For those leaders who have teenage kids or big kids themselves, you probably remember the 2005 cartoon series, “The Avatar: The Last Airbender.” The cartoon’s main character was a young boy named Aang, who was destined to be the Avatar. The Avatar was to maintain harmony among the four nations and act as a mediator between humans and spirits. However, to succeed in this mission, he had first to master the ability to bend the elements from each of the four nations; fire, water, air, and earth.
Like the Avatar, leaders must learn to master multiple leadership styles to effectively lead a diverse team of individuals. Diverse groups are not limited to race, gender, age, etc., but also personality types, education level, beliefs, and values. Therefore, successful leaders require a mastery of different leadership styles to maximize the workforce’s skills and potential toward accomplishing organizational goals.
“Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.”Malcolm Forbes
Leaders must be willing to adjust their leadership styles
To have obtained a position of leadership, in most circumstances, a leader has demonstrated a level of expertise in one or more areas required to lead a team or shown the potential to be successful in a leadership position. Once in a leadership position, a leader usually adopts a leadership style that he or she is well-versed and comfortable in applying and effective in motivating and influencing most of their team.
For many leaders, this method can continue to yield results for a time, but eventually, leaders will discover that their sphere of influence will begin to diminish. This decrease in influence is usually the result of the team becoming more diverse, whether from the actual size or changes in the team’s dynamics. When this happens, the leader will need to employ one or more leadership styles to influence and motivate the whole team effectively.
The leadership style should maximize the organization’s diversity
By now, most leaders understand the benefits of a diverse team. If not, there have been some convincing studies over the past few years that highlight these benefits. Among the most well-known studies is the McKinsey report from 2015 that examined 366 public companies across a range of industries in Canada, Latin America, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The results showed that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
Regarding gender diversity, companies in the top quartile were 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Organizations are beginning to understand and capitalize on diversity within their ranks. Therefore, leaders must effectively influence, motivate and direct a diverse team toward accomplishing organizational goals.
Leaders require multiple leadership styles to account for the diversity of the team. In a previous post, I mentioned that I had only adopted one leadership style, directive leadership, as a young leader in the military. This approach was effective when leading a few young, inexperienced soldiers. As the team expanded and diversified, I had to adopt different leadership approaches for the team to be effective.
Different organizational stages require different leadership styles
Additionally, organizations go through various stages in the life cycle, and as a result, leaders must adjust accordingly to achieve success in the organization’s vision. In a recent article, Jim Canfield, managing director of CEO Tools, ascertains that they require different leadership approaches as companies grow. He discusses four leadership approaches for various stages of a business; the champion, the leader, the leader of leaders, the coach of leaders.
For example, a startup company will likely require a different approach than an established Fortune 500 company. In my career, I’ve needed to utilize different leadership approaches to maximize my effectiveness during various military stages. I am currently a member of the United States Cyber Command, a very new military command, having been in existence for less than a decade. Therefore, I’ve had to adopt a more collaborative, delegating leadership style to focus on the organization’s professional management and build-out.
Successful companies employ diverse teams, and more organizations are capitalizing on the unique skills of diverse leaders. Therefore, a leader will likely need to use multiple leadership styles to maximize the production, innovation, and ultimate success of a diverse workforce. Leaders that can master multiple leadership styles will close the gap between their organization’s vision and the individuals responsible for working towards that vision.