One of the biggest challenges of any new leader is choosing their leadership team. Maybe some of their team has already been selected for them, so they have to decide whether to keep those employees or not (if they are allowed to make those choices). They may be given the opportunity to select others to complete their team.
The tendency for most people is to choose people you feel closest to, which often ends up being people like you, especially in ideas or backgrounds. This can be so easy to do, but also detrimental to the future success of a leader and a company. It is much more difficult to choose 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 perspectives. If that is the case, then why do you need these people at all?
As leaders, no one expects you to be everything. However, you need to have a good self-awareness of your strengths and weaknesses, and then surround yourself with others who complement you and bring different perspectives. Perhaps you are an exceptional strategic leader who easily identifies and creates a compelling vision for the company. Then supplementing this with a detail-oriented business person can be beneficial to enable the organization to have an overall plan along with specific goals and objectives to realize that vision. Or let’s say you’re not particularly gifted or inspired. Then bringing in a member of your team who is talented at connecting with your stakeholders and helping them see the value of the vision you’ve set out could be beneficial to your business. If the goal is to move the organization forward, then you need to have all the right players to make it happen.
If you choose people who are different, the next challenge is to really listen to them with an open mind. This means paying attention to your non-verbals (in fact, ask someone you trust to give you feedback on how you come across non-verbally). You may think you seem open-minded, but an observer can tell if you’re scrambling or checking your email or avoiding eye contact when someone is talking.
It also means using empowering statements after people have shared their opinions. By saying nothing when some people are speaking, but giving positive comments when others are speaking, it signals to the group who the leader values. The same can be said for how you respond to emails. A leader’s responses may lead some people to feel validated and continue to participate, while others feel discouraged and withdraw from participating in discussions. This, of course, defeats the purpose of bringing in people with different perspectives.
Of course, having a team that brings unique talents that you don’t possess also means that you have to take the time to get to know them through empathetic leadership. Ask questions to understand their unique strengths and skills. Build a relationship with them so you know who they are as people holistically, not just as “workers”.
You also need to allow them to shine and really use their unique skills. You need to be humble and remember that you don’t have all the skills or knowledge your business 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 that has unique opinions, but then suppress those opinions or think they really know everything. Keeping your ego in check is a daily struggle, but worth working 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 can initially do this as they first work with their new team, but then quickly forget to appreciate the contribution that each individual makes. Having someone give you periodic feedback on this can be helpful in keeping you on track.
There may be times when you forget why it’s so important to have a diverse leadership team because it makes things a little more difficult. After all, you need to know the personalities and skills of your team members. And you need to take the time to listen, empower others, and use their ideas.
The benefit; Having different opinions brings greater experiences, new perspectives and more innovative ideas. It also enables you as a leader to identify with more people across your business who represent different viewpoints or backgrounds. In addition, it allows you to better connect with a larger audience of external stakeholders, such as customers, and this is an advantage for your company. As a leader, you are only one person and you cannot be everywhere at once. Build your unique team and then empower them to complement you and what you’re trying to achieve.