The old adage when considering leadership is "the cream will rise to the top." It's commonly understood that the best and most qualified leaders will ascend to the top of a meritocratic system on the strength of their innate executive skillsets. The reason Demographics X, Y, and Z don't see more of their talent pool rise to the top is because they simply don't have the drive to make it.

At least, that's the perception. You either got what it takes or you don't. Is there any semblance of truth there? 

Not really, says executive Jody Greenstone Miller. Her philosophy of values diversity is at the core of a new Big Think Edge workshop focused on helping businesses create new paths to leadership and widening their talent pool. You can view the preview immediately below.

Greenstone Miller begins with the question famously explored by Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg in her 2013 book, Lean In: Why aren't more women attaining senior leadership positions across corporate America? Where folks like Sandberg question the ambition and boldness of women workers, Greenstone Miller argues that such an interpretation of the current business world overcomplicates what is, at the core, a simple problem. It's not lack of ambition keeping women (and, for that matter, other demographics) on the outside; it's time. 

"It’s not rocket science. Jobs today are structured to require people to work 80, 90, 100 hours a week in order to achieve success in the organization. And, to me, that is both shortsighted on behalf of organizations — because I don’t think they’re getting the best of people and they’re limiting their talent pool — and obviously individuals who may desire to exercise their talents, if they’re lucky enough to have them, to rise to the top in a way that, you know, they can do it with still allowing for other things in their life."

Let's return to the topic at the top of this post: "the cream will rise to the top." What if that's not necessarily true? Or rather — this may be a better way of thinking about it — what if certain conditions were in place that allowed a major advantage for some types of cream over others? The reason we see so little demographic and ideological diversity in the executive class is because too many leadership roles are designed so that the only people who attain them are the ones willing to sacrifice other aspects of their life in order to dedicate extensive time to the company.

Greenstone Miller makes sure to emphasize that she doesn't think there's anything necessarily wrong with those kinds of people — in fact, their work ethic is incredibly admirable. The problem is that a leadership candidate who doesn't hold those values becomes instantly disqualified. Anyone unwilling to put off family, relationships, community service, etc. will eventually hit a ceiling. In the end, you're left with only one type of person in charge. They are the cream that rises, but only because the system is rigged in their favor.

For Greenstone Miller, the solution is for companies to embrace values diversity. Instead of requiring a 40-plus-hour workweek, management should "projectize" work and hire according to the time each project requires, thereby accommodating a diversity of time commitments.

That's easier said than done, which is why we've arranged this lesson titled "Create New Paths to Leadership: Embrace Values Diversity to Expand the Talent Pool, with Jody Greenstone Miller, available only through Big Think EdgeGreenstone Miller teaches you how to open doors of opportunity previously sealed shut by impractical business inertia. By the end of the lesson, you’ll have a four-part strategy for creating new paths to leadership so that the faces and values at the top of your organization better reflect the diversity of the available talent pool.

Throughout the lesson, you'll learn to: 

Rethink time — acknowledging that what matters is not how much time you spend on a project, but how much you get done.

Restructure work — breaking work up into discrete projects with clearly defined deliverables while developing analytics to evaluate talent fairly across diverse time commitments.

Distinguish between absolute time commitment and availability — setting reasonable expectations for checking in while recognizing that absolute workload and availability/responsiveness are two different things.

Create a quality-over-quantity culture — making sure you don't conflate time commitment with efficiency, as studies show that workers become less efficient when they work beyond a certain threshold. 

Implement Priorities — how to make it all happen so that a broad swath of time commitments are respected and included in the leadership search.

To learn more, be sure to visit Big Think Edge.