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  • Writer's pictureDr. Jenny Seiss

Importance of Diversity In Leadership

We hear a lot about the importance of diversity in leadership, but have you ever wondered WHY it matters? In this week's #LEADSbyExample column our friend, Dr. Jenny Seiss, shares her insight (and a bit of research) about how diverse teams impact decision-making across businesses and communities.

Did you ever wonder why United States Presidents seem to be so intentional about selecting supreme court nominees seemingly based primarily on gender and race? Wouldn’t it seem to make more sense to select candidates based solely on their achievements and accolades?

One important reason that former President Trump and current President Biden nominated candidates based on their gender and race was because research is clear that groups that are diverse tend to make more effective decisions. Equally, research also suggests that teams lacking diversity tend to make more flawed decisions.

Groups composed of individuals who maintain similar beliefs and attitudes are at high risk of a phenomenon called groupthink or making decision without critical thinking and evaluating alternatives. This type of homogenous thinking leads to stagnation at best and catastrophe at worse. Examples of groupthink can be found in historic events such as the Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba, the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster and the 2008 financial crisis.

Leaders who are at high risk for creating groupthink tend to maintain an authoritarian or hierarchical leadership style in which he or she believes they have control over and see others as “subordinates”. This type of leadership style is based on old fashioned and fear-based ideas of intimidation through power and control or reward and punishment. Authoritarian leaders discourage dissent or even openly punish group members who contribute different opinions from that of the leader, thus creating an inevitable breeding ground for groupthink.

Diversity comes from multiple perspectives and drives creativity and innovation. Leaders who can gain feedback from individuals who have a range of experiences are able to see potential solutions from different angles thus leading to more critical thinking and effective decision making. Of course, just throwing a mix of people together doesn’t guarantee effective results; success depends on inclusive and authoritative leadership- or leadership that ensures that all team members feel they are treated respectfully and fairly, are valued, sense that they belong, and are consequently confident and inspired.

Effective and inclusive leadership in smaller, less diverse communities or companies requires great intentionality and an authoritative leadership style. Leaders must not only create opportunities to listen to voices of individuals of different genders, races, and cultural experiences- they must also actively encourage these member’s participation in the community or company. In order to encourage the active participation of individuals who are often less willing and comfortable to speak up or join in a group where they are likely to have differing opinions (given their different experiences) the leader must choose an authoritative style of leadership.

Authoritative leadership facilitates and encourages new ideas and innovation by acting as a leader versus a manager. Instead of using anger, sternness or intimidation, Authoritative leaders lead by example through encouragement and a strength-based approach. An authoritarian leader sees success as a direct result of his work, but an authoritative leader knows success results from team effort.

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