Embrace diversity. A unique team is a powerful one.
Great teams are made up of a diverse group of individuals. This isn’t always an easy process. It’s easier said than done to totally empathize with an opinion they may never have considered. When a teammates approach just doesn't make sense to you, it’s easy to become defensive and frustrated with them. We view the world through our own prisms, and it’s a leader’s job to see the absolute value in these varied perspectives.
If my decades in the industry have taught me anything, it’s that your title is meaningless if you can’t pull individuals together and form a team. I’ve always taken pride in seeing beyond who the person currently was, but seeing who they could be with coaching and support. Viewing team members as puzzle pieces and helping them fit together. This philosophy has stretched across multiple concepts and business. From owning my own small venues, to being a Vice President of a national brand, I’ve always taken immense pride in developing people and growing teams.
At the time of this story, I was General Manager of a very successful ‘eatertainment’ concept.
New leaders are complicated. Their identities are more influx than they realize. They’ve achieved their promotion through their single-minded determination. What “got them there” is the right way, and they defend those principles strongly. To see things differently can hurt the ego and rattle the delicate foundation of confidence they’ve only recently built.
This scenario was most strongly personified when I had the privilege of working with two strong young women who had two completely different backgrounds and personalities. There was seemingly nothing they had in common or saw eye to eye on. Both were amazing teammates and promising young leaders, but they approached communication and problem solving and from completely opposite directions.
This made the most simple days challenging. On a daily basis, they would baffle each other over decisions made. Empathy for each other was non-existent. They were so blinded by the differences they saw in each other, they couldn’t see anything else.
This all came to a head one evening. Each came to me and vented about the faults of the other. They had enough of each other and couldn’t take it anymore.
I heard them each out and allowed them to get all of the negativity out. At the end of each “session”, I asked each one of them to name three things the other individual excelled at, and to their own surprise, they did.
A little later on in the shift, once they had a chance to put the emotional sessions behind them, I pulled them both aside, together. This time, it was their turn to listen to my “frustration”, and in no uncertain terms, I explained to them that I had enough. I shared with them the impact their nitpicking of each other’s differences was having on the team. The negativity is contagious and beneath them. They were too busy criticizing each other to realize the value of their differences.
Then came the breakthrough. I asked them each to share what they had told me about what they believed the other did exceptionally well. The lightbulb went off and they realized how they complimented each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and saw how they needed each other.
There is a happy ending to this story. These two incredible leaders developed a relationship that they would describe as “sisterly”. They helped each other grow in ways that they otherwise would not have. They began looking for what made team members special, and this allowed them to connect with their teams at another level.
What makes us different makes us stronger. Diverse backgrounds bring diverse perspectives and help us see the world differently. If you surround yourself with people who see the world the same way you do, how can you possibly grow? When teams embrace diversity, they embrace strength and become truly powerful.
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