Monthly Archives: May 2014

What is the importance of diversity in leadership?

diversity choicesInformation, knowledge, wisdom – while they all have a slightly different meaning, the overarching theme is it’s good to learn and good to understand different options when you make choices – especially in leadership.  Abraham Maslow said, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you are likely to perceive every problem as a nail.” What he meant by that oft-used phrase is that an individual is limited by their talents and experience in their ability to offer ideas to solve problems.


There is a great book titled Now Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham.  The theme of this book is that each of us is born with natural talent, or strengths.  Now this doesn’t say what job or career you can or cannot undertake, but it does identify how you will be naturally good at what you do if you use your strengths.

The book discusses the thirty-four possible strengths that people have.  When you take the online assessment offered in the book your top five strengths are identified in order from one to five.   Here is where the idea of diversity really stands out.  The number of possible combinations of top five strengths in order from one to five out of a possible thirty-four strengths is amazingly high.  There are over thirty three million combinations – 33,390,720 to be exact. 

Imagine, the people who work with you have a very high probability of having a completely different set of strengths – or talents.  It would be a waste to just pick the hammer you know when you have so many other available talents to draw on. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Hide not your talents.  They for use were made.  What’s a sundial in the shade?”


Now you know that your team has a broad set of talents to bring to the forefront in decision making.  Added to their talent is their experience.  While talent is the foundation of what someone is naturally good at, experience gives people a front row seat at what has worked, and likely more important, what hasn’t worked before.  In other words, when you have experience you have made mistakes and seen other people make mistakes. 

As a leader you want every person on your team to share their experience when evaluating options.  Not that you would reject every possible solution just because it didn’t work before, but knowing this information might give you an edge if you decide to try it again.

“Experience enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.” Franklin P. Jones


Diverse talents combined with diverse experiences will lead to diverse ideas – that is what every leader needs.  Remember, your job as a leader is not to have all the good ideas, but to find all the good ideas.  As former Yale University President Alfred Whitney Griswold once said, “The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.”

Finally, I really like the way Michael Abrashoff, the former commander of the USS Benfold describes diversity by asking this question, “In what way can someone be a superstar?

How many managers does a company really need?

too many managers not enough workersIs there an ideal percentage of managers in a company? Yes, but it depends on the situation.

“The organization chart will initially reflect the first system design, which is almost surely not the right one.  As one learns, the design changes.  Management structure also needs to be changed as the system changes.” – Fred Brooks

So how many managers does a company really need?  In the Human Resource arena this is called analyzing the Span of Control; this means the number of employees that directly report to a single manager.  On one end you can have a narrow span where each manager has few employees – this results in very close supervision and allows for greater coaching and mentoring one on one.  This is useful in situations where either the employees or the team is new, or where the tasks are highly specialized and require frequent interactions.  On the opposite end is a broad span where each manager has many employees – this model has less direct oversight from the manager and is usually used when managing simple repetitive tasks and/or an experienced team.

The trick to picking the right span of control model, is to fit the model to the task and the people performing the task. Which means there is no one right answer. 

Situational Leadership

In the 1970’s Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey developed what they called the Situational Leadership Model.   This is a four box model that matches the leadership style and span of control needs with the task and competence level of the people performing the task.

“Effective leaders need to be flexible, and must adapt themselves according to the situation.” – Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey

situational leadership chart 1Leadership Style

S1: Telling – Is the most basic of leadership styles. It is used when managing a new and often repetitive task where the employees are likely to be novices.  In this quadrant the manager can handle many employees as their role is simply telling the team what, how, when to perform the tasks.  The manager can oversee the entire group at once.

S2: Selling – In this quadrant, the manager is still working with employees that are on the more junior experience side.  But now, the role has changed from just getting the work done, to training the employees to become more proficient, learning why the work is done the way it is, and gaining their buy-in to the process.  The manager will have a smaller team so they can invest time coaching, mentoring and selling the process.

S3: Participating – The manager now moves from directing how the work is done as in the prior two quadrants, to partnering with the employees to develop the best methods.  These managers will have smaller teams as they invest significant time discussing methods and drawing out ideas from their employees.

S4: Delegating – In this final quadrant, the manager can once again can handle a larger team as the highly experienced team has been delegated responsibility and authority to perform the tasks and make decisions about the best methods to accomplish the tasks.  The manager’s role is once again to monitor the entire team’s results.

Keep in mind that employees can move amongst the quadrants as they take on new opportunities where they have less experience.  That is why this is called situational leadership – the right style and right span of control depends on the situation.


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