Thursday, March 16, 2006

Team leadership and diversity

Business Times p.B3
Thursday, March 16, 2006

William Wrigley Jr.: “When two men in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary.”

A team is composed of people with different backgrounds and gifts. A skilled team leader should be able to leverage such dynamic treasure trove of varied ideas, talents, potentials, thoughts, emotions, intentions, inclinations, persuasions, experiences and insights. Woe is the leader who doesn’t even realize this.

Walter Lippman: “When all think alike, no one thinks very much.”

In their book Leadership Skills for Every Manager, Jim Clemmer and Art McNeil wrote that “ironically, many managers who profess to be able to do their jobs proficiently cannot bear to have their ideas challenged. There is a contradiction here. To be a leader, to manage teams, managers must learn how to tie their own egos into the success of the people they manage. Although, intellectually, many managers understand that innovations are the results of free expression and joint action, they lack the skill to create such an engendering environment.”

Tom Peters and Robert Waterman say that what the team leader decides to do in relation to bringing his or her people together is not as important as how he or she goes about doing it. “Whereas ineffective team leaders dive deeply into the task at hand and overlook how the team works together, effective leaders pay as much attention to process as to content.

Clemmer and McNeil continue: “It wont always be smooth sailing. Whenever different people with different points of view get together, problems can and do arise. But skilled team leaders are able to keep people focused and on track. The foundation for dynamic results is laid by first getting each member to dedicate himself or herself to a common purpose, not a series of individual achievements.

“Diversity, therefore, is a ‘group rule,’ something to be encouraged whenever possible. Similarly, all new ideas ought to be carefully considered independently of the person who first proposed them. Often, we judge ideas on the basis of the person’s past performance. Ideas should stand or fall on their individual merit.

However, diversity can be taken too far. “Whenever a conflict appears, focus on the common areas first. Ironically, you may find that everyone agrees on what they are most upset about! That’s fine: reminds a team what its function really is. Each point of disagreement should then be analyzed and clarified. Steps should be agreed upon to deal with the problems. Finally, once these steps are followed, the attention of the group ought to be focused back on the original business of the team.”

“In pulling the team together, a skilled team leader doesn’t shun diversity or resistance. He or she welcomes it because he or he knows that energy, if managed, can be used to produce a better result. The skilled team leader is like a black belt ‘judoka’ who turns resistance to his or her advantage by redirecting the energy of the adversary.”

Rosabeth Moss Kanter finds that segmentalist, low-innovating organizations have these qualities in common: They regard ideas from below with suspicion. They criticize freely and they let employees know they can be replaced. They see problem identification as synonymous with failure. They make decisions in secret and then spring them on people. They delegate lower-level managers to implement any threatening decisions made at higher levels. Finally they believe that senior managers already know everything there is to know. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be senior! Ha?

The leader sets the culture of a team, and the standard for the quality and quantity of ideas, results and the quality of team functioning. Ortega Gasset cautions, “tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.” And Francis Bacon, too, “He that gives good admonition and bad examples builds with one hand and pulls down with the other.” Leaders, take heed.

Moje is president of Paradigms and Paradoxes Corp. Send her feedback at

No comments: