theirs. Seek to understand them with an open-minded, authentic, and loving posture. Be responsive to their ideas, thoughts, and needs. 

Throughout my career I have seen women overlooked, where their voice was not actively included or valued. I have seen them under-represented in the room. I have seen gender stereotyping of roles. I have heard sexist remarks. But I have also seen incredible inclusive leadership. I have seen men proactively working to ensure women are included and valued. I have seen men give up their position, to allow for women. I have seen men work hard to oppose gender-based stereotypes in the workplace. And when I experience this inclusive leadership, I know that there is a place for me, where I can bring my full self and all that I have to offer, where I am seen, heard, and valued. 

By including and valuing diverse voices, not only will you personally grow and develop in character and leadership, but the work your team produces will be far richer, more balanced and relevant, and the people you lead will feel connected, engaged, and free to be their true authentic selves.

And in so doing, you might just reflect the body of Christ! 

How inclusive are you with the people you lead? 

Other articles in this series:

People centred leadership: Introduction

People centred leadership: Attuned

People centred leadership: Responsive

In these short articles, Kathryn reflects on six characteristics she believes are crucial for leaders today: Attuned, Responsive, Inclusive, Attentive, Honouring, and Partnering.  

Her thoughts challenge some of the more traditional views on leadership. Her ideas are grounded in practical experience and a passion for serving God and others. She hopes these musings will bring you a fresh and valuable perspective on what makes an effective leader today - a leader who must, at their core, be centred on people.  

Kathryn Heslop (BSocWk (hons), PGDipEd (Counselling and Guidance)

Endnotes:

[1] Hunter, J. C. (1998). The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership. Currency.

[2] Hunter, J. C. (1998). The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership. Currency.

Photo: From National Baptist Hui 2022, by Charl Louw

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