Does Your Team Look Just Like You?

GEN Shelton views leading with diversity as a great attribute for values based leaders. When we listen to GEN Shelton talk about his strong belief in diversity, we come to understand that he views diversity in a much broader sense than what is traditionally viewed. He talks frequently about how the differences in people-different qualities, attributes, and perspectives bring a much better solution than having an internal echo chamber where everybody is alike.

He notes that there are multiple differences  (for example-age, education, ethnic background, nationality, gender, work history, and perspectives) that we need to embrace and bring to the table to identify the challenge or opportunity and come up with the best solution.  GEN Shelton likens this to his work as the 14th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He notes that “…the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force are all different. They have their own different cultures and ways of doing things, yet they come together to create the greatest fighting force in the world.”     He’s also seen that on his work with corporate boards, where an effective board comes from different perspectives to help the organization continue to move forward. Each board member’s diverse expertise is tapped to help shape the direction of the organization.

One key point I take away from GEN Shelton’s ideas on diversity is that a key role of a values based leader is to, as he states,  “merge and meld the talents and complimentary capabilities of people from a diverse point of view”. When we do that, we grow a much stronger, capable, and nimble team than we would if we only selected and worked with people who were just like us.  I’ve learned and re-learned that a key function of a leader is taking the time to bring people in from different points of view and backgrounds and then listen.   In many cases, it’s difficult, precisely because we’ve thought through the idea and have a point of view.  Yet, even though it is difficult, the decision is, in many instances, much better than if you have everybody who is just like you weighing in on the decision.

An analogy I’ve picked up is the idea of a of the leader needing to serve as a host or hostess at a large party. The host or hostess finds to first learn each guest’s interests and backgrounds are, then connecting them with other people to create an interesting conversation.  Similarly, I think a values based leader needs to consciously and continuously look for ways to connect and bring people together from different backgrounds and interests to solve large and complex challenges and opportunities that cross the organization.

Where have you seen diversity work as a strength in your personal or professional work?