Inclusive or exclusive? Leadership that makes a difference

I have often found that some organizations build teams easily and others never seem to get things off the ground.  Of course there are many variables to this- for example, vision, culture and communication are three of the biggest reasons why things flourish within an organization or why they fail.  Some will say that location is a factor, but I disagree with that.  Teams can be built anywhere in the world- from warzones to downtown urban cities.

I remember visiting a location many years ago.  It was a pioneering situation and an organization had moved into a city.  As we arrived we picked up that the organization had two people working in the same city but they didn’t work together. We also picked up that they didn’t speak well of each other either. I was stunned, telling my wife that this place will most likely never get a team going…Why? 

If there is anything I have learned in all my years building multicultural teams, it is this: work with what you have.  There is no one coming into our team without issues, strong personality, lack of finances, or cultural ignorance, and the list can go on.  When two people cannot make it, it’s never just one person’s fault.  You can tell me stories about the other person, how they were, how they behaved and so on, but what about you? Can you make the needed space, create community, and look beyond what is difficult?  Years later I visited that same location again and sadly found out that my devastating statement was true, they never got a team going.

Inclusiveness is my number one value in building teams.

I am not saying that we can work with all people, but at least we need to give it a good try.  Personality is a strong factor causing some teams to never make it.  Leaders who are inclusive however, can see potential and have a “yes” attitude. They will make it work. Inclusiveness is my number one value in building teams. There is room for me and you.  It’s us doing it.  The “we” factor is big in the inclusive leader’s life. This inclusiveness also sets a culture, and culture is so important when we build teams. 

I had a talk with a CEO not long ago.  He was in a dilemma about what to do.  He wanted to buy a company that would add to his portfolio of companies and he reckoned that the competence of the company he wanted to pursue was very much needed.  There was only one problem.  The culture in the company was totally different from all the others in his portfolio.  He wanted his companies to have an inclusive culture where generosity was presented, information shared across office doors and company structure- where a “we” culture ruled the office halls and dining areas. The company that he wanted to buy had a long recorded history of being stingy, making people pay for every little thing and where knowledge was exclusive. The person who had pioneered the company that the CEO wanted to pursue had everything to win, but the culture he had set and his exclusive attitude made it a dilemma for those who wanted to buy it. 

Exclusiveness is a normal killer for building good teams- where some can come but others are not welcome. You are welcome only when you look like a person I can work with.  Once again our culture needs to be an inclusive one, with room for differences, personality, gifting and competence. I am very skeptical to take in people with a high “me” factor because that is not the culture we are aiming for. 

Inclusive leaders are like a good mother or father where one more person around the table is not a problem, where one more at the sleep over is great. At the same time this motherhood and fatherhood provides something more- safety, boundaries, challenges and stability.  Only mothers and fathers know what it takes to raise children, care for them, affirm their different personalities, deal with tension and conflict, release them, and have faith for them as they take steps out in the big world. Is leadership any different?  This is how you build teams as well, by creating the room for people to come into your motherhood and fatherhood.

The second most important value in building teams is availability.

The second most important value in building teams is availability.  Leaders need to be there for the people they are going to lead.  A big organization I visit had their national CEO visiting the location I was on at the time. The person made it clear that this was the annual visit. They stayed for one or two days and then flew off.  The sad part was that the organization was going through big struggles but the leadership didn’t understand why because they hadn’t taken the time to find out.  

General Colin Powell is quoted saying, The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading!”  When you lead people you are there, seeing them, cheering them on, inspiring them and caring for them.  Your availability will determine how well you lead and build your team. 

The third most important value in building teams is starting small.  Leadership and building teams is not something you can truly prepare yourself for simply by reading good books.  Over time, through our experiences, we have success and failure, we recruit and we release people, building up a passive knowledge base within us.  I love releasing people but seeing good friends leave is very painful. This knowledge comes only by doing it.  It is this passive knowledge base that I can grow from, give advice out of and understand things in the big picture. 

At the same time, leaders who lead people will also get scarred, experience conflicts, people not fitting in, and simply get scarred from hard work. I love working with people who have some scars because it means they have done something.  I also run across a different type of leader who has no scars because they have not lead people. They were put in their position because they could talk their way up, preform, shake hands with the right people, or they were given room at the table because they had an inclusive leader but have not been able to build up their own passive knowledge base. Personally, I’d rather have leaders with scars than with nice talks. 

A while ago a leader asked for advice.  Several people were asked and the difference in the feedback was interesting.  There was one group giving advice based on their philosophy, worldview and ideals, and there was another group that gave advice based on real life and leadership experience.  The difference was big.  Starting small means building your team.  If that is a small work it will grow as you gain competence.  Don’t say yes to big jobs without having first done it in the small things. 

Building teams is not rocket science but it needs the right people in the right places.  I don’t like to disqualify people so if you feel stepped on because of this blog it may be good to look in the mirror and get some feedback from people who have gone before you, from the ones with scars because they have built teams and loved people.  I know it can be hard but that is what makes it so great in the end. 

Until next time,

Rune Sæther 

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