In the old days, we thought that effective leaders knew more than everyone else. We, the leaders, had the ideas, and we hired people like us to carry them out exactly as we wanted. And since we were all alike, we all agreed and got along.
The days of only one right way of doing things are gone.
No single individual can see the world in its entirety. Cultures mix, customers are less heterogeneous, and we have more choices about how to do things. Harping on a single version of reality limits the number of people we can influence.
Today’s leaders combine possibilities to serve the most diverse market. We seek team members with diverse gender, age, ethnic, and regional backgrounds and with different points of view, experience, and areas of expertise. Even a lack of experience may mean a lack of preconceived ideas. Hiring done with an eye for “corporate fit” can overlook creative misfits, who may have good ideas or who can act as “translators” between other members.
Here are some findings about diversity:
- Animals can imitate successful individuals in their groups to do better at foraging and choosing mates and habitats. This is only true if group members have diverse strategies.
- McKinsey found that companies with diverse executive boards have significantly higher earnings and returns on equity.
- Lu Hong and Scott Page have demonstrated that diverse groups of problem solvers can outperform high-ability problem solvers.
- An NPR study found that scientific papers written by multicultural or geographically diverse teams were cited more often than those written by more homogeneous groups.
- Research also shows that diverse cities experience more economic growth.
Differences do require more from leaders. We must work harder to get teams working together, to hear all voices, to appreciate strengths, and to share information and tasks. Members must be flexible and accept each other. Yet even disagreements can involve creative friction — conflicting views that resolve into great ideas.
Next time you hire, don’t look for someone like you. You’ve already got one of those.
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