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President, Cisco Canada

What does diversity mean to you?

Is it a person’s age? Gender? Cultural background?

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For me, diversity encompasses all these things. But more importantly, it also applies to the way people think as well as their ability to adapt to constant change. Diversity of thought is not something that is discussed nearly as much as it should be, and yet I consider it to be a vital foundation when building a successful, adaptable work force.

From an early age, I learned firsthand the strength of adaptability. When my family fled the civil war in Lebanon and immigrated to Canada, we were faced with adapting to a new environment. But rather than be intimidated by a new lifestyle, we embraced the challenge and reinvented ourselves – strong in the belief that hardships can not only improve you as a person, but can also make you better prepared for the future.

And we live in a time when we need to be prepared, because the current rate of change in global societies is unprecedented. Think of all the disruptive technologies that have surfaced in the past 40 years alone: home video, the internet, broadband, wireless and 5G, to name a few.

For businesses, these constant disruptions bring a greater need for constant improvement and adaptability. In fact, your success directly depends on it. Today, the average lifespan of a company on the S&P 500 has decreased to 15 years, from 90 years in 1935. Bottom line: You either embrace change and adapt or get left behind.

But corporate culture requires continuous evolution and adaptability, which is why diversity is so crucial. A diverse work force brings with it different experiences, different ideas and opinions, and different approaches. For some, dealing with something or somebody that is “different” makes them uncomfortable. Yet I was taught that being uncomfortable is a good thing, because comfort and growth don’t co-exist. And in order to survive and thrive in this new, disruptive environment, you need to be challenged continuously and adapt yourself to new ways of thinking. Surround yourself with people who will push you to grow, evolve and give you new perspectives. Diversity of thought and adaptability will lead to innovation, and that’s what will lead you to success.

As a leader that aims to bring diversity of thought to my workplace, I look for more than just a person’s education. Degrees are important, but they are only one part of a longer equation. Attitude, willingness, hunger, drive, determination and the ability to adapt to rapid change – these are the qualities that truly give people a competitive edge. I’m less interested in where they’ve come from and more concerned about where they want to go and how they plan on getting there. They need to be passionate about life and unique in their approach. Diversity can be found anywhere and everywhere, but you need to be open to it.

As a leader, you have the ability to impact your environment and prepare your work force for the disruptive changes in your industry. Nobody is saying it won’t be a challenge; there may be those within your organization that are resistant to change. But the fourth industrial revolution has brought different kinds of pressure on leadership and you simply don’t have the luxury of taking a passive stance. Leadership is about being nimble, coping with new challenges and bringing the best out of our human strengths.

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When I joined Cisco Canada, I was thrilled to see the company had already established a corporate culture built on respect, enablement and trust. Cisco has long held the belief that the company’s success and competitive edge doesn’t come from our technology but from our people. We didn’t just help build the internet, but we continue to build it today. Our ability to adapt through space and time has enabled our success, helped our customers grow and touched the lives of people around the world. And they’re all connected – it starts with people and ends with people. It’s a manifesto that aligns seamlessly with my personal and corporate outlook and influences many of my leadership decisions.

Leadership is an action, not a position. When you surround yourself with diverse and adaptable people who challenge even you, together you will be able to overcome any adversity and emerge stronger and more resilient.

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