Does your team look just like you?
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth in a six-part series exploring values-based leadership by Chris Hitch, director of the Gen. H. Hugh Shelton Leadership Center.
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 on 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 result a much better solution than does an internal echo chamber in which 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 in order 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 from his work with corporate boards that a board’s effectiveness comes from different perspectives that 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.” We thereby 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.
An analogy I’ve picked up from watching, listening and learning is the leader serving as a host or hostess at a large party. The host or hostess first learns each guest’s interests and backgrounds and then connects them with other people to create interesting conversation. Similarly, 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 across organizations.
Where have you seen diversity work as a strength in your personal or professional work?
Chris Hitch, Ph.D., is director of the Gen. H. Hugh Shelton Leadership Center and program director of the Poole College of Management Executive Education at North Carolina State University.