Question: Role of diversity in leadership team

We are a mid-sized, fast paced organization. Our executive team has six members who are all execution focussed, metric driven leaders. This culture percolates down to the entire staff.

Unfortunately, from time to time we have made expensive mistakes which can be traced back to our culture of jumping right in, without giving enough thought to implications of big strategic choices or investments in new systems, etc.

I have, from time to time brought in more strategic thinkers to have a healthy balance, but they have never lasted. I think the force of our existing culture "drives them out"... in spite of my support as the CEO.

Should I keep trying to have diversity in leadership thought, or is there a better approach?

6 Expert Insights

Your leadership team might consider exploring doing an assessment of the overall team strengths in order to open up a dialogue regarding how leaders who are more strategic in their thinking would compliment the team’s predominant executing work style.  Helping your leadership team gain a greater understanding of their collective strengths, and where there might be gaps, can highlight the benefits of being more inclusive regarding having diversity on the team.  There are assessments that can help your leadership team better understand their patterns of behavior and their primary work styles. This would open up an exploratory conversation around how the tendency to want to take action or jump first into execution could benefit from brainstorming with partners who tend to be more strategic and futuristic in their approach.  I think your instincts around having more diversity on the team and complimentary work styles are right on the mark.

In addition to what Carol Bellini recommended I am suggesting that you use a dialogue process to get your management team to openly communicate how to go about making the changes you are seeking. When doing the dialogue all of you should sit in a circle and if possible have a good dialogue facilitator.

The process opens up with the question you will ask and everybody will have an opportunity to openly and honestly sharing how they see it and how they feel about it. I had personally done such a dialogue on many occasions when I was president of two companies, to deal with issues that otherwise could not be resolved and had a very positive outcome everybody on my management team agreed with.

My simple answer is that diversity in thought in an executive team is a very good thing, particularly if innovation is important.

Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about your business to give more than that simple answer. I only offer questions to explore.

How much do you want to change the culture? How significant is your competitive advantage from being quick to execute? How much risk would you be taking if you slowed down the process? How expensive are the mistakes & are they avoidable? In some companies, poor choices may be no more than a little fender bender in the race to be first & worth the risk to win the race. In other companies (e.g. medical devices, airplane manufacturing) a mistake may be catastrophic.

How well do you understand why the strategic thinkers left? Was it because they lacked the ability to influence their peers? Were their ideas good? Did they get the support they needed from you? Do you have some members of your team who are poor team players?

What are the implications of an “expensive mistake?” Do you have after-action reviews that identify how you could have avoided the mistake? Is anyone held accountable?

You have an interesting dilemma. I know several CEOs who would love to move toward your ready, fire, aim approach in order to improve their speed of execution.

You have received several interesting answers and many valid points being made.  In addition to these I believe that your first step must be for you, as the CEO,  to become firmly set in YOUR answers of key foundational questions in order for you to determine if, when and why a cultural shift is ... or really isn't ... called for.  These would include:

1. You say from time to time you make expensive mistakes.  Is your rush 'to market' a requirement of being successful in your field and thus the mistakes are a 'cost of doing business'?  Or is the frequency and the cost unrelated to performance need and due to failure to fully examine all aspects of the actions you take?

2. What is the value of changing your current culture as related to company success?

3. What does adding diversity to your leadership team do to aid your growth in achieving your vision?

4. If you truly believe that a diverse leadership group is ultimately where you must go, developing YOUR clear picture of what it looks like is key to creating and implementing the new design within your team.

I believe that once you have been able to decide what the company success or growth in success requires, you will be able to develop the plan to implement this into the organization.  I will be happy to discuss any aspect of this further if that will be helpful to you.

Your question reminds me of a project I was on 35 years ago as a junior consultant.  We were hired to explore the role a COO should have for a multidivisional company.  The division presidents experienced him as too controlling--good for when he was brought in and the company needed a turnaround; overkill for the current situation.  With my fresh MBA, I found the bulk of the evidence in favor of getting a new COO.

Fortunately, the partner in charge saw the problem more deeply.  That the entrenched culture--especially around the CEO's style--would recreate the same situation if we'd just replaced the COO.  In order for a more strategic COO to work, the CEO needed to get less etherial, and there were a few role changes required for the rest of the management team as well.  In fact, we helped the team develop new specs for what they were committed to as a group, and how to adjust how they operated as individuals to do that.  It worked.

Moral of the story: as noted by others above, see if you really need strategic perspective...or it's just something you feel like you need but aren't truly committed to.  If you and your team realize you do need this perspective and ARE committed to it, then see what you each need to do to make that role work.  Then you'll have a shot at finding someone who can fill it sustainably.

BTW, in the example above, the COO decided he didn't want to play the role that he and the team developed, happily found a new job more aligned to his core skill set, and hired us at that company as well.  And the original client hired a new COO who was able to provide a better tactical/strategy balance.  NOT the outcome that would have transpired if I'd run the project way back thn!  But I guess that's the benefit of experience.

ABSOLUTELY!  Diversity of thought is one of the most critical things organizations require, and when there isn't that diversity, they ultimately die as there is too much "group think" that goes on.  Having led organizations before, I know this to be critical to spur innovation and ensure success in the marketplace.

As Carol mentioned, there are instruments available that highlight diversity in thought, but I think you have a deeper issue.  My sense is that, given what you said, you need to better screen your team coming in the door.  For example, when you do your hiring screening, does your HR or recruiter screen for personality type?  Getting along with others?  Decision-making style?  These are all critical areas that should be considered.

Once your screening process is in place, some teambuilding would be in order.  Again, your HR or an outside consultant should be able to help with that.

People generally like and want to work with people like themselves, and it is a sign of maturity when they can work with others who are different but can contribute just as much.  Like the '60s group WAR used to say, "why can't we be friends . . . "