Diversity Training

To Build Your Strongest Team, Don't Hire Your Clones

Many developing leaders start out with the goal of making an army of workers and junior leaders who are like the clone armies from the last set of Star War movies – where every soldier looks and acts the same as the leader they were created to emulate.  Sounds cool, and boosts your ego, but it is not a very effective strategy for developing a healthy team of employees and supervisors who can accomplish significant goals.

Why?  Because no one is all-knowing and has all the skills necessary to individually complete all aspects of the business (and even if you do, you will eventually hit the limits of your time and energy as the business grows.) Even if you have a group of “mini-you’s”, you will limit what your business can accomplish.

Related: Richard Branson on Why Diversity Is an Advantage

To grow a successful and sustainable business, you need a team of employees who bring their unique abilities, strengths and perspectives to the challenges you will face. But to draw and keep talented individuals who are different than you, you have to learn a key skill: You have to learn how to lead people who are different than you.

There are lots of great books on leadership that provide valuable insights into key skills and abilities needed to effectively lead others. But one concept that is not stressed enough is: to lead a successful team, you have to understand those who are not like you, and be able to support, encourage and motivate them. 

Sounds easy, really. We say to ourselves (or others): “I know that.  Everyone is different.” But if you take a closer look at how you act and communicate with others, it may become evident that you actually treat everyone pretty much the same, in the ways that are most comfortable for you.

To truly practice this leadership skill, some foundational principles need to be understood and accepted:

1. You need a team to accomplish your goals. If you can achieve your business goal by yourself, your goals are not large enough. You really do need others to help accomplish the BHAG (Big Hair Audacious Goals) you have for the company, so start treating others like you need them, versus reminding them how much they need you.

2. Other people think, believe, process information and are motivated differently than you. Some think “big picture,” others need specific details. Some are analytical, others are dreamy creative types. Some need to see the information, others need to hear it. Some need both.  Some want accolades and praise, others just want a private “thanks.” 

Related: An Executive's Tale of Persistence in Hiring a Diverse Workforce for a Scrappy Startup

3. Doing things your way isn’t always the best way. You are bright, talented and you get things done. But, believe it or not, your way of doing things isn’t the best way for everyone else (although your way probably is the best way for you). Additionally, your way may not be the best way for some tasks to get done (for example, many engineers’ ideas for marketing products aren’t that effective).

4. You need people different than you to make a good team. Differences are good (although they involved challenges – like communicating clearly). You need detailed, analytic conservative fiscal types. You need energetic, outgoing “let’s tackle the world” salespeople. You need people who communicate ideas effectively to others, both orally and in writing.  You need people who can communicate through pictures, images, colors and movement. You need dreamers and you need “get it done” implementers. A successful business utilizes the strengths of their multi-talented team members.

One key issue: motivation. Many leaders do not understand a key issue for their team members. Not everyone feels valued in the same ways. As a result, many leaders attempt to reward and motivate their employees in the ways that are important to them.

This can be through verbal praise and giving awards, or it can be structured through a bonus incentive program. Some people feel valued when they are included and get to spend time with others who are important to them, such as going to a sports event together. But others appreciate working on a task together and solving a challenging problem as a team.  In fact, we have identified five different "languages'' of appreciation in the workplace and numerous specific actions within each language that differ from person to person.

If you try to use the “one size fits all” approach, the results will be discouraging. First, you won’t “hit the mark” if you give verbal praise to those who believe “words are cheap.” Secondly, you will waste a lot of time, energy and potential money giving gifts, rewards and bonuses to those for whom a little time or camaraderie is worth more than the expensive dinner you treated them to. Finally, you will probably become irritated that your team members don’t seem to “appreciate all I do for them”.  

Do this instead. Find out how each team member is motivated, what is important to them, what makes them feel valued and appreciated. Then, almost as an act of faith, do what they tell you is important to them, even if it doesn’t make any sense to you. You will be pleasantly surprised at the positive results you will see.

Related: On Becoming That Truly Inclusive Leader