Managerial Talent for a Diverse Workforce

In the October 2011 issue of The Atlantic, I ran across Richard Florida’s article, “Where the Skills Are” and found myself rethinking the idea of a diverse workforce. The idea has two paradoxical forces playing on it:

  1. Diversity improves a company’s adaptability, creativity and innovation
  2. Employers tend to hire employees who are like them

For the moment, let’s imagine that employers can hire a diverse workforce. The next challenge is managing it. It’s difficult because personality conflicts are side-effects of diversity. Since everyone’s a people person until people are the problem, managers are more apt to “get rid of the problem” rather than incorporate it. Consequently, employers will not only tend to hire those “who fit in” but also dispose of those “who don’t.” This moves them ever faster toward a homogenous workforce lacking adaptability and innovation.

Even though Richard’s article focused on talented individuals adept at connecting with diverse people, there are applications from a managerial perspective. It will take a very talented person to manage diversity. That’s because personality conflicts manifest themselves in many ways as differences in approaches, organization, ideas, behaviors and others. A manager will need to be able to see through this, account for his own biases, creatively solve it, and have the discipline to pursue the solution. We do not solve personality conflicts overnight.

Moreover, the need for such managerial talent is only going to increase as technology continues to take over the more routine and predictable tasks of various jobs and as the marketplace becomes more dynamic. The need for diversity not only in demographics but also in personality is only going to increase too.



  1. Comment by John Bennett:

    A number of thoughts upon discovery of this older blog post:
    1. I am not a fan of “manager” – to me, it’s always about leading, being a leader!
    2. Diversity has so many pluses that it is worth any extra effort that might be needed.
    3. My father always reminded me that “You never get something for nothing!”
    4. Maybe most importantly, it seems clear to me that more and more critical work is done in smaller teams, often without an assigned leader; the keys are to provide experience in working well in diverse groups and providing leadership thinking in the absence of being named as such.

    • Comment by Mike Lehr:

      I like your points, John. The thought about giving people the experience of working in diverse groups is particularly important. I haven’t thought about that as much. I appreciate you raising it in my consciousness. Still, leading diversity requires different skills and talents from the older, classical managerial styles. It is so easy to table, or worse squash, disagreement. It is more difficult to work through it and benefit from it.

      • Comment by John Bennett:

        In situations where disagreement occurs (and it will – or SHOULD), it seems to me the Leader is the one most likely to facilitate efforts toward the better alternative (Stephen Covey term for the outcome agreed to by all as better than one originally proposing) – as contrasted with the manager’s compromise (or squashing / tabling).

        I maintain there is only one place today where a manager is needed: where the direct reports are making the same item / effort one after another. I believe there were “managers” in the past who were really leaders – just as there are “leaders” today who are really managers. I note in baseball, there is a manager in charge. I think that’s really tradition with the good ones leading their team (or coaching the team, the title most sports use for the leader).

        Probably shared this with you before: Managers concentrate on doing things right while leaders concentrate on doing the right things!

        • Comment by Mike Lehr:

          I’m pleased you draw a sharp distinction between manager and leader. Many consider them the same. I am not as concerned about everybody coming to agreement on outcomes as most other business models such as Covey’s. Agreeing to work together is more important than agreeing on outcomes. Relationships often trump goals and disagreements. Still, you’re right. Leaders should be skilled at facilitating disagreements rather than squashing or tabling them.

          • Comment by John Bennett:

            I’m going to have to revisit Covey’s book – called the “Third Alternative” by the way. Outcome, I believe, is my word use – for how the group is going to proceed toward the agreed upon goal (or alternative). Covey would never expect the outcome to be the actual solution, which would require self-assessment and revision from time to time.

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