My current team is an outstanding example of the case for diversity. Though we are small, we are mighty. And we are mighty because we are all so very different. This recently played out on a large project we helped lead. We had a crucial role in the project – it was big, it was complex, and we had limited time to get it done. Many people (including, I think, my team) didn’t think we could do it. And it wasn’t easy, but it was successful. We got it done through a lot of hard work by a lot of people, but we also got it done as a team. One of the critical keys to our success was leveraging our different strengths. One of us sweated the details, identifying and keeping us focused on the very real risks. One of us planned, mitigating those risks. One of us kept track of all of the insane interconnections, keeping us from tripping the blue wire which would have blown us up. And one of us was simply a magician who somehow always solved our problems, just when they seemed the most unsolvable. Those weren’t the only roles we each played, but you get the idea.
I’ve known for a long time that teams are stronger when they have complementary skills; this is just my latest example. A plant manager I worked with said it was liberating when he realized he didn’t need to be the smartest plant manager, he just had to be smart enough to find the best ideas from across all of our plants. I know I sure have benefitted immensely from the smart people I’ve had the privilege of working with – ten heads are truly better than one.
Everyone has their strengths; the key to a high performing team is leveraging those strengths and sheltering each of our relative weaknesses. We don’t all have to be good at everything – in fact we can’t, so we shouldn’t try. A book I read a few years ago, StrengthsFinders, was an epiphany: we should focus on building on our strengths, choosing activities and roles to which they contribute significantly. This is where we can contribute the most to the world and gain the most satisfaction. We tend to obsess, especially women I think, on our weaknesses, when we should only pay attention to them to the extent they are an obstacle to our goals or our happiness. Otherwise, I give myself permission to focus on what makes me special. I will let others be good at what I am not. And I will contribute my best to my little corner of the world and encourage those around me to do the same.
“Isn’t it amazing that we are all made in God’s image, and yet there is so much diversity among his people?” –Desmond Tutu