The Leadership Skill It Takes to Effectively Manage a Multi-Cultural Workforce in the 21st Century

The American workforce is a microcosm of an emerging global, multi-cultural workforce. Management and leadership styles must adapt to effectively manage these changing demographics. Before we get to how, let’s take a quick look at just how diverse America is becoming.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that less that in a 20-year span, those who identified as white – the major racial group in the U.S. – decreased from almost 86% in 1980 to just over 75% in 2000.

Those who identified as Hispanic increased dramatically during this time – going from 6.6% to 12.5%; Asian Americans more than doubled their population – going from 1.7% to 3.6%; and Black Americans saw a slight increase, going from 11.8% to 12.3%.

When you add in globalization, it’s obvious that businesses are dealing with an exploding multi-cultural workforce. What this means is that today’s corporate leaders must adapt their leadership styles.

What Is Leadership in the 21st Century?

One of the things I stress to managers in the corporate leadership training classes I give across the country is that leadership is no longer about power; perhaps it never was. Leadership in the 21st century is all about influence – using it to inspire, motivate and move others to buy into your vision.

In one of my ebooks, we discuss seven different motivators; influence was one. It was defined in the following manner:

This [influence] has to do with being able to impact situations or people in such a way that it brings about change. This change can take many forms, eg, a change in behavior, attitude, goals, values, organizational structure, etc.

So, what does this have to do with managing a multi-cultural workforce?

In the Sage Publications abstract, ” Managing and Valuing Diversity: Challenges to Public Managers in the 21st Century,” the author states that corporate diversity initiatives must aim to create “an institutional environment where every person who is different… feels not only accepted but also respected and valued.”




These are human traits that come from within – they can’t be written down in an employee manual and mandated. Hence, effective leaders today must know how to use their influence to create an environment where these very human attributes are something that employees WANT to exhibit; not something they’re forced to do.

Influence is an effective leader’s secret weapon when dealing with a multi-cultural workforce because when you influence – instead of command – you effect change from the inside out. And great leaders know this is the ultimate form of power.

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