The Inner Circle Test

The Inner Circle Test

You can tell a lot about a leader by the sort of people they surround themselves with. Often the conversations on this subject focus on the calibre of those you have in your inner circle, and I agree with that to a point. Getting highly capable people around you is a real key to your next level of success. But… a high calibre / low diversity team is not the answer.

Weak leaders seek “yes men” and agreement.

Sadly it’s possible to train your team to blindly agree with everything you say and do. With enough fear, manipulation and control even a high calibre can become vulnerable and find themselves telling the emperor his new clothes are splendid when the truth is that he’s naked.

Weak leaders create monocultures.

In a monoculture there’s an overwhelming prevalence of one way of thinking and acting. It’s like a clone army. We dress the same, talk the same, see the world the same. It doesn’t take very long for a culture like that to isolate and ostracize a new person who is different.

Weak leaders equate “different” with “bad”.

The low diversity team rejects someone different in much the same way as a body can reject a transplant. They sense different DNA and in thousands of microscopic ways they attack it until it’s removed. This team sees it as a negative to be different. Something that person needs to work on, or overcome in order to “fit in”.

Real leaders enjoy the different perspectives that diversity brings.

We can all see the same issue from our different viewpoints, and all be “right”. I’ve observed some world-class leaders in action and their capacity to bring diversity to the table is clear. They synthesize the best of these perspectives and then set the direction of the organisation. Interestingly they experience greater unity later having had the disagreements up front, where weak leaders discourage disagreement upfront and often experience disunity later.

Real leaders are comfortable with a certain level of tension.

I don’t mind a level of tension in my team. There’s a healthy tension that drives creativity, and without it we’ll likely oversimplify our challenges. The quality people and the quantity people are both right. Sales people should push the design team to get a product to market, and the design team should push back so it’s of the highest standard. Don’t let conflict get personal, or it’s effect be cumulative… but declare war on mediocrity and may the best idea win.

Real leaders unify their team through what they have in common.

Rather than fixate on the differences in their team, effective leaders use their common ground as the focal point. Perhaps they share a common goal, a common enemy, or a common value. When they keep these at the centre, they enable a team that would otherwise fragment to stay united.
So take a moment now and put yourself to the Inner Circle Test. Have you made diversity your friend or your enemy?
I’d love to hear your comments

 Christopher Ma
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