Ever heard the old cliché “life is what happens while you’re making plans”?

I never planned on becoming a leader of my first staff team.

But when the leader of our organization suddenly resigned, a number of moves were made by our board to maintain continuity. These moves were made to stabilize the organization and keep us moving forward through an interim period.

Many of you have become a leader of other people. And that’s always tough, getting to know the people you’re leading and gaining their trust. But what’s even tougher is becoming the leader of people who’ve been your peers, including some who have 20-30 years more experience than you do. Shifting from friend to supervisor is a difficult adjustment, to say the least.

Navigating this transition taught me a great deal about relating to people in the workplace. The workplace has never been a more difficult place to lead. Our teams span several generations, working from different locations and seeing the world through a diverse set of perspective and values. Some relationships make collaboration easy and when the person walks in your door, you get excited! Other relationships make collaboration feel like a flirtation with disaster, and when those people walk through your door, you take a deep breath and brace yourself.

Lessons Learned While Loving and Leading A Diverse Team

I didn’t make this transition perfectly, but I made progress in my relationship with each of the people I served. And these are the lessons I learned.

1. Every person communicates best through a different channel.

Most companies have a preferred means of communication. Some use email and instant messenger. Others use project management products like Basecamp or Asana. Others have outlawed email entirely in favor of solutions like Slack. If you work remotely or supervise a scattered team, you may leverage conference calls or Zoom sessions.

Despite centralizing communication, I’ve discovered every person communicates best through a different channel. I really connected with some of my team over text. Others, I needed to send reminder emails. Still others, required a longer sit-down conversation which included a fair amount of small talk.

While connecting with each person individually took more time and energy than if I sent mass communications through the company channel, I found that the relationship flourished when I took a more personal approach to the people I was leading and serving. I put their needs above my own.

2. People appreciate honesty, even if they disagree.

Our organization had a historical pattern of passive-aggressive leadership and conflict avoidance. This resulted in issues being deferred and unaddressed for years. I refused to perpetuate this pattern. I can remember coming back from one vacation, prepared to have a strategic conversation with each of the people I supervised.

Those conversations didn’t all go well – some of them resulted in anger and tears. And we didn’t always come together in agreement at the end. But I felt like all of those people respected me more as their leader afterward because I cared about them enough to tell the truth.

We tend to want to make relationships work by skirting honesty. My leadership coach reminded me last week that it’s in the last 10% of a conversation – the stuff we’re tempted to hold back – where the best conversation happens. Committing to be a last-10% leader, friend, and co-worker can make you more appreciated than you realize.

3. Your teammates need to know you care more about them as people than as employees.

Whether we’re in corporate America, the public sector, or the nonprofit world, it is very easy to treat others and be treated ourselves as numbers, not names. Many times, work environments don’t facilitate a true sense of caring and connection.

The best leaders should genuinely be able to say “I want something for you more than I want something from you.” We should be leaders and teammates who add value to the lives of the people around us. I have a reminder on my phone which goes off every day at 5 pm, asking me “Did you add value today?”

The best leaders should genuinely be able to say “I want something for you more than I want something from you.”

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There are days where I instantly can think of three or four moments where I added value to my team, my organization or even just the life of one person specifically. Other days, my mind goes through all the tasks I checked off my to-do list, but I’m not really sure people knew I cared more about them or I communicated how much value they have in my eyes.

If I’m totally transparent with you, I can be a hard-charging leader who focuses more on getting things done than getting to know people. But caring for and loving people is an essential part of my life as a leader, a pastor and a friend. I consider it a failure if those closest to me and those who interact most with me cannot say with confidence “Scott wants more for me than he wants from me.” If they say “he cares more about what I’m doing for him than how I’m doing,” then I need to make radical changes.

The Choice in Front of Us Every day

We don’t always get to pick the team we’ll lead or when that team changes. We’re often entrusted with serving alongside or leading people we wouldn’t invite to our Labor Day BBQ. We wouldn’t include them in our cruise to the Caribbean or our Fantasy Football league. But we have a choice in front of us each day we interact with them. Will we, as far as it depends on us, live at peace with those around us? Will we do all we can to create a space where they can flourish in their work? Will we show them the love we’re looking for ourselves?

I think the Beatles summed up this idea best when they wrote, “In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

 

When a team spans several generations and has different perspectives, leadership is hard. Here are tips for loving and leading a diverse team.

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