how to lead different and diverse people

How to Lead Different and Diverse People

Achieve More When you Lead Different and Diverse People

You know that the ability to lead different and diverse people to come together and blend their talents is key to achieving breakthrough results. But if you’re like most leaders we work with, we imagine you’re still a bit caught off guard and surprised from time to time about just how different (and frustrating) these differences can be.

Learning to understand our own differences and how they impact those we are seeking to lead has been a critical part of our leadership journey.

As a young introvert, it flabbergasted David when he first learned that many people talk to figure out what they think. In a leadership training class one time he asked the facilitator, “You mean extroverts say things they don’t mean?”

Early in her career, Karin, a high-energy extrovert had a leadership mentor explain that her enthusiasm for her own ideas sometimes made teammates reluctant to speak up and share their concerns. She had to learn to slow down and ask strategic questions to give people time to process and catch up with her thinking. 

The struggle is real. In our work as business and life partners,  it often amazes us at how differently we interpret the same situation—and we teach this stuff!

People are Different

You may know it intellectually, but do people’s differences play a core role in your leadership? Do you lead different and diverse people differently?

People have different motivations than you. They process information differently than you do. Some want to compete, some want to get along. Some want to talk, some want you to leave them alone to do their work.

They have more or less urgency than you…more or less attention to detail…more or less focus on people or tasks or process or outcomes…they have different backgrounds. Something you find easy, they may have struggled with all their life just to get by.

Some people need to explain, some people don’t want an explanation. Some people trust authority; some trust no one – especially authority. Some like public recognition; others prefer a quiet “thank you.”

And those are just a few of the many, many ways people are different.

Your success as a leader depends on your ability to lead different and diverse people – to bring all these differences together to achieve results.

The Leadership Challenge of Differences

Unfortunately, people’s differences trip up many leaders. Over the years, we’ve seen so many leaders (and we’ve done it too) become exasperated when a team member doesn’t do what they expect.

When you dig deeper, you find out that the leader expected the team member would act just like the leader would in the same situation.

This creates many conflicts and expectation violations. Here are a few examples:

  • Mary gives the team the freedom she craves from her own manager, but it confuses her team full of people who prefer more daily attention, and they feel like Mary doesn’t care about them.
  • Joe methodically adds the new project his manager gave him to the bottom of his to-do list. But he frustrates his manager who thought Joe would intuitively understand that this project trumps everything and needs to be done right away.
  • Mike comes to a staff meeting prepared to take part, arrives early, sits in front, and his teammate, Jill, thinks he’s angry because he didn’t talk engage or talk with anyone while the meeting was getting ready to start.
  • Laura, a database manager, works long hours to ensure the data is accurate and then quits when the Kathy, her team leader, ignores her data in favor of political relationships.

At their core, all these relationship breakdowns happened because the leader didn’t understand that people are different.

Effective leaders understand that people are different and lead to draw the best out of each person.

Five Ways to Lead Different and Diverse People

Here are a few solutions for the challenges presented by our diversity.

  1. Familiarize yourself with the basics of human diversity. There are many tools to help you do this. The specific tool is not as important as the fundamental understanding that people are different and that these differences can all add value.
  1. Value the differences. No one wants to be tolerated. Every person on your team needs to be valued for the meaningful contribution they make. Intentionally seek out different perspectives, backgrounds, experiences, and ways of thinking. Get all the feedback you need to make the best decisions.
  1. Give people what they need to be effective. This doesn’t mean that you enable poor performance. Rather, learn how your people are wired, what energizes them, and meet them where they are to draw greatness from them.
  1. Provide clarity. Mind the MIT (the Most Important Thing), clarify the decision, who owns the decision, and the specific behaviors that lead to success. Clarify the relationships and interactions different roles will play as everyone works together. Use the Expectations Matrix to align the team’s expectations of one another – and of you. The clearer you can be, the more you pull everyone’s diverse talents and strengths together to achieve results.
  1. Understand the ways people are the same. For example, everyone wants a leader they can trust. Everyone benefits when you link activity to meaning and purpose. Everyone wants appreciation (though they may receive it in different ways). Also, most people enjoy a sense of control and self-determination. (Though again, the amount varies.)

Your Turn

Remember, leadership is a relationship. The more you recognize, appreciate, and bring different strengths together, the more you’ll achieve. Leave us a comment and share your best example of a leader who brilliantly showed how to lead different and diverse people.

How to Be a Talent Magnet

Magnets have a powerful, yet invisible force of attraction. Talent magnets have a similiar impact as they attract and retain A players, who then attract more talent. Notice I didn’t entitle this article, How to Build a Talent Empire, which is much less subtle and far less effective.

I’ve built a career based on attracting people way smarter than me to do the things I couldn’t possibly do. Liz Wiseman calls this approach, being a talent magnet in her book Multipliers. I call it common sense, or perhaps heredity. My dad carries the same jump-into-things-you-know-nothing-about gene.

