Long live diversity! Is it more difficult to manage? Indeed!

By: José Alberto de la Torre de las Heras, from Technical Office, Executive and Teams Coach and Internal Coach in Ferrovial

I’m sure that more than once, it has crossed your mind that the current models for managing people fall short, that they are too narrow and just require to follow  instructions, that they don’t let space for personal and professional development, that you can’t reach your full potential. Sometimes you might even try to find meaning in what you are doing, or even find alienated… And what about looking at this situation from the other side of the coin? How would you manage a team and how willing are you to push beyond limits? Would you dare to innovate and improve models that have already expired?

To manage or to lead?

First of all, I believe that in order to think differently, we must start by naming differently: “Managing” people? Why don’t we call it leadership? I invite you to adopt the term lead when we talk about people, and manage for things. Things cannot be led, people can.

The age of knowledge isn’t just about having access to unlimited information via the Internet in a number of full-time connected devices. This era constitutes a more complex environment: in constant change, less predictable, more uncertain. In this new environment, it is urgent to learn to manage highly skilled and high performance teams away from old-fashioned industrial directions based on binary parameters (direct-obey, gratification-reject).

As leaders of our teams or even leaders of the society we live in, we must get ready for changing times with new and innovative tools: great doses of creativity, a fresh vision and an open mind to adapt to whatever might be happening around us. That is true leadership.

Riccardo Muti, the art of leading an orchestra.

Some keys for an innovative leadership

1. Moving together towards an ultimate goal

Why are we doing this? Have you ever wondered “this I’m doing right now makes no sense!”?  Sharing the purpose of what we are doing,  building it together with the team, sharing  the reason to be, why we do what we do…generates co-responsibility. If we plan something all together, then we will all feel responsible of what we do.

Do you still believe that sharing the purpose undermines your authority and it’s fair enough if you have the clear vision and others will follow you  without batting an eyelid? Direct instructions are indeed necessary, but only in a number of occasions and even a more decreasing number of contexts.

If as a leader I don’t involve all members of my team for a common goal, they might feel alienated. I will, for sure have acceptance (subordination), but I will hardly have their commitment. So let’s start moving together towards an ultimate goal, especially in those strategic issues and all that is important for the team.

TedTalk: Simon Senek: “Start with why — how great leaders inspire action”

2. Awaking leadership in others

Anthropologically, the leader’s role was to serve the team. Our genetic predisposition is very similar to that of the time of ice melting in Europe and leaving Africa- 180,000 years ago, and even though our genes have varied little, the environment we live in has changed enormously. However, we still tend to behave as leaders of those tribes (or human teams), where the boss was served for survival: it was crucial for him to stay alive to keep leading the tribe.

The leader in the era of knowledge must be constantly looking for ways to awake leadership in others, to empower others, to promote competition.  It is

That is the 8th habit (*)[1] proposed by Stephen R. Covey: “Finding our own voice to inspire others to find theirs”. A true leader thinks in terms of wealth, is inspired by his teams’ success and does not feel his leadership is threatened by it. He celebrates the teams’ success as his because he has contributed and led. This mentality of wealth, once installed in the team, erases in a natural way jealousy and egos.

As a leader you don’t need to prove that you are the smartest (it used to be the strongest in the abovementioned history). And what’s more, in practice, it is almost impossible to know everything. Compiling as much information as possible from the best sources to make decisions can be a shared responsibility. Taking specialized information from experts and analyzing it to face a final decision is fundamental.

[1] The 8th habit from effectiveness to greatness. Stephen R. Covey. Ed. Paidós

3. Long live diversity! Is it more difficult to manage? Indeed!

My first feeling when I started leading my team, my natural way of acting, was to rely and feel more comfortable working with to those who behaved/acted in a similar way to mine. That’s human. No need to train it. We all tend to look for clones of ourselves in the inclination to believe that it will be the best for the team. I have learned that diversity enriches us, and that the tasks must be brought to the people, instead of  assigning tasks to the people. I have learned that when people in your team feel accepted and valued for how they are, they are willing to leave their comfort area to adapt to other possible requirements of the team, especially of the goal set is clear.  Even today, believing in the potential of each individual, even if they are different from us, is rare…Dare to innovate here too!

4. Leading is about having conversations

As a conclusion to these innovative keys for leading teams, yes, your fears are real: “this will mean time and a lot of conversations”. Undoubtedly, leading is about having conversations. And not only the institutional annual conversation for development where you are still struggling to find time. If your ambition is to play a starring role in  your team, you will need to make (quite a lot of time) for it. That means prioritizing what is important over what is urgent. It means being in the eye of the storm, and learning to sail with the wind. That requires training. A lot.