Architect showing new house structure

When you think about leadership, it starts with an embodiment of who you are—how you think creatively and strategically, how you implement ideas, the way you’re wired and motivated. Then, of course, it naturally (and necessarily) must translate into how you can relate to others. Knowing yourself should create a better framework to know others.

But…that only happens when you can get out of your own head. When leaders are able to gain full awareness of their own tendencies and approaches, they can focus on the critically important element of translation.

Translating is dependent on realizing the vast differences in the way people work—simply put, leadership is about a heightened awareness of diversity. Harvard Business Review puts it this way: “If you assume that these people perceive the assignment or challenge in the same way that you do, you’ll be severely frustrated or disappointed.”

Strong leaders are in many ways already at a potential disadvantage in this regard—they’ve been successful because they were in complete control of how they worked. They know how they perform best. They understand what they need to do to get things done. But this can create a perception bias where leadership looks at challenges in one way without taking into account the vast differences in the ways that others look at those same challenges.

No doubt that leaders understand the need to cultivate a team-centric approach to problem solving or drive participation from many, but is this push coming from their own innate approach to work? We’ve all experienced the differing approaches to work that can generate conflict, but let’s put some real numbers behind it.

In our data pool of over 400,000 people from around the world, we’ve come to the conclusion that at best, you’ll only share similar modes of thinking with 17% of the people you work with. That figure represents those people who have an Analytical and Structural preference for thinking. It’s the most common way of thinking in our database, but clearly, with 83% of the population thinking in other modalities, a leader has significant work to do in connecting with different employees.

This doesn’t even take into account the vast disparities in behavioral tendencies that each person possesses, which boosts the complexity of communication significantly.

So how can leaders employ collaboration to attain a more holistic tack toward greater productivity?

Here are three key ways:

    1. Actively Seek Difference – Try to think of the person on your team that approaches things MOST DIFFERENTLY than you. Ask them how they’d approach a particular project you’re working on. Whatever the biggest issue you’re having is, chances are, they’ll have a much different perspective.
    2. Assign a Thinking Influencer – Emergenetics International looks at thinking in four distinct ways—Analytical, Structural, Social and Conceptual—but the idea remains the same no matter the paradigm. Assign each of your team members or leaders a particular role defined by each mode of thought. Hold them accountable to directly and aggressively bring that perspective to the table.
    3. Make it Personal – Too often we look to employing diverse ideas as related only to work and projects. But coming up with ideas and realizing new perspectives happens at any time. Cultivate collaboration by walking around, having lunch, and engaging on a personal level with team members and employees. Creating a shared sense of values and perspectives will naturally highlight different perspectives.

Collaboration is the crux of the way successful organizations run and the foundation leadership is built upon. Leaders who can understand themselves and know where gaps lie can best utilize this collaborative perspective. The best leaders can both create and drive ideas and elicit great insights, productive performance and inspired work from their employees, peers and colleagues.

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