Diversity and the Team Leader

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Diversity and the Team Leader

Diversity. It has become an explosive word and very hazardous ground for leaders to tread. It’s also an absolutely critical issue for leaders to address. When this topic comes up in my workshops, and it always does, I find team leaders are often both scared and confused. How can they deal with what seems like a no-win situation?

I’m aware that the following paragraphs may incite disagreement and even anger among some readers. If that’s you, please start with the last paragraph.

In keeping with my approach to leadership, let’s keep this as simple as possible. In leading your team, think of diversity not as race, ethnicity, gender, or any other category. For you, as a leader, diversity refers to that one concept – individuals.

More important than trying to shoehorn people into particular social categories, leaders need to understand team members as unique people. Each and every team member contributes a unique set of skills and experiences. Embrace them. Those skills and experiences are much more important than any categorization under the broad envelope of diversity.

That’s a challenge for a leader because there are forces that work against that philosophy. Each member brings their own prejudices to the team and you, the leader, will not easily change what is deeply rooted in each individual’s upbringing. Therefore, you have to make them a non-issue.
That’s why the team’s mission and goals are so important. Keep your team focused on that mission and those goals. Don’t let anything detract from that focus.

Create a culture that encourages discussion and even conflict over how best to accomplish the mission and goals. Make sure everyone is a part of these discussions and that everyone’s voice is given equal attention.

Keep discussions focused on the mission and goals. It actually pains me to say this as I like robust discussions on the issues of the day. Unfortunately, in today’s world that is just asking for trouble.

I know some of you are saying, “Bob, that’s too simplified.” Maybe so; and yes, there are people who are just looking for the next offense. They know it’s coming and they are prepared to be offended. What a way to live.

The fact is you will not resolve everyone’s prejudices. You will not resolve people’s tendency to dislike certain aspects of other people. But, if you follow these steps, the team cohesiveness you build will overcome those issues to some extent. Maybe not completely, but a high-performing team will also tend to be self-policing in that regard.

Now, if you are one of those people who often find yourself being offended, please take a closer look. Chances are no one on your team is trying to hurt you. Their human interactions are born of years of upbringing that is probably different than yours. Being quick to take offense does not help the team, and it doesn’t help you either. If you find something especially offensive, a polite, private conversation will usually resolve the problem.

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