“…all those differences… they’re features, not flaws.” —Jack “Farva” Curtis
On a slow Friday afternoon at the office, you just might find your average college intern daydreaming about the excitement of the weekend, burning two holes through the clock with an intense stare, or perhaps feverishly typing those last few emails, tearing through final edits in hopes of an early exit. Or, maybe you will find them pondering the symbiosis of leadership and diversity… probably not, but for the sake of this article, here I am.
This afternoon, I came across a Forbes piece written by Contributor Kevin Kruse highlighting what he describes as “the greatest leadership article I’ve ever read.” Now, if my billionaire ambitions were to come to any sort of fruition, I had to see for myself what Kevin was so ecstatic about. The article he was referring to was a short piece entitled “The Map on the Wall” by Jack “Farva” Curtis, a commanding officer (CO) in the United States Navy. In the article, Curtis describes his check-in process with new members of his squadron and how it emphasizes the strength of his team. The strength the CO is referring to is his squadron’s diversity.
While I could try my best to recap the articles written by both men, I’d highly recommend taking a few minutes to read the articles yourself. Instead, I’d like to offer my own spin on leadership and how harnessing the power of diversity can affect it. Before we proceed, understand that at no point in my life have I held a significant leadership position, and by no means am I an expert on the topic (yet). With that being said, here is my best shot.
Diversity can be described in many ways. Diversity can bring many different offerings to the table. Diversity can be the accelerator of change, or a lack thereof can be the anti-catalyst of progress. The forms in which diversity presents itself are, for a lack of better words, very diverse.
Likewise, leaders can perform their duties in many ways. Leaders can bring many different styles and methodologies to the table. A great leader can be the driving force behind success, and a poor leader can be the root cause of stagnation. The way a leader forms and maintains their subordinates can be the difference between a Fyre Festival level meltdown and Walt Disneyesque greatness.
This formation process is where the intersection of diversity and leadership lies. Take coaching in professional sports for example. I have been terribly cursed with a lifelong fan-ship of the Washington Redskins. The dilapidated organization has recently undergone a purge of its staff, leading to the hiring of new Head Coach Ron Rivera. Upon his employment, the first thing Rivera did was start building out his own team of assistant coaches, trainers and scouts. Rivera began constructing a system that fit his leadership style just as every other coach does upon being hired.
When a leader steps into a new role, be it their first time at the helm or the final rank they will achieve, it is their immediate responsibility to build a network around them that will complement their strengths, make up for their weaknesses, and, most importantly, offer perspectives and suggestions the leader would otherwise have overlooked. A strength of mine is my uncanny ability to never stop talking. My brain is a river, with a constant flow of words forcing their way out of my mouth (some creative, some nonsensical). In my ideal team, there would be a great listener who is an expert at synthesizing information and putting words to paper. Symbiosis.
When a leader can become aware of where they excel and where they lack, they can strategically leverage this awareness, pursuing prospects that will bring a diverse and complementary skill set to their team. Beyond diversity in skills, diversity in gender, nationality, ethnicity and religion can lend themselves to a more socially and culturally aware environment. This form of diversity can help avoid cases such as the one Heineken faced over their light beer commercial.
Diversity beyond general skills lends itself to several positives. CO Jack “Farva” Curtis wrote:
All I can do is try to foster a culture within my hangar—within our squadron—where we address things like race, gender, sexuality and religious difference in a mature way that reinforces some very basic truths: we’re better because we’re different. We’re stronger because we come from everywhere. And, we’re much more dangerous to any potential adversary because we don’t all approach difficult problems the same way.
In the business world, being diverse may not mean being a danger towards adversaries, but Curtis’s point about approaching difficult problems in diverse ways is essential to success when taking on projects. In group settings, one person may make a suggestion that six other members agree with, but that seventh member has a past experience or special knowledge the rest of the team lacks that could be the basis for a wildly successful product or campaign.
In the professional landscape, no two employers will be the same just as no two employees will be. The infinite compositions of teams across the business world are a by-product of diversity. Diversity offers every leader and every employee the chance to find the right fit. Although it may not always be a perfect match, the beauty of diversity is that it allows the world to be ever changing. Leaders should not shut themselves off from diversity; instead they should approach the concept with an open mind and realize the symbiotic relationship that exists between the two.
Special thanks to Kevin Kruse and Commanding Officer Jack Curtis for inspiration.