The 4 Practices of the Talent Magnet

“Empire builders seek to surround themselves with “A” players. But unlike talent magnets, they accumulate talent to appear smarter and more powerful. The leader glosses over the real genius of the people while placing them into boxes on the org chart. The players have limited impact and start to look more like A- or B+”
~ Lis Wiseman, Author of Multipliers

Liz Wiseman’s research found four common practices among talent magnets:
  1. Look For Talent Everywhere – My favorite part of this context is ignore the boundaries.. They’re less inclined to look for traditional qualifications than looking for the right cocktail of talents just right for that role.
  2. Find People’s Native Genius – Liz explains: “A native genius is something that people do, not only exceptionally well, but absolutely naturally. They do it easily, without extra effort and freely, without condition”. Tap into that.
  3. Utilize People To Their Fullest – This is all about connecting people to the right opportunities and shining the spotlight on them when it’s time.
  4. Remove The Blockers – A players have a low tolerance for BS. Talent magnets get that, and do their best to move the stupid stuff out-of-the-way, so the native genius can get to work.

I had an opportunity to talk with Rob Delange, Director of Training of the Multiplier Group about my approach to building talent magnets…

Rob also asked what I was most proud of in my career at Verizon. No contest: watching people grow…

4 Ways To Ensure Your Successor's Success

The same mentor that jokingly told me, “always follow an idiot” also smiled and said, “and always leave an idiot as your successor.”

I’ve seen it go both ways. It’s painful to watch your team’s hard work unravel.

For the last week, we’ve been talking about Building Results that Last Beyond Your Tenure, including, Building a Strong VisionEstablishing the Right Behaviors  and Encouraging Interdependency.

An important piece of this puzzle, is leaving a remarkable successor.

4 Ways to Ensure Your Successor’s Success

This process starts early. Once you are ready to leave, it’s too late to search. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

Build a Deep Bench

Surround yourself with rock stars. Go find them in other areas of the business and recruit them to your team. Invest substantial time each week working on leadership development. Mentor, teach, have them subscribe to Let’s Grow Leaders 😉 The biggest mistake I see here is that leaders focus on developing one protegé. Timing might not work out. If you are doing it right, others will come knocking looking to recruit her before you are ready. Work on building an entire farm team.

Lead with Transparency

The last thing you want your successor to say is, “I had no idea your job was like this.” Share what you can with your team. Help them understand the deeper challenges you face and how you approach them. Expose them to some of the politics and how you navigate.

Consider What’s Needed Most

My favorite Monte Python saying is, “and now for something completely different.” It is likely that what your team needs most after you leave is not more of you. They’ve had that. When choosing a successor consider what the team really needs most. What has changed in the business environment? What kind of leader would most challenge the team at this stage of their development?

Get Out of the Way

Yes, you must transfer knowledge. Do everything you can to leave your successor anything they may need in an organized and easy to follow-way. Keep lists, contacts, and how toos.. in case they want to use them. And then, get out-of-the-way. Offer to always be available, but stop checking in. Whatever you do, don’t hang around offering commentary to your old team. The new leader needs to make her mark in her way. She doesn’t need to worry about what you are thinking or saying.

Talent Timeout: Sharing Your Hidden Talents

He trembled a bit as he approached the microphone. His thoughts crystalized into a profound truth.

Just a statement. He had no ask. He didn’t elaborate on such talents. He sat down.

I felt tears well up for this man about whom I knew so little. Sure his story is complex. Whose story isn’t?

“A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage”
~Sydney Smith

Later I asked him for more. The man indeed has many talents. His light was shining under a bushel, and he was speaking up.

I have a been unemployed for several years. I have many talents. I have much to offer this community.

How many times have you felt that way?

  • “Why can’t they see my gifts?”
  • “Why wasn’t I asked?”
  • “I have more to give”
  • “…”

Who’s holding you back? You or they? When’s the last time you picked up a “microphone” and shared what you have to offer?

Talent Timeout

Today, I ask each of us to pause and consider.

  • What are your many talents?
  • Which 3 talents do you offer up the most?
  • Which 3 stay hidden away?
  • Why?

What would be different if you spoke them into a microphone for your community to hear?

Saturday Salutations: Dream Gates

It had been a long night. The plane was delayed and delayed some more. The awaiting passengers were tired and the ground crew was weary of answering questions and rerouting. The rest of the airport was dark, we were the last gate in action. Finally the door opened and we were “ready to board.”

Then the gate attendant got on the microphone with the energy and excitement of an announcer at Camden Yards. And then the magic. Turns out one of the weary passengers was an agent looking for voice-over talent. He handed our cheerful gate attendant his card. The cheerful gate attendant was overwhelmed. He stopped everything for a moment, looked at me and said, “I have been doing everything I can to get into the recording industry, including announcing like this for years hoping to get discovered.” I can’t believe it finally worked. Amen.

Energetic pursuits do pay off. You never know when your dream gates will open.