Want to be a more agile leader? Surround yourself with a diverse team

Diversity drives insight, promotes better decision-making and equips teams with the ability to adapt quickly in a rapidly changing and complex world, says Simon Hayward

When Joe Biden formally introduced his first round of cabinet nominations, he lived up to his promise to name an administration which reflects the diversity of his country. By surrounding himself with a diverse group of people, Biden has demonstrated that he is open to challenge, open to change, and keen to see a wide range of views represented. 

Whereas Donald Trump has been a classic hero leader who has single-handedly set the tone, taken all the major decisions, and stifled or sacked people who disagreed with him. Biden is demonstrating a willingness to listen and learn from others.

The link between agility and diversity

In our complex and uncertain world, the most successful leaders are agile. They are skilled at adapting with speed and focus to the changes all around us – changes to how we work and interact caused by the pandemic, and changes caused by our digitally accelerating, politically unstable world. 

Agile leaders know how to connect with their team, customers, colleagues, and wider stakeholders. They also know how to connect with societal trends that are shaping our new reality. In this context, diverse teams can share a range of experience and perspectives that typically lead to richer, more relevant decision making. Diversity drives better decisions. 

How agile leaders create connections

Agile leaders coach others, empowering them to get on and do a great job, and to collaborate with people across diverse areas. Biden is a good example of a leader who is socially adept, able to engage others on a transformation journey using natural curiosity and compassion to create a strong personal connection with and between wide groups of people. 

Building a multi-skilled, diverse team

Agile team members have broad, diverse, and complementary skill sets. They play to their strengths and they recognise others’ contribution to achieving successful outcomes. But this kind of multi-skilled working is not necessarily easy, as it requires a level of mutual respect and valuing of diversity among the team. 

Leaders have a key role to play in engendering this respect and appreciation of the skills of others between team members. One way to do this well is to include each team member explicitly in team discussions and decisions. The quality of dialogue is a good measure of a team’s maturity, with high quality dialogue helping teams to solve problems better and make decisions based on a rich diversity of input and discussion. 

In teams I have facilitated, it is typically clear within a short period of observation whether the team is able to sustain shared thinking and decision making based on divergent and then convergent thinking. One imagines that dialogue in the Oval Office will be of a high quality in 2021.

Encourage experimentation and learning

Agile leaders are curious. They create opportunities for learning for themselves and their teams. In an agile team, people are universally committed to learning through experimentation so they can perform better in a diverse and constantly changing environment. They seek feedback from colleagues and customers frequently and use that feedback to improve team performance and customer satisfaction.  

Facing the future with agility

If you can build and lead a team with a diverse range of talent and experience, you will be better equipped to deal with rapidly changing circumstances and complex challenges. Because whether you’re leading a country, a charity or a corporation, complexity and change are here to stay.

Dr Simon Hayward is CEO of Cirrus and an honorary professor at Alliance Manchester Business School