Four Lessons I Learned from Leading a Remarkably Diverse Team

Clifton Communication, Leadership, Strategy, Team Building

William Wrigley once noted, “If two partners in a business always agree, then one is unnecessary.” This quote speaks to the value of diversity of thought.

One of the highlights of my career in Corporate America was leading a cross-functional team of internal consultants for a Fortune 500 company. The group was charged with executing major projects that addressed some of the company’s biggest challenges and opportunities.

According to a 2015 McKinsey report, diverse teams lead to better results for companies.

We recruited high-potential employees from a wide variety of functional backgrounds. The team consisted of former research scientists, engineers, plant managers, management consultants, Six Sigma black belts, military veterans, trainers, PhD’s, professionals with finance, sales, marketing, HR, and IT backgrounds, and even an ophthalmologist. The team also had a rich mix of ethnicities and ages, as well as a strong balance of men and women.

Even years later, former team members still tell me how much they benefitted from being part of our organization. The funny thing is I benefitted just as much from working with them. Here are four key lessons I gained from the experience:

The best idea in the room wins

One of the benefits of diversity is access to different perspectives. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to create an environment in which your team feels comfortable sharing divergent points of views–even if they are counter to yours. Additionally, this requires the confidence to acknowledge and act on the best idea–no matter its source. According to a 2015 McKinsey report diverse management teams lead to better financial results for companies (35% above industry average).

Ability to shore up my own weaknesses

Surrounding yourself with people who have different points of view enables you to see your blind spots–things you normally wouldn’t see. By hiring people with strengths that are different from yours, you can create a formidable organization.

Insight into how different people communicate and view the world

When it comes to communicating, one size does not fit all. I’ve learned to tailor my message and approach to suit the audience. I describe it as meeting people where they are and taking them where you want them to go.

The pitfalls of stereotyping

Let’s take engineers as an example. When you think of an engineer, what traits automatically come to mind? The fact is some engineers are extremely creative while others seem to be purely analytical. Some are introverts and others are extroverts. Some engineers have a great sense of humor–others, not so much. How many of these characteristics came to mind a moment ago when you thought about an engineer? Be honest. The point is not to place groups of people into monolithic categories. That’s not convenience; it’s laziness.

How you can apply these lessons: No, you don’t have to hire a former ophthalmologist to achieve diversity on your team. The idea is to avoid hiring mini me’s–junior versions of you. Instead, proactively seek people with different backgrounds (functional, ethnic, gender, geographic, age, etc.) than yours. They are much more likely to see the world from a very different viewpoint and broaden yours. You’ll thank me later.

What do you see as some of the key benefits of a diverse team?


About the author: Clifton Anderson is Founder and CEO of Treasure Holders International. He is an international expert in empowering leaders to match their business mind with a leader’s heart. Think Steve Jobs meets Abraham Lincoln. Clifton has served as Chief Financial Officer of a multi-billion dollar global company, so he is keenly aware of the challenges today’s business leaders face. He holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. Check out Clifton’s collection of articles about leadership, life and legacy on his Ideas & Insights blog.