Developing a team with multiple skills and perspectives

Leaders who hire and develop teams with diverse skill sets and communication styles benefit personally and professionally

Many people have a natural inclination to want to work with, hire and develop people similar to themselves. That tendency undermines the proven value of diversity, e.g., in gender and race. Writings abound on how diversity, among other things, makes companies more competitive, attracts better talent and increases innovation.

In addition to diversity, there are other factors leaders might consider when hiring. Felice Gray-Kemp is a senior in-house commercial attorney who was named in 2012 by Inside Counsel in its “R-3 100” talent identification project as one of 100 who have the leadership potential to become a general counsel within three years. Felice suggests that “leaders, when hiring and developing talent, should resist the reflexive temptation to mold people in their own image.” Instead, she suggests that leaders take an inventory of the skills, experiences and needs of their own group and fill in the gaps to ensure success of the department and ultimately, the business.

Felice says, “If everyone on a team has the same expertise and working styles, the team is about as useful as a one-legged stool. I think that leaders who hire and manage solely in their own images miss the opportunity to develop other skills in themselves and their teams to improve capabilities. Leaders who hire and develop teams with diverse skill sets and communication styles benefit personally and professionally from working with people who can collectively go where the leaders’ skills or interests would not comfortably take them.” Here are a few specific areas to consider as ways to expand your team’s skills and perspectives:

  • Legal experience and skills: When hiring a direct report, Felice suggests analyzing your own job description, thinking about the skills and expertise you have and those you want to develop in yourself and on your team. Consider the experience of other team members and the additional skills and experience a new hire might bring to your team so that it can become more effective and efficient.

  • Personality type: It is important to have people who can work well on teams and with their business counterparts. For example, consider introverts and extroverts. Felice notes that she is most often characterized as an extrovert, but this is not a trait she insists on when hiring. While introverts and extroverts can be equally effective, having a balance will lead to more effective team dynamics and communication.

  • Masculine and feminine approaches to work: Caroline Turner, author of Difference Works and former general counsel of Coors, created two prototypes to help define masculine and feminine characteristics along a continuum of perspectives and behaviors. Regardless of our gender, when we lead, develop relationships, communicate and influence others, we can access and use the approach on the continuum best suited for the situation and use styles different from our own in working with others. One approach may be better than another to communicate effectively, lead and get work done in a specific situation.

  • Intellectual capability and emotional intelligence: Some people are so subject-matter smart that we want them on our team. They are even more valuable, if in addition to being smart, they have the ability to communicate their opinions and perspectives in a manner that others can understand, relate to and act upon. Also, having people on the team who can rally and influence others can add tremendous value. Leaders who possess both intellectual and emotional intelligence are the most valuable.

One Fortune 500 general counsel I worked with used to say that he hired people smarter than himself (and I would add, people with emotional intelligence that was different than his). He wasn’t worried that the people he hired would outshine him. To the contrary, he had the confidence to recognize that when his direct reports did well, he did well.

Contributing Author

Stewart Hirsch

Stewart Hirsch, principal of Strategic Relationships, is an executive and business relationship coach for general counsels, lawyers and other professionals. Formerly, Stewart was a firm and...

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