Insight / Opinion

Looking for leaders who will always surprise you

How many leaders can say that they have never recruited a new member of staff simply because they display similar values, beliefs, backgrounds and even skills to themselves?

It is of course human nature to be drawn to those who seem to represent our own ‘tribe’ in some way; and, of course, ‘people like us’ can offer us comforting reinforcement for our own beliefs and values, thus enabling us to feel secure and unthreatened.

But what are the disadvantages of surrounding ourselves with ‘people like us’?

A significant amount of research today has identified the need for organisations to become more agile, creative, innovative and adaptive than ever before as the world around us becomes increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. The technology revolution enabling globalisation means that the world is now much smaller and connected. The global village has become a virtual reality; digital communication and social networking mean a world of instant global communications. Clients, suppliers, staff and even competitors might be located thousands of miles apart, and yet still be connected in different ways.

The implications for leaders are many. More than ever, we need to build teams that can respond rapidly and confidently to the diverse agendas that impact on our successes or failures and relate in different ways to the spectrum of stakeholders.

Adaptability and understanding are now more crucial than ever for our survival.

Richard Pascale once wrote a book called ‘Managing on the Edge’. In this book he revealed how the most creative and adaptive organisations tend to work right at the edge of their comfort zones, in order to produce the agility and creative tension required to innovate and collaborate.

The same is true inside organisations. Teams that include people from different backgrounds, with different world views, nationalities, sexualities, religions and genders tend to display the creative learning required for continuous innovation, adaptability and collaborative partnerships. That diversity also reflects the ‘real’ world of decision makers, influencers and inevitably customers.

Of course, this is only true if those diverse team members can learn to work together and trust and respect each other’s contributions despite their differences. Leaders today not only need to focus on building diverse and exciting mixed teams, but also to create the atmosphere and environment for open and multi-way communications, in order to build trust, understanding of difference, and recognition of the different contributions that each team member brings to the mix.

A passion for learning, genuine curiosity and open-mindedness are essential attributes of both the leader and their team. Building such a team can take time and effort of course, but the results can return dividends on this time investment many times over.

So next time you feel inclined to recruit someone ‘just like you’ to join the team, perhaps you will think twice? What could someone ‘not at all like you’ bring to the team, and how might they enrich its mix of skills, ideas and productivity?

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