Diversity + Emotional Intelligence = More Success

Studies show teams innovate better when they're diverse and put aside "micro-inequities," says best-selling author Daniel Goleman.

Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, "Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body," is available now. 

Think about your team for a minute. Is everyone more or less the same? Does everyone have similar backgrounds, strengths and weakness? Of course not. Indeed, it would be disastrous if that were the case. Imagine if everyone you worked with brought the same experiences to the table. You may be prodigious in one or two applications, but not so great in a wider range.

High performing teams are dynamic and able to rise to the increasingly complex challenges projects and businesses demand. But there's more to productivity that just technical skills. The interplay of perspectives can be vastly more important to a team's success than their hard skills. Vibrant teams, where strengths are accentuated and weaknesses compensated for, can stem from a manager's pursuit of diversity and inclusion.

Our identities are comprised of innumerable experiences, informed by complex elements like race, gender and spirituality. These are lenses through which we interpret the world. They shape the experiences we bring to our personal and professional lives, impacting the jobs we take and how and why we perform. According to Korn Ferry’s recent study, for example, women CEOs worked harder to get where they are and cite different motivators than men in comparable positions, including lifelong learning and gaining a broad enterprise perspective.  These are key differentiators for leaders to bear in mind—in this case, diversity in motivation.

Among the challenges a manager will need to overcome are the hidden biases we all have. On a daily basis, even kind and talented leaders can demonstrate "micro-inequities" unintentionally, such as needlessly explaining a peer's comment in a way that may feel belittling, or patronizing a younger employee through oversimplification.

Addressing these subconscious prejudices takes introspection, and an effort to develop self-awareness and empathy. The more we can empathize with our colleagues and team members—take their point of view—the better we can leverage their experience and talent as applied to a business challenge.

Research done by Melissa Schilling and Christina Fang found that diversity of thought is a reliable predictor of innovation and company success. They make a strong case for diversity in general. Different people bring a broad range of ideas, skills, and personalities. They have unique perspectives. Leveraging heterogeneity in race, gender, and the myriad other factors that make people who they are can offer real competitive advantage. Deliberate and thoughtful assembly of diverse and inclusive teams brings thoughts, ideas and views that would otherwise never be considered.

But it can be uncomfortable to recognize our own biases, particularly unconscious ones. These are hard truths to face, and can take a high degree of self-awareness. Add that to empathy and teamwork, and there’s a recipe for building teams that are stronger in their breadth of knowledge and points of view.