We are all different. Every single one of us has lived a life of entirely different experiences. Layer that on top of our unique genes, the influence of our family and friends, our education and workplaces, and our uniqueness is complete.
This is true for you as a leader. It is true for everyone in your team, as well as all the people you come across. With this diversity of experience comes significant opportunity, as long as you make the most of it.
When you lead others, this comes with responsibilities. There is the vital need to get the very best value from all resources, and with employee costs being one of the highest of all expenses, each individual counts.
Above all, your role is to deliver results.
Yet many leaders struggle to appreciate and leverage the diversity around them. When people are different, it can be quite a challenge. The very best leaders are aware of this and maximise value by appreciating and utilising differences to make the most of them, even when that feels uncomfortable.
[Read more about Pluma's take on Diversity & Inclusion.]
Let’s say you are an outgoing leader who loves to interact regularly and openly with your people. For some, this will match their own behaviours and style. You all get on well, supporting each other in the natural affinity you have when together.
For others on the team who may be less forthcoming, it is easy for a leader to regard them as outliers. You spend less time with them, becoming frustrated that they don’t see the world the way you do and eventually, you may even part company, citing that they ‘didn’t fit’. Indeed, the discomfort may be such that they leave you. And you seek a replacement that fits better.
But here’s the rub: When you surround yourself with people like you and side-line those who aren’t, you’re creating blind spots. For if you only have people around you like you, who is there to point out what you’re missing? It might seem a more comfortable ride, but it will not serve you best in the long run.
What if you could find a way to incorporate difference in your team as an asset? What if you could be flexible enough in your natural self to embrace and work with the diversity, to make the most of it, rather than to marginalise it?
How would that help?
Diversify the Perspectives
Well, firstly, you would have different perspectives from your own. These would help reduce blind spots and find better solutions to problems in ways that you cannot readily see. Above all, it will help others in your team appreciate there are broader ways to where they are naturally drawn, building capability and growth.
Make Yourself More Versatile
You will also become more versatile yourself. In the lower reaches of leadership, you may get more options to choose your team members and have the opportunity to load the team with people you like. But that won’t always be the way. As you climb the ladder, you will inherit more teams than you create for yourself, so building your own awareness and flexibility is an upskill you cannot afford to miss out on.
Attract Top Talent
Thirdly, and most importantly, you will draw top talent towards you, rather than losing good people just because they didn’t see eye to eye with you. Recruiting and retaining top talent is challenging - and likely to be even more so in the future. Can you afford to alienate to the point of losing the talent you have, just because you didn’t bend and flex your style to accommodate a different way from your own?
Five Steps to Use Diversity as an Asset
Here are five simple steps to be better with differences:
1. Be self-aware. If you notice those times you come across people who annoy, irritate or simply don’t fit with your way, appreciate that as something you can change in yourself.
2. Seek out what these different people bring to the party. What are they doing that otherwise you might miss out on? How is their view of the work, the team or the project useful? What gap do they fill?
3. Adapt your style to get the most from theirs. Be prepared to change your expectations of people very different from you. Help them by being flexible with your way of working where you can, and don’t be limited by the narrowness of your view of the world.
4. Model your flexibility. If there is a majority who simply don’t ‘get’ someone on the team, lead the way to accommodate those differences, so that your people all learn how to flex, too.
5. Reflect on how you are doing. Don’t expect to be perfect at this first off. But take small steps of noticing first, then trying to reach out better by changing yourself in small steps. Give yourself credit for adapting and then, do it some more.
[Want more tips for how to improve your performance as a leader?]
Remember, there is more than one way to see something. However smart, experienced or capable you are as a leader, you still need everyone contributing fully. This is even more true of those who are different and add a unique value to your proposition, than those who might only see the world the way you do.
Need help coaching your team to see diversity as an asset? Check out the Pluma online coaching platform and request a demo today. Our certified executive coaches are ready to support you and your team in putting diversity and inclusion at the forefront.