BUILDING LEADERSHIP TEAMS - PART 1: THE STRENGTH OF DIFFERENCE
We naturally value and enjoy people who think like us, believe what we believe and do things the way we would do them. This is because each of us over emphasizes our own personality, skills, and values. Unfortunately, this approach and way of thinking filters into the way we build leadership teams, and as a result, means we actually build weaker leadership teams.
Building weaker leadership teams is more prevalent than you would think. I have been part of highly rated faith-based organizations who have struggled to embrace and encourage ‘difference’ within their team. I have seen global organizations and well-known leaders struggle to learn from and accept the ‘difference factor’. Even I have struggled with this (and still do). The reason this a common struggle is because surrounding ourselves with people who think like us, believe what we believe, and do things the way we would do them, is comfortable and easy - it’s the path of least resistance and so it becomes our default approach.
As a result, we promote books and celebrate authors that reinforce our personal beliefs and values. We get rid of leaders or staff that don’t fit our mold of doing or thinking. We choose not to promote leaders who question things. We intentionally don’t speak about the opposing side or view (let alone learn from them!). And we see all this play out in politics – in the media – in business – in faith – and even in families. I once heard someone say, “Armed with enough humility, leaders can learn from anyone”. Our culture no longer believes this truth.
Unfortunately, the consequences of our approach have a ripple effect: 1) we reinforce groupthink, 2) we create a culture that discourages critical thinking, 3) we don’t genuinely learn the opposite sides’ beliefs or conducts, 4) we only pay enough attention to argue our point more effectively, 5) we close ourselves off to the possibilities of ‘what could be’, 6) we breed a culture of pride, 7) we neglect to celebrate the differences in each person.
When it comes to building strong leadership teams, the only way to progress is to ensure your team doesn’t think the same way, believe all the same things, and do all things in the same way. Of course, there needs to be alignment and unity regarding certain key issues – but if anything, that should encourage a humble culture of questioning, learning, and embracing differences. Great leaders don’t fight or get threatened by differences – instead they embrace them. They learn from them. They make ‘progress’ their main objective and goal instead of ‘their own way/beliefs/thoughts’.
On this topic, here are three ways to strengthen your own leadership:
Mentorship: Be mentored by someone who is different to you in their values, beliefs and thinking. Be mentored by someone who can train you to think critically and see the world differently.
Mindset: Embrace difference. Embrace the difficult people. Embrace different personalities, strengths, ways of thinking, etc. This doesn’t mean you need to accept their beliefs as your own – instead it means to embrace and value them as people.
Listening: Listen twice as much as you speak. Take time to understand your critics and opponents through reading and listening. Earnestly seek to see it from their side. Don’t dismiss them or shut them down. Don’t jump to conclusions too quickly. Instead listen and learn intently.
And remember – it’s possible to be friends with someone who doesn’t hold your values. It’s possible to lead with someone who holds to different beliefs than you do. It’s possible that there is more than one way to do something or one way to see something. Armed with enough humility, it’s possible to learn from anyone.
Difference is not wrong – difference is strong. Strong leadership teams embrace that truth.