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3 tips for successfully leading a diverse team

3 tips for successfully leading a diverse team

Let’s face the facts - if everyone in your team was exactly like you, things would be a whole lot easier. People would always know precisely where you’re coming from, what you’re trying to say and what you’re wanting to achieve, probably before you even said a word.

But at a time where our society as a whole is becoming more and more diverse, today's workplace is one big giant melting pot. Yesterday’s pale, male and stale workplace environment truly is a thing of the past – and rightly so. After all, a more diverse team leads to more diverse and original ideas, which leads to better results. 

According to McKinsey research, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive team are 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. And the same principal applies for ethnic diversity – an ethnically diverse executive team are 33% more likely to outperform on EBIT margin.

So, if you are in a leadership role, chances are you’ll find yourself working with people from all different backgrounds and generations. Here’s some tips to effectively lead a diverse team to success:

Tip 1: Listen to understand, not to reply.

If you’ve recently taken on a new leadership role, before you nosedive into implementing a series of changes or improvements, the all-important first step is to listen. 

Take the time to learn how things are currently done within your team and within the greater organisation, and find out why. Things are often done a certain way for a reason. 

But don’t limit the valuable “why” question solely to work tasks and functions. The key to communicating and connecting with employees from all different backgrounds and with all different views towards the workplace is to take a case-by-case approach. 

Get to know each employee and their preferences on both a personal and professional level. Find out what they’re thinking and feeling, and learn what messages and motivators they respond to best. 

Then find out what drives them collaboratively as a team. Leaders that can understand and accept people’s preferences, aspirations, values and beliefs and build upon them will create a more engaged, productive and successful team.

Tip 2: Be the leader.

Your role as the leader is to set your team up for success – and if your team is successful, you will be too. 

Get together with your team and map out a clear purpose and vision, and create a roadmap going forward. Think about the barriers and challenges that could obstruct your team’s success, and harvest their diversity of ideas. 

And when you do try shaking things up, don’t be surprised if you come up against some adversity – biologically speaking people will always be opposed to change. 

It can be particularly difficult to influence people with more experience than you, or people that have been at the company for longer. But remember, you deserve to be where you are, and you’ve worked hard for it, so don’t feel embarrassed or insecure about your age or level of experience – be the leader! Your role is to guide your team forward, teach them, and acknowledge them for their successes. 

That being said, don’t take people’s experience for granted - just because you’re the leader doesn’t mean you know more than they do. More often than not, employees with more experience or time at a company can pass valuable knowledge your way. It’s up to you to find the best way to leverage it.

Be humble, and show people from all different levels within your team an equal amount of respect, and ask for people’s input and ideas. You’ll all be better off for it. 

Tip 3: Don’t accept mediocrity.

Research shows that smart, successful people want to be surrounded by other like-minded individuals. Make it clear to the people in your team exactly what you expect from them, in terms of both their performance and their behaviour. 

But it’s also important to remember that your role as a leader is to listen as well as talk. When you come up against a hurdle, stop and truly listen to what it is that someone is trying to say, and try your best to see things from their perspective.

In situations where it’s important for you to prove your worth as a leader (like starting a new role), it can be tempting to focus on demonstrating your capabilities and potential, but remember, everyone has a valid opinion, so try to listen to theirs before making a decision.

And don’t forget, a little flexibility can go a long way. People all have very different things going on in their personal lives, and as a result, not everyone can commit to traditional working hours 100% of the time. From looking after young kids, to caring for aging or sick relatives, to studying for upcoming exams, showing flexibility and sensitivity to people’s challenges outside of the workplace will earn you their respect and trust. It will also enable you to attract and retain real talent, and likely improve productivity as a result. 

While it can be challenging to work alongside people who maintain very different views or beliefs from your own (or from each other), having people from all different backgrounds on your side is far more likely to create the high-performing, innovative and free-thinking team you’re looking to lead.

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