One of the greatest challenges of any new leader is to select their leadership team. Maybe some of their team is already chosen for them so they have to decide whether to keep those employees or not (if they are allowed to make these choices). Maybe they are given the opportunity to select others to round out their team.
The tendency for most people is to pick people you feel closest to, which often ends up being people like yourself, especially in ideas or backgrounds. This can be so easy to do, and yet harmful to a leader’s and a firm’s future success. It is much more challenging to pick people who are different from yourself and can offer unique perspectives. Much has been written about leaders surrounding themselves with “yes people” who simply agree with them and offer no new views. If that is the case, then why do you need those people at all?
As leaders, no one expects you to be everything. But, you do need to have good self-awareness of your strengths and weaknesses and then surround yourself with others who complement you, and bring in diverse perspectives. Maybe you are an excellent strategic leader who easily identifies and creates a compelling vision for the firm. Then, complementing that with an operational person who is detail-oriented can be beneficial to enable the organization to have an overall plan along with specific goals and objectives to carry out that vision. Or suppose you aren’t particularly charismatic or inspirational. Then bringing in a member of your team who is gifted at connecting with your stakeholders and helps them see the value of the vision you have set could be advantageous for your firm. If the goal is to move the organization forward, then you need to have all of the right players to make that happen.
If you do pick people who are different, the next challenge is to actually listen to them with an open mind. This means watch your nonverbals (in fact, ask someone you trust to give you feedback on how you come across nonverbally). You may think you look open-minded but an observer can let you know if you are scowling or checking your email or avoiding eye contact when someone is talking.
It also means using empowering statements after individuals have shared their views. By not saying anything when some individuals speak, yet commenting positively when others speak, it signals to the group who the leader values. The same can be said of how you respond to emails. A leader’s responses can lead some individuals to feel validated and continue to participate while others feel demoralized and withdraw from participating in conversations. That, of course, defeats the purpose of bringing in individuals with diverse perspectives.
Of course, having a team who bring unique talents that you don’t possess also means you have to spend the time to get to know them by practicing empathetic leadership. Ask questions to understand their unique strengths and skills. Build a relationship with them to know who they are as people holistically, and not just as “workers”.
You also have to enable them to shine and actually use their distinctive skills. You have to be humble and remember that you don’t possess all of the skills or knowledge that your firm needs. No one does. You can’t have an inflated ego. This is a challenge. It’s amazing how often leaders do the right thing by bringing in a team possessing unique views but then suppress those views or think they really do know everything. Keeping your ego in check is a daily struggle but one worth working on for the good of the organization.
It’s also important to recognize and celebrate the differences among your team. In coaching, I have often found that a leader may initially do this as they first work with their new team, but then quickly forget about appreciating the contributions each person makes. Having someone give you periodic feedback on this can be helpful to keep you on track.
There may be times when you forget why it’s so important to have a diverse leadership team because it does make things a bit more challenging. After all, you need to be aware of your team members’ personalities and skillsets. And you have to take the time to listen, empower others, and use their ideas.
The benefit? Having distinctive views brings greater experiences, new perspectives, and more innovative ideas. It also enables you as the leader to identify with more individuals across your firm who represent divergent views or backgrounds. Additionally, it allows you to better connect with a greater audience of external stakeholders such as clients, and this be an asset to your company. As a leader, you are only one person and can’t be everywhere at once. Create your unique team and then enable them to complement you and what you are trying to accomplish.
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