I’m a big fan…The idea of surrounding yourself, a team, or an organization with a group of people that bring unique perspectives is awesome. The masterpiece created when painting with different colors, using different brush strokes, employing different textures, and using various techniques leads to amazing results. People coming together with their differences can create masterpieces.
Diversity comes in a variety of traits. Don’t get caught up on one definition or example of diversity that puts you in a box. You must embrace it in all of its forms. For example, diversity includes; race, cultures, socioeconomic status, education methods (notice I didn’t leave it at “education”), experiences, and generational spread. Building teams of all types are essential.
With diversity comes opinions…assumptions…biases. Those suppositions are what we bring to the team. It is when those biases and thoughts evolve through safe and respectful dialogue that minds change, and the organization benefits. As a leader, I too come to meetings with opinions, assumptions, and biases. I prejudge a situation or carve out a path in my mind. We all do it. After all, that is part of my slice of diversity and what I bring. What happens in that meeting is a challenge for me as a leader. I know we are ‘on to something good’ when my thinking shifts. It is at that moment I know the product or process just got better. Somebody convinced me, the leader, there was a better way. It can’t be easy to do, so their idea must have been better than mine. Let that sink in. Embrace it. If you have assembled and empowered a high caliber and diverse team, you will (and should) frequently find yourself in a position to acquiesce to the ideas of the group.
This is why a diverse team and collaboration are so important. Having a genuinely empowered group of individuals around a table is critical. The key might be in the term “genuinely empowered.” It is a cultural thing, and it must be in place. Simon Sinek wrote, “The worse thing a leader could do is say to his team, ‘Here is the problem and I think we should do this. What do you think?’”. Leaders who prescribe a solution before allowing the diversity of their team to speak into it will squelch the voice of the team and diminish their value. Those teams will never rise and influence the outcome. They will never change the mind of the leader. Good ideas will go unspoken as the team submits to the opinions, assumptions, and biases of the leader.
When we create diverse teams without the willingness to let diversity run, we miss out on the benefits. Diversity without a culture of safe, honest, and open-handed leaders is likely to be more “window dressing” than anything else. We will have taken great efforts to assemble a team only to frustrate and demoralize the members, and the team will fail to reach its potential.
Steve Jobs said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people, so they can tell us what to do.” There are some nuances with this statement, but I can get behind it. After all, smart people alone is not diversity. You need intelligent people with experience(s). Assuming that is what you have, it is time to empower them to change you. Leaders continue to lead. Continue to bring your experiences, assumptions, opinions, and biases. But, be willing to listen to the voices around the table. Be ready to let your team shine.
Hire great people, equip them to succeed, empower them to have influence, and then step back…That’s a diversity recipe that works.