Psychologists and sociologists agree: people connect through similarities and dislike differences. Organisations and teams always tend to become more homogeneous over time, because we just don’t like ‘other things’. They disturb us. “Management teams are clone machines”, concluded Vanwitteloostuijn his research on top management team diversity[i]. They tend to shut up minorities and dissonant voices, certainly in times of stress or crisis.
Homogeneity is the enemy of creativity and innovation. It creates group thinking, a ‘majority rules’ atmosphere and lets blind spots grow. Solutions tend to repeat themselves and become part of the problem. How many change programs don’t tackle the root cause and provoke other programs? They become in the words of Joe Nellis “wicked problems” [ii] and they need out of the box thinking to find new pathways. That’s the reason why leadership fosters diversity and protects minority voices11. Leadership isn’t satisfied with easily accepted remedies.
It’s also the reason leadership should not to be confused with “zen” or “enlightment”. Leadership is more than personal leadership. It deals with real, difficult issues, tensions, resistance and has to strike the right balance between ‘connection’ in sameness and ‘provoking distress’ in differences. It’s the secret of what Badaracco calls leading quietly [iii]: taking responsibility and behind-the-scenes actions to solve difficult value conflicts. Leadership is not ‘taking grand, heroic decisions’.
[i] VANWITTELOOSTUIJN, A. (2004). The genesis of top management team diversity: selective turnover among top management teams in Dutch newspaper publishing, 1970-1994. Academy of Management Journal, 47, 633-656.
[ii] Joe Nellis is visiting professor at Antwerp Management School.
[iii] BADARACCO, J. (2002). Leading quietly. An unorthodox guide to doing the right thing. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 201 p.